Sidewalk maker: J. O. Adler

John Olaf Adler was born in Sweden in 1857 and emigrated to the United States around 1880. He soon made his way to the thriving port city of San Francisco, where he became a citizen in 1886 and married Helena (Lena) Nilson in 1887. They were to have two daughters, Hulda and Mamie.

He was a career seaman, mentioned in the Call or listed in the San Francisco directories for 20 years as a ship’s officer on many different steamers serving the west coast ports: the San Vicente in 1887, the Point Arena in 1891, the Eureka in 1896, the Del Norte in 1899, the Celia in 1901, the Coquille River in 1905 and the Greenwood as of March 1906. He kept up his master’s license as late as 1919, when this photo was taken (thanks, He had blue eyes and tattoos on both forearms.

By 1896 he had moved his family across the bay to the town of Lorin, which became part of Berkeley soon after. The Adlers lived at 3040 Adeline, where the Ashby BART station sits, from 1900 until his death in 1926.

Around this time he got into the concrete business, according to the city directories. I’ve recorded his stamp in Oakland with dates from 1910 to 1916. Presumably other years are preserved in Berkeley. All of them look like the example above, except for this outlier from 1915.

I suspect, but cannot yet confirm, that he was the Adler of Adler and Peterson, the firm that left Oakland’s oldest surviving sidewalk stamps (from 1901 and 1907).

John and Lena Adler are buried at Mountain View Cemetery. She died in 1924, and it appears that her gravestone was moved on top of his when he died. He had remarried by the time of his death, and Anna survived him.

2 Responses to “Sidewalk maker: J. O. Adler”

  1. Christy Says:


    I thought I was the only one fascinated with concrete stamps. Thank you for your post.

  2. Ken Says:

    Spotted an interesting handmade “J ADLER” mark with a 7/17 date in Berkeley on the west side of Jefferson Street a little north of Channing this morning. Curiously, the “D” is backwards. I’m assuming this is the same Adler, though this shows much less care than his other marks. There’s a F.E. Nelson mark that also looks to be from 1917 very close by. Quite a few nice old marks along Jefferson from Dwight to Allston.

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