Archive for the ‘ Profiles’ Category

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.”

Sidewalk makers: The Ferreros

25 August 2017

Fred Peter (Federigo Pietro) Ferrero was born in 1883 in Castellamonte, Torino province, Italy, emigrated in 1899, and launched a pottery business in 1920. Around 1927 he changed the firm to Fred Ferrero & Son, with his eldest son Romeo Achilles Ferrero (1908-1998). The other son Aldo Joseph (1912-1987) joined the firm, making it Fred Ferrero & Sons, in 1932. Fred died in 1944. In 1928 the History of Alameda County said about him, “He is a man of excellent personal qualities, straightforward in all his relations, and cordial and friendly in manner, and throughout Alameda County he is held in high regard.”

The company’s address was 1715 Webster Street, Alameda, starting in the early 1920s. Noted work by Ferrero includes the concrete and plaster for the Latham Square Building (1926) and the “art stone and staff ornaments” for the Grant Miller chapel on Telegraph Avenue (1931).

There are only two Fred Ferrero marks on Oakland sidewalks, neither of them dated. This one is on Longfellow Avenue.

Fred and Lucia (1888-1975) as well as Romeo and Jennie (1909-1978) are buried in San Pablo.

Aldo is the A. J. Ferrero of Alameda whose marks appear on Oakland sidewalks from 1952 to 1976. They are elegant and lightly pressed, so that they show up best when the sun is low.

In the mid-1960s, the firm also used this lozenge-shaped mark.

Aldo and Jan (1913-1991) are also buried in San Pablo.

There is also a G. Ferrero, who left a single surviving mark in Oakland from 1927, but he is not mentioned in connection with Fred’s family.

Sidewalk maker: The Ransome Company

11 August 2017

The Ransome Company traces its lineage back to 1870 and is still in the original business. It was founded by Ernest L. Ransome (1844-1917), famous in engineering circles. His firm built the first reinforced concrete buildings in North America, including an Alameda refinery for “Borax” Smith’s company. The 1880 census listed him, his wife and their six children living at 1031 7th Avenue in East Oakland. He gave his occupation, there and in the 1880 business directory, as “artificial stone manufacturer.” The business was in San Francisco as of 1884.

Ransome’s firm is credited with constructing the Western Pacific train station on 3rd Street, Oakland’s first historical landmark.

His son Bernard Ransome (1874-1946) entered the business in 1898, starting in the East Oakland Contracting and Paving Company. He lived at 713 15th Street at the time.

There is a bit of confusion (in my mind anyway) about the Ransome company’s identity. Ransome Concrete Construction Company first appears in 1900 in the Oakland directory, at 1016 Broadway, with Bernard as its vice president and manager. A Hutchinson-Ransome Company also existed in 1902 and 1903, presumably a joint venture ensuing upon Bernard’s marriage in 1901 to Martha Hutchinson of the Hutchinson construction dynasty. (The couple lived at 426 Orange, in Adams Point, and later moved to 190 Grand Avenue.) By 1904 Ransome had left the Hutchinson Company, and that year ads for Ransome Construction Company appeared in the Oakland Tribune, listing Bernard Ransome as president and Hugh Crummey as secretary.

That year it was awarded a $300,000 contract to construct 12 miles of Foothill Boulevard below High Street, “the scenic boulevard between Oakland and Haywards.” The San Francisco Call reported, “The drive follows the contour of the hills at an elevation of about 200 feet, and gives a splendid view of the country.” This opened up a huge tract of land to developers. The firm also “bitumenized” San Pablo Avenue south of Emeryville starting in 1905. It also built the Ocean Shore rail line from Santa Cruz to San Francisco, through Devil’s Slide.

This sidewalk stamp, at 215 Ridgeway Avenue, may date from that time. The arched lettering and the presence of stars are typical of pre-1910 marks.

In 1908 or 1909 it became the Ransome-Crummey Construction Company. A famous court case later in that decade went against the company, the ruling hinging on the company’s suspension after it failed to pay taxes. I have found its sidewalk stamps dated 1914 and 1915.

At this time, the firm’s main yard was at 28th and Poplar in West Oakland. It gave Broadway its first asphalt paving. It operated rock quarries at Point San Pedro (for the rail line), Leona Heights (now the site of Merritt College), and Exchequer in the Sierra Nevada foothills (now under Lake McClure).

E. L. Ransome relocated to New York in 1916, serving as chairman of a new Ransome company, but he died the next year. Ransome-Crummey disappeared from the directory as of 1921, around the time the notorious Ransome-Crummey case ended with its last appeal, although Bernard was still listed as a contractor. The Ransome Company appears to have been reincorporated in 1927 in Santa Cruz County, still under Bernard Ransome and Hugh Crummey. Bernard had left Oakland for Berkeley by that time. This odd mark is the only record I have from that time.

From 1934 through 1969 (the latest directory I have access to), the Ransome Company was in Emeryville at 4030 Hollis Street, and Bernard’s son Tallent was vice president.

Today the firm is in San Leandro, at 1933 Williams Street, but is no longer led by a Ransome. Here is its headquarters . . .

. . . and a recent sidewalk stamp.

