Art Concrete Works

27 June 2021

Art Concrete Works was one of those ancillary businesses that left traces all over Oakland. They made boxes for utilities. The example above is part of this blog’s banner image; it came from a PG&E box on the 4900 block of Broadway:

The firm started out in the early 1920s, down by the railroad tracks at 77 Webster Street, on the same block as Heinold’s Saloon. It presented an exhibit at the regional meeting of the American Waterworks Association in October 1922, and that’s the first record I have of its existence.

City directories offer more information. In 1926 the firm moved to a new building at 2400 Adeline Street, just off West Grand, under manager Ralph L. Gates. By 1930 Harold P. Manly had taken over, and the plant was under his steady hand through that whole difficult decade.

As of 1940, Walter B. Allen was manager, but the Internet Archive has no city directories from 1942 to 1966. The Tribune ran help-wanted ads from Art Concrete Works through the 1940s and into 1950, and there the written record ends.

But there are records on the ground that tell me more. East Bay MUD was a steady customer of Art Concrete Works, and for a while the company stamped dates on its meter-box covers!

I discovered this as I was surveying the East Oakland foothills, somewhere west of Fruitvale, and snapped a few pictures before thinking better of that rabbit-hole of documentation — I still had over half the city to cover. All I have at the moment is that image, with a 1951 date, and this one from 1954. That extends the record of Art Concrete Works to a good 32 years, a respectable life span for a company in this business sector.

How many different years are documented on those water-meter covers? Now I have another reason to visit those shady streets again, and readers, maybe you can find some examples around you.

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.

1943 – J. W. Roberts and E. J. Patrick

6 February 2021

4521 Telegraph Avenue

This mark is on concrete patches, not original paving, on both sides of the Kasper’s building. I have another hand-drawn J. W. Roberts mark from earlier in 1943. No idea who E. J. Patrick was.

J. A. Marshall

2 January 2021

Lee Avenue at Perkins Street

This pristine mark, one of two at this locality, is officially the best J. A. Marshall impression in all of Oakland.

Mr. Marshall may be the contractor whose relative, architect Leola Hall, accompanied him and learned the foundations of her trade. However, he may instead be John A. Marshall, listed as a “cementwkr” in the Berkeley directory in 1905.

1941 – Dan Doyle Concrete

31 December 2020

2556 Frances Street

This is a much more definitive version than my previous example. Dan Doyle Company stamps with dates are uncommon, and only three years (1940-1942) appear in Oakland.

1953 – Carl T. Petersen

15 December 2020

3439 Morcom Avenue

This extends the record of Carl Petersen one more year.

1930 – G. Tribuzio

23 September 2020

1600 Harmon Street, Berkeley

With this stamp I now have marks by Gene Tribuzio from every year in the 1930s.