“the MCCC was the last commission of Frank Lloyd Wright and it
remains a testament to the vision and functionality of his designs.”
Growing up in rural northern California, I took many things for granted: the magnificent protected coast line, the villagers that helped raise me, fresh air and clean food, the artistic immersion that came simply from being in an environment where personal creativity was celebrated on a par with academics or social standing.
But even in heaven on earth a kid can get bored. My mother’s answer to this was to drive the 20 miles of back roads (to this day freeways terrify her) to the Marin County Civic Center, where my brother and I could ride the escalators. In a pre-computer, pre-cable tv, pre DS, pre-virtual world , escalators were a pretty high tech means of fun. We were from the boonies, after all. And these weren’t just any escalators. The MCCC was the last commission of Frank Lloyd Wright and it remains a testament to the vision and functionality of his designs. Of course, we didn’t just ride the moving stairs. There was the circular domed library, the Nabooesque cafeteria, the upper courtyard with views of the building's golden pinnacle and Terra Linda hills. The feeling, as I skimmed the rail with my hand, vibrating to a tickly numb under my palm. The smell of the stucco, brass and rubber plants. As if a spaceship had swallowed an old office building.
As I grew the building signified other things.
The annual Marin County fair was held on its grounds and with it memories of ogling feather haired east Marin girls as I waited in line to “go backwards!” on the Flying Bobs or spent all my money trying to win a Cheryl Tiegs poster by bursting balloons with the three darts I got for my last dollar. It was, and probably still is, the backdrop to the fourth of july fireworks extravaganza. the largest in the county, fired over the lake so as to not turn the brown summer fields ablaze.
Both my parents worked in the building at some point during my childhood. For a sometimes ashamed of his ordinary hands hippy spawn this was a mark of validation. Not only did my parents work in a legitimate building rather than a hash pipe factory or kitchen, but they worked in THAT building. The mother-ship of the whole county, which to this 9 year old, might as well have been the whole world.
My mother in an office, my dad as a custodian. He told stories of his interactions with the kids in the juvenile detention center housed within. A few years later, accompanied by an exasperated stepmother and drowsy brother, I got to know the Adult detention facility, as we bailed dad out. I guess the building had different pull for different people. Out of high school I was recommended food stamps as a way of supplementing my meager income by a friend’s mother who worked in the welfare wing, only to be refused under the civic center’s same blue curved glass roof because I lacked an address. That was probably the last experience with this magical structure of my childhood until I passed it recently, on my way to visit my mercifully un-incarcerated father in Petaluma with my two boys in tow. It’s right off the highway if you’re heading north from San Francisco to the verdant vineyards of Sonoma and Napa and although our whirlwind west coast visit was already overbooked to the gills, I couldn’t pass without being drawn back to the iconic palace of Marin municipality.
My children do not live in the boonies. They have as many choices as I had trailheads in the way of excitement or diversion. Museums, playgrounds, subway trains and ferry boats, not to mention every technology known to man as of yesterday. But walking the halls with them, running our hands along the rail, discovering the library and misty park at the top and yes, even riding the escalators, was as nourishing as say, an afternoon exploring the Guggenheim.