Granite curbs


Older parts of Oakland are graced with proper curbstones — carved granite rather than molded concrete. They have the whiff of simpler times, of street trolleys and horse-drawn vehicles. They were made to last the ages, you might say.

Stone has always competed with concrete, with quality and cost both in the contest. Stone, above all, is durable, and it still beats concrete in that respect. But everything else has evolved in concrete’s favor. The skilled labor of stonecutters has waned while the strength and the convenience of concrete have grown.

A lot of downtown curbs are ironclad concrete, an early attempt to protect the curbs from chipping. I’ve never seen a new example, and I’ve seen a lot of places where the steel straps have warped.


Today we’re apparently okay with letting the curbs chip. In any case, chipping doesn’t seem to be a big problem. Concrete is easy to repair.

At the old YMCA building, on Telegraph at 21st Street, the curved granite corner curb appears to be part of the heritage designation.


You probably can’t replace these special-order stones any more. The quarries that made them are mostly long closed. And you can’t carve wheelchair-compliant curb cuts into them, either, which has led to an inelegant design on this corner with a wide concrete apron in the street. The building’s manager told me that a small pipe runs through it for street drainage, but it’s easily clogged. So the stone is preserved, but it’s not well displayed. Meanwhile the opposite corner has a nice new curb cut with the grooved concrete and the knobby yellow patch. Today’s ways really are better ways.

I’d be okay with the city replacing this corner. I wonder what the city does with the old curbstones. They should be recycled, perhaps in the parks.

One Response to “Granite curbs”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Today I spotted another granite corner curb, at Broadway and 4th Street. That one is tilted into the street, so it functions OK as a curb cut, but it’s still not ADA compliant.

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