Archive for the ‘ Streetscape’ Category

Oakland sawblade

14 April 2017

659 15th Street is the nondescript butt-end of the building whose main space, facing Martin Luther King Jr. Way, houses the East Bay Fencers Gym.

The web offers me almost no information on what’s here. That’s OK. I think I know something about the person. The evidence in the concrete suggests a small-time artisan or artist, someone skilled and obsessive enough to create these objects, proud enough to mark the place, yet self-effacing too.

As a fruit is to the tree that bears it, so are artists to the community that nourishes them. As a fellow Oaklander, I accept and return the salute with this post.

In other news, here’s yet another variant of the 2011 Rosas Brothers stamp.

2011 – Rosas Brothers

394 Orange Street

I don’t know how this happens.

Relics of the Oakland water war

9 March 2017

54th Street preserves some very old streetscape to go with its old houses. Both of these water-main lids are on the same block.

The Contra Costa Water Company was Anthony Chabot’s baby, founded in 1866. That was the company that built the two dams at Lake Temescal and Lake Chabot Reservoir. It got involved in Oakland’s nasty “water war” during the 1890s. In short, Chabot’s company turned down William Dingee’s request to extend water service to his properties in Montclair and Piedmont, and in 1893 Dingee formed the Oakland Water Company in response, tapping wells in upper Shepherd Canyon.

The competition grew heated, then ugly. Mutual disparagement escalated to mutual accusations of sabotage. Customers of both companies suffered poor service.

In 1898 the two firms were obliged to merge, with Dingee in charge under his former rival’s name. Less than a decade later, the People’s Water Company devoured the Contra Costa Water Company. I think this lid used hardware from both People’s and Oakland water companies, perhaps a fresh cap in an old ring or just mixed inventory in the People’s warehouse.

People’s Water Company collapsed within a decade, too, with the short-lived East Bay Water Company springing from its wreckage. Only after the East Bay Municipal Utility Company was formed did Oakland get good, reliable water service. Remember the water wars whenever someone tells you private enterprise can do everything better and cheaper.

W. S. Snook & Son Plumbers

24 February 2017

snook-and-son

You don’t often see a brass sidewalk plate placed by a plumbing firm, but the block of Clay Street between 14th and 15th Street was a prestigious address: the new H. C. Capwell store, built between 1910 and 1912 right behind the site of the new City Hall.

William S. Snook was a prominent Oaklander in his time, as recorded in Oakwiki. The 1911 directory lists his eldest son Frederick as a plumber, so we can assume that Frederick was the “Son” of the firm. The elder Snook died that same year.

There may be older Snook plates extant, which would read “W. S. Snook & Sons.”

Bricks and cobblestones

17 February 2017

Older parts of Oakland feature gutter strips of brick and cobblestone.

bricks1

Cobblestones are rough blocks of solid stone that essentially never wear out. The most important thing in keeping cobblestone paving sound is the mortar. You don’t want loose cobblestones knocking around in the street.

bricks2

The material itself is tough, nondescript basalt or argillite or gneiss. Some of it could have been quarried locally, but I doubt it.

Then there’s good old brick.

bricks3

It’s easier to work with, but it doesn’t wear as well. I think that paving brick is a different grade of material than your wall-building brick.

People out there know a lot more about this stuff than me — people like Dan Mosier, creator of the California Bricks site.

East Bay Water Company

10 February 2017

eastbaywaterco

The East Bay Water Company was a private water provider formed in 1916 from the wreckage of the People’s Water Company, but it struggled under the high costs for materials during World War I and insufficient water for its customers. Oakland and the East Bay were experiencing a boom at the time, and the company couldn’t expand fast enough despite having some 80 square miles of watershed land in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. It owned Lake Chabot and other reservoirs in Richmond, too. It pumped water from a wellfield in Alvarado. It built the San Pablo Dam in 1919. It ran a long series of informational ads in all the East Bay newspapers in 1920. It took over a competitor, the faltering Union Water Company, in 1921 for $1.1 million. It built the Upper San Leandro Dam in 1926 and the Lafayette Dam in 1928.

Nevertheless, in 1921 fed-up East Bay leaders pushed for the state to enact a law allowing a new type of special government agency — public utilities of regional size. The Municipal Utility District Act having passed, East Bay MUD was established by an overwhelming vote in 1923, and the new utility bought out East Bay Water in 1928 with $26 million in bond money.

That was 12 tumultuous years for this ambitious company. East Bay Water’s excess watershed lands were the core of the East Bay Regional Parks District formed in 1934, also under the state municipal utility district law.

Water company lids

3 February 2017

You’ll see plenty of evidence on the street of the East Bay Municipal Utility District. Their 8-inch mains are marked with these ubiquitous caps.

ebmudlid

Much rarer are the caps for EBMUD’s predecessor, People’s Water Company. It served much of Oakland and points north for the first time, an important ally for developers, but went bankrupt more than a century ago.

peopleswaterco

Here’s another artifact I found up in the hills.

peopleswater

In 2013 it was the subject of a post on my other blog, Oakland Geology.

Some little lids and another sidewalk maker

20 January 2017

Here’s a roundup of some cute brass lids I’ve seen in our sidewalks.

M. Greenberg’s Sons, the San Francisco firm I’ve mentioned before, made this lid next to the old Fairfax Theater building, out on Foothill at Belvedere.

greenbergs-lawncock

This pair of well-preserved covers made by the Hays company is on Piedmont Avenue.

haysplate-piedmont1

haysplate-piedmont2

And this last one is from a company I haven’t featured here before. The Scott Company specialized in heating and ventilation systems, starting about 100 years ago.

scott-co

They were headquartered at 381 11th Street. I haven’t done a big search, but I do know they lasted until at least 1938. There was another Scott Company, in San Leandro, founded in 1975, that folded after a contracting scandal in San Francisco a few years ago, but that was not these guys.

Then there’s this sidewalk maker.

John Nisalas

nisalas

1299 Longridge Road

I haven’t been able to find out a thing about Mr. Nisalas. He must have been from outside Oakland.