Archive for the ‘ Profiles’ Category

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. 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.

Sidewalk maker: Arthur G. Moniz

8 December 2017

Arthur G. Moniz (1911-1973) grew up in East Oakland, the son of Hawaiian parents of Portuguese ancestry. His father George was a shipbuilder, and at age 19 Arthur was listed in the 1930 census as a cabinetmaker. In the 1940 census he was listed as a cemetery caretaker, married to Rose (another Hawaiian native) and the father of Arthur Jr., born in 1939. Various records have him as a mariner in 1934, a shipbuilder in 1935, an ironworker in 1936, 1938 and 1940, a laborer in 1939, a shipfitter in 1944 and a cement contractor in 1967.

He never used a metal stamp. His trademark was the hand-drawn scroll; I have examples dating from the 1930s into the 1960s. I have two examples from the 1950s consisting of the scroll with “Moniz + Moniz” inside. Perhaps Arthur Jr. helped, or a relative. He also left hand-drawn marks consisting of his name and various partners:

Moniz & Johnson (perhaps R. W. Johnson or R. E. Johnson)

Moniz & Chaves (probably L. F. Chaves)

Andrade & Moniz (William Andrade)

Moniz-Silva-Chaves (there are several possible Silvas)

J + J & Moniz

He lived at several addresses in East Oakland, but I think of his home being at 3955 Burckhalter Avenue, where he lived in the 1950s.

It’s because of this panel at the front gate.

I wish I knew more about him; I think he must have been a character.

Sidewalk maker: J. O. Adler

27 October 2017

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.

Sidewalk maker: A. Soda

13 October 2017

Andrea Soda was born in southern Italy, near Provenza, in 1877, and came to America in 1907 with his wife Margherita (nee Argenta). He was listed in the 1908 directory as a cement worker. By 1912 he was living at 1137 65th Street, the address shown in his sidewalk stamps, and was the father of three children. He went by the name Andre or Andrew, and his wife likewise was called Marguerite or Margarita.

His draft form from 1917 described him as a man of medium height and build, with blue eyes and dark hair and not yet a naturalized citizen.

I have documented his marks from 1913 to 1937, all using the stamp shown above. The Tribune records him bidding on various jobs under the name A. Soda Company from 1928 to 1931 and A. Soda & Son (or Sons) from 1932 to the 1950s. (His sons were Yster Charles (“Y. C.” or Chester), born in 1908, and Stephen, born in 1912.) The company’s contracts grew in size over the years and came to focus on small bridges around Northern California.

On 5 November 1936, the firm was retimbering the old high-level tunnel above today’s Caldecott Tunnel when a collapse killed one of his workers. The paper quoted Y.C. as saying the firm had never, not once had such an accident before, and also noted that his workers kept photographers away from the scene. By this time Andrea had moved to Sacramento Street in Berkeley, with Chester still living at the old homestead.

By the 1940s Andrea had retired from the Soda firm and was running a liquor store at 6324 San Pablo Avenue. He died in 1948. Several family members, including Margherita, are entombed in a family crypt at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Hayward, but I can’t tell if he’s there too.

I was prompted to compose this post by spotting an A. Soda mark in Berkeley from 1916, a year not found in Oakland.

2099 Martin Luther King Jr. Way

Sidewalk maker: George McConnell

15 September 2017

George Caswell McConnell was born in northern Ireland (records conflict on the exact place) in 1889. He married Isabelle Gibson Brown, a native of Dykehead, Scotland, in 1908 and emigrated to America in 1911. Their son William George was born in Chicago in 1912. A second baby, George, died in infancy in 1914.

His World War I draft record described him as tall and slender, with brown hair and eyes. He was working as a streetcar conductor in Chicago. His citizenship status was “declarant,” an interesting concept to consider in light of current events, and he claimed a religious exemption to the draft (not an easy thing at the time).

McConnell first appeared in the Oakland directory in 1923, the same year the breakup of his partnership with John Ogden was announced in the Tribune. The directories listed him as a cement worker, placing him and Isabelle at 2315 E. 27th Street (1923-25), 4070 Santa Rita Road (1926-27), and 2221 E. 27th Street (1928-30). In 1930 he was listed as an engraver for the jeweler Andrew Raust. His final appearance was in the 1933 directory, as a cement finisher living at 2637 23rd Avenue. This is 4070 Santa Rita Road, a charming street.

And this is 2221 E. 27th Street. Working people here could live well then.

Few of McConnell’s sidewalk marks bear dates. One from 1927 is hand-written. A few 1928 dates survive, like this one at 2215 E. 29th Street.

He made these one letter at a time, as evidenced by this botched mark.

As of 1931 he had adopted a more professional stamp.

At some point he used this arc-shaped stamp, but I have seen none with dates.

McConnell died in 1933 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

Sidewalk maker: Gallagher & Burk

1 September 2017

The paving and grading firm Gallagher & Burk is an Oakland success story. It began in the early 1940s with the purchase by John A. (Jack) Gallagher (1908-?) and G. F. Burk of the Heafey-Moore Company, founded as Heafey, Moore & McNair by John Heafey, Milton J. Moore and Robert B. McNair in the early 1920s. Heafey-Moore operated an asphalt plant at 344 High Street as well as the Leona Quarry. I don’t know the details of the business arrangement, but Heafey-Moore continued existence until at least 1960.

I have documented Gallagher & Burk sidewalk stamps with firm dates from 1942 to 1962, and some questionable ones that may be earlier and later.

Edwin James “Ted” Gallagher (1920-2014) joined Jack at the firm in 1945 and eventually took charge. His son Ted Jr. served as president from 1987 to 1998.

In 1998 Gallagher & Burk was acquired by Oliver de Silva, Inc., and is now an independent affiliate of DeSilva Gates Construction, with a stub of a website. Its asphalt plant at 344 High Street, just before the High Street Bridge, produces material for paving jobs large and small all over the Bay area. Its biggest mark on the city of Oakland, however, is the enormous Leona Quarry in the Leona Hills that it acquired in 1946, now the “Monte Vista Villas at Leona Quarry.”