Benicia Industrial Park is a hard-working, big-shouldered city within a city.
It is a place of heavy trucks and locomotives, of a crane lifting a steel beam and hard goods being unloaded at a warehouse dock. The ten-minute trip from the tranquil shores of Southampton Bay to the sights and sounds at the intersection of Park and Industrial Way is like a voyage to a different planet.
Heading up East 2nd, past the refinery, you will reach a traffic light at Industrial Way, one of the main thoroughfares of the park. On the left is Ponder Environmental Services and to the right behind a sharp-pointed fence is a CalTrans maintenance yard. Turn right onto Industrial and that will take you past a drab warehouse-style building where, one might think, nothing at all of interest could ever be produced there.
Wrong. This is a manufacturing site for Dunlop, which makes guitar picks, strings, electronics and other gear for the likes of Gary Clark, Jr., Metallica, Dave Matthews and raggedy-haired 12-year-old boys who dream of becoming the next Slash.
Here, then, is a truism of the park.
Inside these drab buildings and bland glass facades creative minds are at work, dreaming up, designing and building things of beauty and utility. One company here (Romak Iron Works) fabricated the steel for the massive scoreboard sign at Oracle Park. Another company (Schoenstein & Co.) builds pipe organs for churches around the country, using a bridge crane at its four-story high erecting room.
Walt Whitman wrote effusively about the beauty of industrial things: “the shapes of factories, arsenals, foundries…the two-threaded tracks of railroads…of bridges, vast frameworks, girders, arches.” The sage of Brooklyn would have loved this world unto itself, for such shapes are everywhere: the two-threaded Union Pacific racks where remote control locomotives cross over streets, the faded yellow Valero petroleum pipelines snaking up hillsides, the concrete towers propping up railroad bridges and freeway overpasses.
He would also have appreciated the symbolism of the sign in front of the University of Iron…
…down on Bayshore, which trains apprentices to become certified welders and move up in the trade. Two robust ironworkers are hoisting the sign above their heads, signifying how their gritty, dangerous work supports the infrastructure of modern life.
Across the road from Ironworkers Local 378 is Backyard BBQ, one of several eateries in the area but the one with the funniest, most down-home sign: “We All Gone Eat.” Ribs are served most days from “11 a.m. to sold out.” Another popular place to go is The Cellar on Stone Road, which serves hearty pub food in an attractive tented outdoor setting (with indoor too).
Cruising around the streets…
…one sees signs where it is easy to know what’s going on inside the building — Benicia Plumbing, Jute Crossfit, Specialty AC Products — while at other places you’re not exactly sure what they’re doing but you know it must be important: Bio-Rad, DST Controls, MRC Global. Small pocket parks reside within the larger park. At one on East 2nd you can learn to tap (Tip Tap Toe Dance Studio), remodel your kitchen (Affordable Quality Cabinets and Countertops), paint your remodeled kitchen (Hobson Painting), have a beer (Bruehol Taproom), eat a meal (Benicia Grill), get an oil change (Chris’ Auto Repair), and consult with a Higher Power (New Harbor Church). Now that’s one-stop shopping for you.
The Benicia Industrial Park is home to hundreds of businesses that contribute millions of dollars every year to the city treasury through sales taxes and fees. It also employs thousands of people, many of whom live in town. It is a community resource and not just for humans. One night we dropped our car off at an auto shop in a funky older warehouse section. The place was deserted, except for the half-dozen feral cats that froze at our sudden appearance. Our headlights eerily illuminated their glowing eyes. After we left, they resumed their after-hours prowling.