Select City Highpoints

On May 11, 2017 · 5 Comments

I’m not much of a highpointer, and a begrudging one at best, although I maintain a kinship with those who follow this pursuit. I like the concept of highpointing more than the actual climbing of summits. That’s why I find myself occasionally visiting sites like peakbagger.com and examining things like its Peak Lists. I admit, I lifted many of the ideas for today’s article from its Selected World City High Points, and I’d do it again. City highpoints never got much attention. They fell way down on the pecking order behind national, state and county highpoints. I decided to give a few city highpoints the attention they deserved. I ordered my list from lame to grand.

Unnamed


City of Toronto Highpoint
Toronto, Ontario Highpoint
via Google Maps 3D, 2017

Toronto didn’t appear on that peakbagger list. Nonetheless I felt I should take a look anyway. The Canadian city with its largest population certainly deserved some attention. A great city in a great nation undoubtedly marked its highest elevation with a spectacular monument. Well, no, not really. Toronto’s maximum elevation of 212 meters (696 feet) barely rose above the surrounding terrain. Trip reports described an underwhelming experience, essentially walking onto a field (map) directly across the road from York University. I did notice that a regular Twelve Mile Circle reader posted one of the trip reports so that was a nice bonus.

The generally flat field covered a large reservoir of underground oil tanks. It seemed odd, as I considered it, that sports fields would be built atop oil tanks, although I supposed it must have been safe or they wouldn’t have done it. The fields served as home base for the Toronto Azzurri Soccer Club, with the specific highpoint found on what they called the West Fields. I can never remember where people call the sport Soccer and where they call it Football. Apparently Canada went with the soccer variation, or at least one club in Toronto did. I’m sure the Canadian 12MC audience will correct me if I’m wrong.

I doubted that any kids kicking soccer balls across a field atop oil tanks appreciated their exalted location upon Toronto’s summit.


Chancery Lane at High Holborn


City (High Holborn, 22m)
City (High Holborn, 22m) Junction with Chancery Lane. Photo by diamond geezer on Flickr (cc)

Peakbagger suggested a highpoint for London, England although I disagreed. It focused on Greater London and I’ll get to that in a moment. I wanted the actual City of London, a very tiny area of barely more than a square mile. The possibility of an exciting highpoint within such a small urban footprint seemed remote. It met my paltry expectations and nothing more. The actual spot registered maybe a notch better than Toronto only because it fell within a fairly busy, seemingly dynamic area. The highpoint could be discerned on the eastern side of Chancery Lane near its junction with High Holborn (map). It registered a measly elevation of 22 m (72 ft).

People who "climbed" to the summit recorded some interesting trip reports. One person said, "I’d walked across this pavement summit several times whilst working in London, without realising it was a high point." Another offered a recommendation to future climbers, "Suggest you do this one from Chancery Lane tube station, then at least you walk slightly uphill to it." Everyone seemed rather unimpressed.

Westerham Heights appeared as the highpoint on the Peakbagger list (map), at 245 metres (804 ft). However, that applied to Greater London, comprised of all 32 London boroughs plus the City of London. It wasn’t much more spectacular either, at 245 m (804 ft), "A rather unpleasant high point opposite Westerham Heights Farm; on a blind bend, the verge of a fast dangerous road, the A233."


Mount Lukens


Mount Lukens, view from Beaudry Loop
Mount Lukens, view from Beaudry Loop. Photo by Vahe Martirosyan on Flickr (cc)

A similar situation appeared in Los Angeles, California although the highpoint was much more prominent. I didn’t want the Los Angeles county highpoint, Mount San Antonio (aka Mount Baldy) at an impressive 3,068 m (10,064 ft). I wanted the city highpoint. The summit of Mount Lukens (map) reached 1,547 m (5,074 feet). While it didn’t reach quite the same stature as Mount Baldy, it still hit a pretty good altitude. At least it was a real mountain, too. It sounded amazing.

Mount Lukens stands majestically above the Crescenta Valley as the western most peak of the San Gabriel Mountains front range… It’s western flank drops over 3,000 feet affording terrific views of the San Fernando Valley to the southwest and the Verdugo Mountains and the Los Angeles Basin to the south. On exceptional days both the south and west facing beaches can be seen.

That made Los Angeles the city with the highest elevation of the 50 largest cities in the United States.


Montmartre


Montmartre
Montmartre. Photo by heroesbed on Flickr (cc)

However, Montmartre, the highest point of elevation in Paris, France, impressed me the most (map). A highpoint should look like this. It actually fell outside of the city limits until 1860 when it was annexed to become part of the 18th arrondissement. While the summit climbed only 130 m (430 ft), French authorities took full advantage of the situation. What does one do with such a prominent peak? Stick a basilica atop it and make it look even taller! The Basilica of Sacré-Cœur, dedicated to the sacred heart of Jesus, underwent construction on Montmartre between 1875 and 1914. What a lovely setting. No wonder artists such as Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet spent time on Montmartre.

