Archive for the ‘ Profiles’ Category

Sidewalk maker: Gus Peterson

16 December 2022

1717 Fairview Street, Berkeley

This handsome stamp on a concrete wall is the best mark left by August “Gus” Peterson. His sidewalk stamps are rare and poorly preserved; only one has a date (1914) in all of Oakland. It looks like there ought to be more in Berkeley.

Peterson was born in Sweden in 1880 and came to the US in 1903. The 1905 directory lists him at 3132 King Street, and in 1909-10 he was listed at 3130 King.

The 1910 census had him and his wife Signe, another Swedish immigrant, and their infant daughter Ruby living at 3132 King. The 1920 census found them and Ruby at 993 56th Street along with son Robert, Gus’s brother John and two Swedish lodgers. The 1922-24 directories list him living at 5979 Telegraph Avenue. At the time of his death, in 1926, he lived at 5205 Genoa Street.

He’s hard to trace in the newspapers because his name was a common one. In the listings I cite here, he was identified as a cement worker and/or married to Signe.

Five years ago, a commenter identified himself as Peterson’s grandson. Apparently Gus’s son Robert died without issue, so the line must go through Ruby.

William D. Perine, Oakland’s first sidewalk maker

2 July 2021

William D. Perine was born to a farming family in Jackson, New York in 1827 and died in Oakland in 1895. He’s buried at Mountain View Cemetery in plot 13, lot 15; at Find A Grave an annotator notes, “He was among the first to introduce cement sidewalk laying in Oakland. He was involved in litigation over the patents for years and died a poor man.” He and his wife Elizabeth had three daughters and two sons; their first two children were born in Canada. Census records have him listed as a farmer in Half Moon Bay in 1870.

Perine first appeared in the 1877 city directory as a “manufacturer of cement walks.” In 1880 his business was listed under “Artificial Stone,” the going name for concrete at the time. Modern portland cement, the binding agent of concrete, had only recently been brought into common use; in the mid-1800s cement was made by roasting naturally occurring rocks of just the right composition, mixing clay and limestone. Concrete became a leading-edge technology in the late 19th century, and San Francisco’s Ernest Ransome (founder of San Leandro’s Ransome Company) gained nationwide fame with his innovations in reinforced concrete.

In 1877 Perine lived on the west side of Myrtle Street near 5th Street. In 1880, Perine’s business was located at 1002 Broadway; he lived at the northwest corner of 4th and Alice Streets. In the directories from 1884 to 1889 he was listed as living at 809 Oak Street. In 1889 and 1892 his business address was 457 Ninth Street. By the 1890s several other artificial stone firms were in business here whose work appears on Oakland sidewalks, including Gray Brothers and George Goodman.

I have found three sidewalk stamps by Perine, none of them dated. All of them bear the 809 Oak Street address, which puts their dates somewhere in the 1880s, unless he never updated his stamp. Two of them look like the mark at the top of this post; this is the third.

In the center of the mark are two digits, presumably from the 1800s. Whatever they are, I feel confident in saying that Perine was Oakland’s first hometown sidewalk maker.

Sidewalk maker: Karl A. Johanson

8 August 2020

Karl Arvid Johanson was born in PiteĆ„, Norrbotten County, Sweden in 1884, where he apprenticed as a carpenter. His biography in F. C. Merritt’s History of Alameda County (1928) rather pointedly notes that “on the completion of his apprenticeship [he] was regarded as an expert workman, receiving a diploma as a journeyman carpenter.” He emigrated at age 19, arriving at Ellis Island from Liverpool on the S.S. Ivernia, and knocked around the Upper Midwest, where for the next three years he went from job to low-wage job in the lumber industry.

He finally put his talents to work in Seattle, where he got into the building business and stayed for 15 years. There he married Jenny Lundholm, a fellow Norrbottener, and there the couple had five children.

Finally, having made some money, he relocated to Oakland in 1920 and jumped into the postwar building boom and was “more than ordinarily successful, having built over three hundred houses in this district, one hundred and seven having been built by him in one year.”

His draft record notes, “third finger right hand off below second joint,” a common injury among carpenters and lumber workers. (Jerry Garcia suffered the same, from a childhood mishap.)

I have found only two of his sidewalk marks in Oakland, both from 1924. One is on 55th Avenue and the other is on 51st Avenue.

He died in 1962, survived by all his children, and is buried at Mountain View Cemetery.

Sidewalk maker: Luigi Villata

5 October 2018

“L. Villata” marks are found all over Oakland, but mostly in North Oakland. They’re all alike, except for a very few that were hand-inscribed with the date. I have documented dates from 1950 to 1953. Villata’s sidewalks are strong and well made, using a dark and slightly bluish concrete mix.

