Archive for the ‘ Access covers’ Category


24 November 2017

North of the 19th Street BART station, the tracks curve left and emerge on the north side of 23rd Street. This is one of two access covers on 22nd Street, right next to the parking structure, that lead into the underground. I never really noticed them until one day I heard a train go by down below. Haven’t heard one since.

Perhaps there are other examples elsewhere in the system. Let’s keep track here in the comments.

Baypoint Iron Works access cover

20 October 2017

This rarity sits in the street where Highland and Wildwood Avenues meet, in Piedmont. Port Chicago was the former town just west of Bay Point where the terrible explosion of 17 July 1944 occurred. The Baypoint Iron Works existed at that time, but I have found no information about it beyond that fact. The town was taken over by the government and demolished in 1968.

Ransome Construction Company access cover

6 October 2017

When I featured the Ransome Company here a few weeks ago, that post showed the firm’s various sidewalk stamps. But they also made steel things — at least, they made access covers. This one, on La Salle Avenue in Piedmont, is really pleasant to look at.

Which point is the top?

Access covers are typically busy with “treads” and symmetrical in pattern. The treads are mandatory (for traction, cleanliness and protection against wear), but symmetry is just an aesthetic preference. Back in geology school when I took my mandatory semester of crystallography, we were trained to look at patterns of dots, say, and detect all the ways they were symmetrical. Some arrangements of atoms in a crystal, or the faces of a crystal, look the same after you rotate them by 180 degrees, others after rotations of 120 degrees — or 90 or 60 degrees. Or if you imagine placing a mirror, on edge, across the center of the pattern, the reflection may exactly duplicate the side behind the mirror — that would be mirror symmetry. Every crystal on Earth exhibits one or more of these basic symmetries.

So I often find myself looking at the symmetry of an access cover to determine up and down. Looking only at the sets of holes, seven and five, at the center, you can picture two different lines running through the center that would split them into mirror-image halves. One line would run through the two blue paint spots; the other, at right angles to it, would run from the R in Ransome to the second T in Contractors.

Of course, the words around the rim are symmetrical across the first line, so that rules out the second. That would put the top of the lid between “Oakland” and “Cal.” Ransome was real particular about those five and seven holes.

But then there are the stars. They would be symmetrical across the first line too, except that a single star is missing. The designer of the mold either overlooked that, or decided to mess with our heads. (I think someone at Pheonix Iron Works played the same trick.)

Now PG&E and Great Western Power Company were both very meticulous about their symmetry, but Ransome’s access covers were just a little funky.

Standard Gas Engine Company

22 September 2017

The Standard Gas Engine Company was a major player in the Bay area, a center of innovation that dominated the Pacific coast in pioneering internal-combustion engines for marine applications. It was founded around 1900 but relocated to Oakland in the wake of the 1906 earthquake, on property it had fortuitously leased from the Port of Oakland a month earlier.

It thrived at this location, on the shore of Brooklyn Basin at the foot of Dennison Street, where ships could have their engines installed or repaired at the company’s wharf. The Standard Gas baseball team was part of the Industrial Intercounty League in the mid-teens. The plant expanded in 1916 after the acquisition of the Corlis Gas Engine Company. In 1917 the Tribune reported that the company was paying its employees a quarterly dividend from its profits. (Labor activists regard this kind of “company union” as a typical management trick to prevent real unions from forming.)

In the 1920s the Ford Motor Company contracted with the company to build parts for its products, such as the new Hamilton transmission for the Fordson line of tractors. In 1933 it began making engines for the American Diesel Engine company. The last reference to the company in the Oakland Tribune was in 1942.

Standard Gas Engine made stationary engines as well as boat and vehicle engines. Perhaps one of those, possibly a water pump, lies beneath this access cover.

Access cover “D”

8 September 2017

This fine piece of steel is E. 27th Street at Garden Street. If anyone has an idea what “D” might be, I’m all ears. The pattern is cool even if the owner is obscure.

EBMUD Special District No. 1

23 June 2017

These handsome access covers are few and far between. They’re part of East Bay Mud’s sewage service.

Special District No. 1 was established in 1944 by elections in six East Bay cities and started operating in 1951. It serves a smaller area inside the region where EBMUD provides water service, as shown on this map from the utility’s site.

Wastewater from nine East Bay cities flows from city sewers to the District’s interceptors — large pipes that carry the water to the treatment plant near the Bay Bridge. From there the treated water goes into the Bay.


26 May 2017

This utility hole cover sits on Keswick Court, on the south side of Shepherd Canyon. My searches for any information about SPSD have drawn a total blank. It might stand for the San Pablo Sanitary District, which existed from 1921 to 1978 when it became the West County Wastewater District. Maybe whoever installed the sewer line down Keswick bought SPSD’s outdated hardware, or the Empire Foundry had a stack lying around. I mean, who would care?

I have few other clues. Keswick was shown as unpaved on the 1947 topo map and paved on the 1959 edition, so the lid may date from the fifties. And yet Beaconsfield Road, just up the hill, contains a water main cap from People’s Water Company, which ceased to exist in 1914. I can only assume that EBMUD used old PWC inventory when it pushed water service into the area.

For more clues, I must rely on the kindness of my readers.