By George, Part 2

On May 1, 2016 · 1 Comments

With numerous places named for British Kings George I, II and III already examined and set-aside in the previous article, it was time to turn my attention to IV, V and VI. This would be more difficult. The first set of Georges ruled for a contiguous period of more than a century, from 1714 to 1820, an era coinciding with a rapid growth of the British Empire. The remaining three ruled for half that time with a large gap in between while the Empire began to unravel. There were considerably fewer opportunities to name places for those Georges. Most of the names had already been bestowed within the Empire and new territories weren’t being added much anymore. Also, opportunities in the United States and other places dried-up after their independence. Even so I still found a few examples scattered amongst other areas of the world although sometimes I needed to get creative.

George IV (reigned 1820-1830)


Church of Our Lady Guelph, Ontario
Church of Our Lady Guelph, Ontario by Patty O’Hearn Kickham on Flickr (cc)

That creativity extended to the City of Guelph in Ontario, Canada (map). Guelph? Yes, Guelph was named for King George IV. The University of Guelph explained the logic:

Where did the name GUELPH originate? The city of Guelph was named in 1827 to honour the British Empire’s King George IV, whose family name was Gwelf. The spelling has been changed to today’s "Guelph" — but it’s pronounced just as it was 170 years ago: gwelf (rhymes with self). The origin of the city’s name is also why you might hear Guelph referred to as "The Royal City." Of course, we just refer to it as ‘home.’

I decided to provide another example just in case readers felt a bit cheated by the reference to Guelph. Purists in the audience probably wanted to see something named George instead. How about Georgian Bay (map)? This corner of Lake Huron on the Canadian side of the border sat east of Manitoulin Island and the Bruce Peninsula. It was quite sizable with a surface area of fifteen thousand square kilometres (just a little smaller than Kuwait), so George IV got at least one geographic feature of note named for him. Indeed, I confirmed that it was true.

Examples began to taper quickly from there. Lots of cities named streets for George IV, including a nice elevated one in Edinburgh, Scotland. However his decade long reign limited the availability of naming opportunities.


George V (reigned 1910-1936)


La nuit Avenue Georges V à PARIS (kbg Sylvie_3)
La nuit Avenue Georges V à PARIS by Voyage_50mm_Pentax on Flickr (cc)

The First World War was a horrific conflict that ravaged Western Europe although it did result in something that met the criteria for this article, a swanky street in Paris named for George V. The street originally went by Avenue d’Alma. The French decided to honor George V for his support to the nation during the war and changed its name to Avenue George V on Bastille Day, July 14, 1918 (map). It wasn’t a long road, less than a kilometre, although it was exceedingly prestigious as would befit the ruler of an important ally. It formed one side of Paris’ Triangle d’Or (Golden Triangle) when paired with Ave. Montaigne and the Champs-Elysées, an area considered "the most luxurious place on the right bank." This also provided a home to the magnificent George V Four Seasons Hotel, a 1928 Art Deco masterpiece. These were all served by the adjacent George V station on the Paris Metro subway.

Additionally, George V gained a lake named for him located directly on the equator in Uganda (map) although he was still Prince George at the time. I thought that should still count even though he wasn’t yet king. I had to take what I could get. There weren’t many examples.


George VI (reigned 1936-1952)


Looking out while over the George VI ice shelf
Looking out while over the George VI ice shelf by NASA ICE (cc)

What blank spaces on the map could the British possibly be able to fill by 1936 when George VI came to the throne? Why, places in Antarctica of course! It might have been a bit removed from the beaten track although the territory was immense, as were the naming opportunities

Lincoln Ellsworth was born into a wealthy Chicago family and had the financial means to become an Antarctic explorer. His groundbreaking 1935 expedition by airplane "covered a distance of 2200 miles of which 1200 miles was over previously unexplored territory." and he "was able to photograph the major fault depression" along his route. The British Graham Land Expedition reached the rift overland by sled the following year, traveling 200 miles "down the channel separating Alexander Island from the Peninsula." This expedition named this area King George VI Sound (map). Most of the sound was covered by ice, and that became the King George VI Ice Shelf. It was big too, stretching 300 miles (483 km). The scale was downright impressive. George VI did alright with that deal, all things considered.

World’s Fair Towers

On January 14, 2015 · 6 Comments

I suppose this is something of a Part 3 addendum to the recent Southern Swing articles although maybe it’s not truly the case. Perhaps it would be better to call it "inspired" by those earlier articles. We broke the return trip into a two-day event with an overnight stay in Knoxville, Tennessee. The hotel happened to be located near the Sunsphere, a tower designed for the 1982 World’s Fair. That was a happy coincidence although unintentional. We never saw the tower during daylight because there’s a lot of darkness near the northern hemisphere’s winter solstice. That’s why I couldn’t get a decent photograph although I still gave it a shot. The sight also made me wonder about towers that have been built for World Fairs in general. Some of them became iconic structures while others fell into relative obscurity.