Sidewalk makers: Andersen & Montgomery

28 July 2017

The Andersen & Montgomery partnership did a small number of surviving sidewalks in the Piedmont Avenue neighborhood and in Piedmont. This mark, from 1927, is at 945 Wildwood in Piedmont.

I’ve found two other marks dated 1929, but usually there are no dates.

The address on the stamp, 3796 Howe Street, was wiped out by the construction of the MacArthur-Broadway shopping center and then by the new Kaiser hospital building. John Andersen lived there with his wife Hulda (Lobel), according to the 1930 directory and the census. He was born in Denmark in 1859 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1883. Hulda was German, born in 1864, and immigrated in 1888. So they were pretty old by this time. She died in 1954, but I don’t know about him.

John Andersen was surely the “J. Andersen,” of 3774 Howe Street, responsible for this mark:

These date from 1912 to 1928 and are found mainly in North Oakland.

Robert B. Montgomery was a much younger man, born in Colorado in 1904 or 1905. He married the former Alice Sueell in 1929 and raised a family at 2626 Ivy Drive, where her folks lived. He dealt with bungalows, mainly. He is also responsible for this 1931 stamp on E. 24th Street.

It’s the only dated example I’ve found. Montgomery got in the paper in 1951 when he bought the Olympic Hotel building, at 2nd Avenue and E. 12th Street, and moved it across the street.

Sidewalk maker: Ed Doty

14 July 2017

Edwin “Ed” Doty was a major maker of Oakland and East Bay sidewalks, doing business with his son Abraham “Abe” for many years as Ed Doty & Son.

Doty was born in Canada in 1862 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen, but he gave conflicting information about his parents and the year he immigrated. Frank Merritt’s 1928 History of Alameda County has a long, colorful biography of him, recounting his years ranching in the Yellowstone country, managing ironworkers in Hawaii, an idle year in Guam, drilling wells at Point Richmond and finally joining the Cement Workers Union in San Francisco, where he was suffering with a freshly broken arm and fractured skull at the time the earthquake struck.

He married Lizzie Watlington in 1906 and they had one child, Abraham (1908-2003). Ed died in 1931.

The 1909 directory lists him at 1687 26th Avenue. In 1919 he built a new home at 2487 26th Avenue and moved there. It’s a nice place; I’ll show it to you farther down.

A glass paperweight made by Ed Doty & Son, recently listed on eBay, contains the text “Trademark of Concrete Since 1907” and the address 3481 26th Avenue.

I’ve found “Ed Doty” sidewalk stamps in Oakland dating from 1923 to 1945, in a variety of configurations. The original imprint looked like this:

From 1928 to 1931 the Doty stamp looked like this, with larger letters:

Or this, with a dot in the date instead of a dash.

Starting in 1932, they looked like this, distinguishable by the shape of the “E” and the “O”. I have examples all the way up to 1944.

At some time before June 1937 the firm switched to a new design that incorporated the “concrete master” number. It used number 16 from then until March 1938:

Starting in April 1938 it used number 17. I speculate that Abe Doty had to replace his master finisher for some reason and needed a new number.

All along, the firm also kept using the original stamp, but with hand-drawn dates:

Here’s the Doty house. Of course, Doty laid most of the concrete on the block, replacing work by the earlier generation like Stevenson.

The driveway is gorgeous, as concrete driveways go. There’s a little panel on the corner bearing a small child’s hand and foot prints. And here, in the entryway, are some more. These could not have been Abraham’s; perhaps there were grandchildren handy.

In writing this post, I realize that there are details about the stamps that I need to clarify, so look for updates in the comments every now and then.

Sidewalk maker: Joe B. Silva

30 June 2017

Joe B. Silva was born in the Azores and later became part of the East Bay’s thriving Portuguese community. I know little of his life because my sources are limited and because “Joe Silva” is an extremely common name. I just know he was born in 1876 and died in 1962. His first wife, Mary Rose, bore seven children and died in 1938. She was to be buried in St. Mary’s, but FindaGrave has no record of her or Joe. His second wife was named Gertrude. Both were Portuguese.

The Portuguese have a long and complex history in America, as summarized in a timeline from the Library of Congress. The same is true for California. There were divisions between the continental and Azorean/Madeiran Portuguese, who came here at different times for different reasons. The Oakland Tribune named Silva as the Grand President of the “Protective Association Union Madeiran Society” (Associação Protectora União Madeirense do Estado da Califórnia, or União Madeirense for short), which was founded in 1913 in West Oakland. A continental Portuguese society was founded here four years later.

Silva was first listed in the Oakland business directory as a cement worker in 1922, living at 3408 E. 18th Street. However, his first sidewalk stamp looked like this:

I’ve seen only three of these in Oakland, one of which is dated 1922. Why did such a proud and prominent Azorean use an Anglicized name? There were Portuguese concrete contractors before this, like the Azorean Construction Company (1909), Francisco Comachao (1912) and M. Gonçalves (1914), but most Portuguese names did not emerge on our sidewalks until the mid-1920s and later. Be that as it may, Silva soon came out with a new stamp using his real name. The earliest of these I’ve found is from June 1924, and the latest is 1937.

Oakland directories from 1923 to 1940 listed Silva at 2209 E. 15th Street.

He may also have collaborated with Albert Moniz, who hand-drew several different “Moniz-Silva” marks without dates, but I think that was more likely the much younger A. J. Silva.