Story & photos by Julie Snyder
“I collect antiques. Why? Because they’re beautiful.”
Martha Stewart? No, Broderick Crawford, the tough-guy, fedora-wearing actor best known for his starring role as Chief Dan Mathews in the 1950s police drama, “Highway Patrol.” Clearly, antique fans aren’t easily stereotyped.
The universal appeal of antiques reaches critical mass on the first Sunday of every month just across the Bay from San Franciscoat the Alameda Point Antiques Faire,Northern California’s largest antiques show. Typically more than 10,000 treasure hunters roam the breezy peninsula at the one-time Alameda Naval Air Station—decommissioned in 1997—where some 800 vendors have temporarily set up shop.
Now in its 15th year, the Faire has successfully repurposed the former runways into a haven for vintage valuables—high-quality antiques, collectibles and plenty of kitsch as well. The caveat: All merchandise must be at least 20 years old.
My husband, Joe, and I are in a “declutter and divest” phase of life so we arrived planning to browse, not buy. But with so much bounty, could we possibly escape temptation? With ourAlamedapals Sue and Walt, we slowly wandered among aisles of eclectic merchandise.
Well-worn baseball mitts were nestled between richly-hued native American weavings and exquisite stained glassed windows. Tattered pull toys and vintage dolls were a refreshing reminder of a time when toys didn’t require battery packs and charging stations. There were plaster birdbaths adorned with cherubs, and friezes that looked like miniatures from the Greek Elgin Marbles collection in theBritishMuseum.
And on it went: elegant wood furniture, vintage clothing, all manner of jewelry—including bracelets made from old typewriter keys—enormous, vivid travel posters, and bullet-riddled traffic signs. Rickety bicycles with seats as large as dinner plates, and an old-fashioned suitcase from John Handley in Glasgow that proudly boasted “Improved Solid Leather.”
The vendors were primarily professionals—as evidenced by their presentation and shopper interaction. Some had great names, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Original Sin, Retro Diva, and Chick-a-Boom Vintage among them. Those we chatted with were clearly in their element, showcasing hand-picked wares with pride in the festive alfresco setting.
When we grew woozy from the sensory overload of so much “stuff,” the San Francisco skyscape across the Bay offered a welcome change of focus, as did the food court. The latter however—with over 30 vendors–provided its own sensory overload, with African barbecue, Hawaiian ice, falafel, pizza, crepes, tacos, knish, roasted corn, even Weiner Schnitzel. Roaming carts even served up hot pretzels, crème brûlée and ice cream.
After several hours of meandering, we left empty-handed, surrounded by shoppers pushing carts overflowing with finds. I later asked Joe if any item particularly enticied him. Yes, he said, he was tempted by a brass “dumpy level”—a small telescope with a bubble level attached—to add to his antique tool collection. Practicality won out, however, as he decided to invest instead in tools he can actually use!
Me? A collection of antique hardware– hinges, drawer pulls, door knobs—was my best in show. Why? Maybe because they were beautiful. Surely Broderick Crawford would have approved.
If You Go
The early bird gets the antique, as the show opens at6 a.m. fees: $15 at6 a.m.; $10 at 7:30 a.m.; $5 at 9 a.m.; free after 2 p.m. The show closes at 3 p.m. There’s free parking and shuttle service available, and you can rent shopping carts and dollies to carry your purchases. The rain date is the second Sunday of the month. For more information, visit:
Julie Snyder lives near Lake Tahoe, where her current pet project is Nevada Humane Society. As a writer, editor and publisher, she’s contributed to a variety of lifestyle, in-flight and travel publications, and produced award-winning catalogs for Backroads travel company. Among her passions are animal welfare, walking, travel and the Green Bay Packers.