The Richard “Fresh Air” Janson Memorial Bridge
Drivers passing over the Sonoma Creek Bridge on Highway 37 between Novato and Vallejo may notice the bridge is named after Richard “Fresh Air” Janson.
Janson, who died in 1951, was a carver of duck decoys. Janson’s work was the ‘gold standard’ against which all other Pacific Coast decoys are evaluated,” according to Assembly Concurrent Resolution 68 of 1996 naming the bridge in Janson’s honor.
Janson is one of more than 700 names that have been given to various parts of the state’s highway system, all of which are catalogued in Caltrans’ Named Freeways, Highways, Structures and Other Appurtenances in California, published in January 2011.
Born in Estonia near the city of Riga in 1871, Janson’s nickname stemmed from annual spring sojourns with the Alaskan salmon fishing fleet during which he insisted on sleeping on deck – regardless of the weather.
He used a small ax, a carving knife and sandpaper to create his decoys, the most common being pintails and mallards.
West-Coast Decoys.com describes Janson’s decoys as “simple” and “graceful.”
In the 1930s, Janson charged $28 for a dozen decoys, if the purchaser supplied the wood, and $32 if not.
He lived on an ark with no electricity moored a half mile from the bridge that now bears his name.
The ark burned in 1951. Janson moved to the Oak Knoll Sanitarium in Sonoma where he died at 79.
The co-author of the Assembly resolution naming the bridge after Janson was then state Sen. Mike Thompson, a Napa Democrat. Thompson has represented the same area in Congress since 1998.
A duck hunter, Thompson’s Sacramento office was decorated with decoys – as is his current Washington D.C. office.
A 2011 exhibition at San Francisco’s Airport’s International Terminal called “The Allure of the Decoy” featured a hen carved by Janson from Thompson’s collection.
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