Enjoy Hayward’s Hidden Retro Charms

Big Mike is just one of many roadside commercial structures that can be admired at Bell Plastics, one of the treasures in Hayward. Photos by Dave Weinstein

There are towns that overplay their hand when promoting tourism. They brag of grand vistas that prove less than uplifting and downtowns that are less beautiful than bland. Then there are places like Hayward that don’t quite know they have a hand to play.

For a large, or large-ish city, population 160,000-plus, Hayward remains too little known to the wider world. But for a daylong excursion, few places beat Hayward for lovers of mid-century modern, and just plain mid-century, quotidian design.

And for those who live in many of the Eichler neighborhoods, it is convenient. The town is just minutes from Eichler tracts in Oakland and Castro Valley. Folks who are Berkeley bound on I-580 from Palo Alto have several convenient exits. Or if there’s traffic on the Interstate, the roughly parallel Mission Boulevard will get you there while passing various freestanding signs (notice the one for Holiday Bowl) and other fine examples of roadside mid-century architecture.

Before visiting the city’s compact downtown, though, stop at some outlying attractions. Perhaps the most compelling is a very serious plastic manufacturing business, Bell Plastics, at 2020 National Avenue, that doubles as an open-air museum of roadside statuary that the owner has collected over the years.

Shasta Beverages in Hayward has only one rotating giant soda can, not a six pack, but it is impressive if you love roadside signs.

 These are displayed in the outdoors entry to the business. Chief among them, though not the most exotic, is ‘Big Mike.’

Here’s the scoop from Bell Plastic’s website:

“Big Mike first appeared at Morris Car Wash on Mission Boulevard in Hayward, California in 1966. The sales man from (manufacturer) International Fiberglass was touring the country with the statue on a trailer.

“The salesman made a deal with Mr. Morris for $50 a month. When the Morris Car Wash closed, Big Mike went to work for Tyre Treads until they closed in 2011.”

That's when Bell acquired the statue.

“International Fiberglass made Giant Men from 1964 to 1972,” Bell Plastics goes on. “In the late 1990s roadsideamerica.com coined the term ‘Muffler Men’ for International Fiberglass’ Giant Men. It was a term they used to keep track of the Giant statue in house due to the fact a lot of them held mufflers in their hands.”

Many other figures are also on display, including a Doggie Diner head and a young woman in a bikini. Some figures are under reconstruction.

Those who enjoy large, moving roadside stands have another location worth visiting in Hayward’s large industrial zone – Shasta Beverages, at 26901 Industrial Boulevard – to enjoy the immense Shasta soda can that slowly turns on its elevated moorings. Classic.

Collectors of  retro fashion love the line of thrift stores along Mission Boulevard south of Hayward. Also on your way to downtown is the attractive Hayward Plunge, at 24176 Mission Boulevard, a public swimming pool whose architectural style blends late Streamline Moderne with mid-century modern.

Wonder what's on the menu at the Hayward Ranch? The sign lets you know. But even vegetarians could enjoy the old-time place.

But let’s head into downtown, passing on the way some authentic Googie coffee shops, one of which has been repurposed into an Asian eatery.

If it’s time for lunch you can’t do better than the Hayward Ranch, at 22877 Mission Boulevard, founded in 1948, with a freestanding neon sign featuring the three-dimensional head of a bull. Inside the place is, as you would hope, chock-a-block with wooden wagon wheels and chuck wagon gear.

Food’s good too, with a focus on steak.

Over the years, it’s been up and down for Hayward’s downtown, filled with beautiful early 20th century commercial buildings, not always currently occupied, plus some startling Art Deco structures and a few, quieter mid-century modern ones too.

 These days downtown seems to be doing well. Hayward has the Bay Area’s earliest brew pub and a modern Cineplex that attracts much bustle.

There are other retro spots for convenient snacks or desserts, including the charming Charlotte’s Ice Cream and Café, at 1049 B Street,  and the semi-circular, glass-walled Caspers Hot Dogs, at 951 C Street.

Downtown Hayward has many antique and collectable shops, including this example on B Street.

Downtown also has a large and a changing number of shops that sell antiques, collectables, and retro apparel, mostly vintage, but at least ones that focuses on vintage style but new.

This is Vintage Alley, at 1037 B Strreet,  and the man who runs it with his wife Alicia Rodriguez is Alfredo Rodriguez, a leading Hayward booster. Besides running the shop he is chief organizer of the annual Vintage Alley Car Show in September in downtown. The free show features about 200 cars from 1973 and earlier – roadsters, hot rods, low riders, Rodriguez says – along with two stages of music.

The show this year will be September 7.

Rodriguez, who owns a 1956 Chevy Bel Air, says, “I’ve only owned five cars in all my life, and two of them are ‘56s.”

His shop, which sells new, American-made, 1940s and ‘50s panel shirts and hats for men, and pinup fashions and the like for women, also has a beauty salon in the shop, run by Alicia, his wife, where women heading for events can doll-up with authentic hairdos that would have looked fine on Betty Grable or Marilyn Monroe.

The CA Modernist thanks author and explorer-into-all-things-mid-century-modern, Heather David, for a guided tour of Hayward.

Hayward's Vintage Alley car show takes place this September in downtown Hayward, a town worth exploring. Courtesy of Alfredo Rodriguez

Reader Comments Box