Sunsphere (1982) – Knoxville, Tennessee, USA


Sunsphere
Sunsphere (my own photo)

The Sunsphere that we saw in Knoxville seemed to fall amongst those that didn’t quite capture public imagination (map); "It represents the sun, source of energy, and reflected the energy theme of the fair." I guess that wasn’t inspirational enough. It looked like a giant Van der Graaf generator. I guarantee it would have become iconic if it actually shot giant bolts of lightning. Sadly, it did not.

During the fair the Sunsphere featured five primary levels, an observation deck, a kitchen, two dining levels, and a cocktail lounge. It had a hard life once the fair ended, standing either vacant or underused for three decades and counting. However, it’s available for rent should someone want to use it for a wedding reception, a corporate event, or a 12MC reader happy hour.

As an aside, I wasn’t aware that the World’s Fair was still a thing. Apparently those events still exist and one will be held in Milan in 2015. None have occurred in the United States since 1984 and that’s probably why I though EPCOT or something must have replaced them by now.


La Tour Eiffel (1889) – Paris, France


La Tour Eiffel
La Tour Eiffel by Christopher Chan, on Flickr (cc)

I had no idea that the Eiffel Tower in Paris was a remnant of a World’s Fair (map). It served as the centerpiece of the Exposition Universelle of 1889 which also commemorated the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. The tower that Gustave Eiffel erected brought strong negative reactions from critics at the time and became a beloved symbol despite their pronouncements. Twelve Mile Circle doesn’t need to mention anything else about the Eiffel Tower, right?

It would be many years before another World’s Fair would attempt to feature a tower. How could any other city top such an iconic structure?


Atomium (1958) – Brussels, Belgium


Atomium landscape
Atomium landscape by Vase Petrovski, on Flickr (cc)

Neighboring Belgium made an honest attempt in 1958 with its Atomium for the Brussels World’s Fair (Brusselse Wereldtentoonstelling / Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles) (map). This was the height of the atomic age. An oddly shiny building with 9 interconnected spheres climbing 102 metres and fashioned in the form of an iron atom enlarged 165 billion times seemed to be an optimal choice for the times. The Atomium can still be visited today and its website describes it as,

A seminal totem in the Brussels skyline; neither tower, nor pyramid, a little bit cubic, a little bit spherical, half-way between sculpture and architecture, a relic of the past with a determinedly futuristic look, museum and exhibition centre; the Atomium is, at once, an object, a place, a space, a Utopia and the only symbol of its kind in the world, which eludes any kind of classification.

I agree.

Readers can also use Google Street View to go inside of the Atomium. It’s quite a structure.


Space Needle (1962) – Seattle, Washington, USA


Space Needle and Pacific Science Center
Space Needle and Pacific Science Center by Terence T.S. Tam, on Flickr (cc)

Seattle’s Space Needle (map) didn’t quite hit the same iconic status as the Eiffel Tower although it probably came closer than any of the other examples. Certainly, it would be recognized instantly by many people far beyond the Pacific Northwest. Fashions had begun to transition from the atomic age into the space age and the Seattle World’s Fair reflected those changing times.


Tower of the Americas (1968) – San Antonio, Texas, USA


Tower of the Americas
Tower of the Americas (my own photo)

I’ve been to the top of the Tower of the Americas. San Antonio’s convention center is located next to HemisFair Park where the tower was built (map). I went to San Antonio a few years ago for a conference and I had a little extra time so I rode to the top.

This World’s Fair featured "The Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas" as its theme. I’m not sure how the tower reflected that concept although it’s still impressive. The fair commemorated the 250th anniversary of San Antonio and supposedly the theme also referenced several nations that held sway of Texas territory. Some might say 6 Flags Over Texas, other might claim 7 Flags, or whatever.


The Skyneedle (1988) – Brisbane, Australia


Entire Skyneedle
Entire Skyneedle by Mervin, on Flickr (cc)

The weirdest World’s Fair tower might have been the Skyneedle in Brisbane (map). It reached 88 metres and appropriately matched World Expo 88. However the tower did not accommodate visitors. It was too small. Instead it shot a beam of light around the city. The Skyneedle was supposed to be relocated to Tokyo Disneyland once the fair closed. Instead, it became the possession of a local hairdresser entrepreneur, Stefan, who moved it to his headquarters nearby. Yelp had a number of amusing reviews:

Standing tall, proud and pointless Brisbane’s Skyneedle is capable of the occasional light show and little else. Even its powerful beam is only allowed to be used on special occasions as it is a potential risk to plane’s coming in to land at Brisbane airport. But despite its inherent absurdity, or more correctly, because of its inherent absurdity Stefan’s Needle has become a much loved part of the city skyline.

Pity the Skyneedle.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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