Luigi Villata was born in Asti, Piemonte, Italy on 19 April 1890, but unlike many Italians who came to Oakland he waited until age 31, sailing from Le Havre in 1921. His older brother Stefano preceded him and was in business in Oakland as a cement worker, under the name Stephen, in the 1923 directory living at 454 42nd Street. Other family members in Oakland included brother Francesco “Frank” and half-brother Romolo. A sister, Bany, lived in San Francisco. Luigi became a U.S. citizen in 1929. Starting in the 1925 directory he referred to himself as Louis.

At first he lived (and worked) with his brother Steve on 42nd Street, then moved to 617 47th Street in 1930 and to a bungalow at 5217 West Street in 1936, where he remained until at least 1958. It must be during this period that he used the “L. Villata” stamp. As of 1967, retired, he was living at 4408 View Street.

His World War II draft record, from 1942, indicates that he was about 5 foot 6 and weighed 170 pounds, a typical Italian fireplug. At the time he was working for W. H. Wisheropp.

Luigi married Luigia (Louise) Orecchia in 1925, and they had a son, Frank J., that year. She died in 1940 and is interred at Mountain View Cemetery. In 1944 he subsequently married his second wife Josephine (Maria Giuseppina) Piodelli, who died in 1957, and his third wife, Esther (Esterina) Brusasco, in 1958. Luigi passed on in 1976, and his son Frank died just a few years ago.

Sidewalk maker: Silvio Giuntoli

28 September 2018

Silvio Giuntoli was born in Alguscio (Firenze), Italy in 1890. He immigrated in 1904 and married in 1919. He and his wife Lena Mary (1893-1962) bore no children, but a niece Verna lived with them as of the 1940 census and was listed as a daughter upon Lena’s death. Silvio was naturalized in 1942, six years after his wife. His education ended at sixth grade.

His World War II draft card described him as standing 5’4″, 160 lb, with gray eyes and hair, and “left hand missing.” A short item in the Tribune on 26 August 1954 said he “has been a one-armed cement finisher since the age of 35 when he lost his left hand at the wrist in a concrete mixer.” That accident, then, would have been in 1925.

He first appears in the 1923 directory at 1159 Elmhurst Avenue, the old name of 91st Avenue. (It’s still a sweet little street.) He moved to 9853 A Street in 1929, where he lived until his death in 1968, but the address on his stamp never changed.

I believe he had his first sidewalk stamp made in 1927; it looked like this.

For the next few years, he erased the final digit of the year and wrote it in by hand. As of 1932, his stamp bore only the “19” of the year, and the remaining digits, as well as the month and day, were impressed with a separate set of very small numbers.

I have documented Giuntoli marks in Oakland from 1927 to 1950. They’re all over town, but especially thick around Elmhurst.

Sidewalk makers: Blake & Bilger

17 June 2018

The enterprises run by Frank W. Bilger (1868-1950) left a large stamp in Oakland and beyond; Blake & Bilger was just one of them. James Guinn, in his 1907 history of Alameda County, said of Bilger, “With truth he may be called the pioneer road builder of Oakland and vicinity.”

Frank William Bilger was born to Guilielmus “William” and Pauline (Hauser) Bilger in Willow Springs, Oregon and raised in San Francisco. He earned a degree in pharmacy from UC Berkeley in 1889. Joseph Baker’s 1914 history of Alameda County recounts what came next: “Pending his intended entrance into the Cooper Medical College, he secured a position as collector for the Oakland Paving Company and, becoming interested in this line of work, rose rapidly to the position of bookkeeper. On the death of one of the owners he was elected a member of the board of trustees and later was made secretary, treasurer and general manager. He is now president of the company, which position his initiative spirit and executive ability make him eminently qualified to fill.” Guinn noted that Bilger’s grandfather was a prosperous quarry operator in Germany. (That’s also why his name should be pronounced with a hard “G”.)

The oldest surviving sidewalk stamps from Oakland Paving Company — excuse me, The Oakland Paving Co. — are from 1902.

At the time the company had at least two stamps — one of them with the N’s backward.

The company switched to its classic inverted triangle stamp starting in 1910. The great bulk of its surviving work, from 1910 to 1918, is in North Oakland and includes larger items like street corners. An outlier of 1927 marks is scattered around lower Broadway Terrace.

In 1904 Bilger founded Blake & Bilger with Anson S. Blake, whom he knew from Oakland Paving, and Anson’s brother Edwin. More about Blake later.

