Archive for the ‘ Access covers’ Category

Empire Foundry

11 November 2021

38th Avenue and Redding Street

An unusual configuration from Empire Foundry.

While I’m at it, here’s a street drain plate from Empire. Don’t know where this is, because I’ve had the photo lying around for a long time.

Oakland Fire Alarm & Police Telegraph

25 April 2021

437 25th Street

The Fire Alarm Police Telegraph system was the cutting edge of public safety a century and a half ago. It was a wired system that connected battery-powered alarm boxes to transmit alarms instantly across a city. San Francisco had such a system in 1865, described in a history on the S.F. City Museum site. The 1906 earthquake led to complete upgrades in this system. San Francisco dedicated its new Central Fire Alarm Station in 1915, but Oakland was ahead of that city, having finished its fire alarm police telegraph system in 1911. A main building at 13th and Oak Streets was connected by underground cables to police stations and call boxes and fire stations across the city. “With its isolation, fire-proof construction and underground system of cables,” the Tribune reported, “the entire city might burn or be shaken to pieces by earthquake and the operation of the system would not be disturbed in the least.”

Presumably this access cover dates from that time and belonged to that system.


12 September 2019

This access cover, next to the Paramount Theater on 21st Street, combines hardware from East Bay MUD and its primary predecessor, the East Bay Water Company. The two leaves look to be the same vintage and installed at the same time. It’s my theory that when EBMUD took the reins of the East Bay’s water system in the 1920s, they inherited a bunch of plumbing stock with the EBWCo logo and just deployed it until they ran out. It helped that local foundries could quickly adapt their existing forms to the new client.


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.