Frank Bilger was an uncommonly energetic man. Besides holding multiple high positions in both Oakland Paving and Blake & Bilger, he was an early president of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce and president of the Harbor Bank. He was also an accomplished magician, the tenth member of the Society of American Magicians. He sold his stake in Blake & Bilger in 1914 and ran for mayor the next year with a Republican platform of “good government and lower taxes,” losing in a landslide to John L. Davie.

A campaign photo of Bilger’s family showed his four children with his wife, the former Carolyn Siebe. A newspaper photo from 1926 showed him still at the helm of Oakland Paving. The family lived at 407 Vernon Street. Bilger appears to have remarried a couple of times after a divorce. In the 1940s he was living in the Athens Athletic Club building. By the time he died, Bilger was remembered by the Tribune as the first Potentate of the Alameda County Shriners chapter.

Anson Stiles Blake (1870-1959) was the son of a Forty-Niner, Oakland Paving’s president Charles T. Blake (1826-1897), and both Blakes were also involved with Bay Rock Company. Young Blake became president of Oakland Paving in 1909, but then sold out his position to Frank Bilger in 1914, retiring from Blake & Bilger at the same time. He lived at 2231 Piedmont Avenue, Berkeley with his wife Anita (Symmes) and a changing cast of relatives and servants.

Blake & Bilger sidewalk stamps are rare today, and even more rarely dated. Since the firm only existed from 1904 to 1914, that’s the theoretically possible date range. I’ve found examples from 1906 to 1908, plus a 1910 mark from Berkeley.

Anson and Edwin Tyler Blake (1875-1948) took over the firm as Blake Brothers Company, general contractors, with operations in Richmond. They never stamped sidewalks again, at least not in Oakland. Anson Blake was also the head of the San Francisco Quarries Company, with operations in Richmond and Marin County. He was involved with the University YMCA for over 50 years — Stiles Hall was named for his grandfather — and in the late 1940s he headed the California Historical Society. At the time of his death he lived in Kensington and was noted in the Tribune as having been “active in the Society of California Pioneers, the Save the Redwoods League, the California Academy of Sciences, Friends of the Bancroft Library and numerous other organizations.”

Both of Bilger’s companies were centered around the supply of crushed stone from the large quarry at Broadway and Pleasant Valley Avenue. Active from the late 1860s to 1945, it was for many years the largest rock quarry in Alameda County.

Blake is buried in El Cerrito. Bilger was cremated in a Masonic ceremony, but I have no info on his burial place.

Sidewalk maker: Anthony Anaclerio

15 December 2017

Anthony Edwin Anaclerio (1904-1981) was born in or near Palermo, Italy, and christened Antonio. He immigrated in 1905 with his mother “Rosy” and two siblings, preceded the year before by his father “Frank,” and the family showed up in the 1920 census living in Berkeley with two more children born in America. At that time “Tony” and his older brother Charles worked at California Foundries with their father, and his mother was a clerk-typist at a syrup factory.

He rose in the world to become a contractor working in the fresh air, and sidewalks stamped with his name are found all over Berkeley, dating from the 1950s and 1960s (thanks to Hannah Berman’s long-inactive Sidewalk Secrets blog for that documentation). And Lincoln Cushing has recorded another example in Albany.

I have not found an Anaclerio mark in Oakland — the photo here is from Los Angeles Avenue in Berkeley — so ordinarily I wouldn’t record it in Oakland Underfoot. But his work inspired David Woeller and Peter Tracy to write “Mr. Anaclerio’s Sidewalk,” a song about a sidewalk maker and the pavement that’s his posterity:

There’s a sidewalk in North Berkeley that moves up ‘n’ down just like a roller coaster ride,
Roots of the camphor tree are pushing it up from the underside
The people in the neighborhood have learned where to step high and low
On the sidewalk built in 1954 by Mister Anaclerio

While I can supply a few bare facts about guys like Anthony Anaclerio in a blog like this, it takes a poet’s song to evoke their living lives. And my few notes here aren’t really that important, any more than Anaclerio’s name, chosen for its rhyme. The point is that he’s an emblem of hundreds of sidewalk makers who helped build our East Bay by hand, square by square.

I can see him bending to his labor in the early morning East Bay fog
One hand on the floating trowel and one eye watchin’ the prowling dog
He knows nothin’ lasts forever and especially the monuments of man
And the pride in his eye is the completion of the labors of his hand

That was their craft and their trade. I bow to them wherever I walk. And I keep in mind that their work may outlive mine.