Jacobs and Pattiani

March 24, 2017

This stamp was made by a general contractor, not a sidewalk maker. It’s on Martin Luther King at 15th Street, in front of the building newly occupied by Flax Art & Design. However, Jacobs and Pattiani was the contractor of record for the Claridge Hotel building across the street, so maybe that’s the connection.

Harold B. Jacobs (1894-19??) was a contractor from Alameda who lived on Holman Road in Trestle Glen. But Pattiani had the eye-catching name.

Alfred Washington Pattiani (1855-1935) was best known as a fashionable architect-builder around the turn of the last century. As Christian Olson of edificionado puts it, “Alfred Pattiani was the builder of choice for the moneyed class in the East Bay for many years. His grand Victorian homes dot the oldest parts of Berkeley, Oakland, and most notably Alameda where his office was located.” The Berkeley Daily Planet published a story in 2006 about the maniacal restoration of a Pattiani house.

Pattiani was born in Ohio of cultured Bavarian parents (his grandfather changed the family name from Fahrnbacher upon emigrating to the U.S.) — his father C. Alfred was a daguerrotypist and his mother Eliza a noted composer — and spent most of his life in the Bay area. He began his practice by designing his own home in 1879 and was active until at least 1917.

The Jacobs and Pattiani firm is listed only in the 1928 directory, at 337 17th Street. Pattiani lived on Lagunitas Avenue in Adams Point at the time. There are reports of it doing business from 1928 to 1932, but the firm’s name disappeared from the directories.

I have found two Jacobs and Pattiani marks in Oakland, both in front of brick buildings. The other one is at 450 24th Street, perhaps Oakland’s prettiest Auto Row brick structure. See it here.

Pattiani is buried in the Chapel of the Chimes Mausoleum along with his wife Ida. And there’s a Pattiani Way in Alameda, on Bay Farm Island.

Sidewalk maker: George Prentice

March 17, 2017

There were two George D. Prentices. The first one, George Dennison Prentice, was born in Kentucky in 1861. He had the same name as his grandfather, the noted (or infamous) editor of the Louisville Journal. In the 1880 census he was in Mendocino County. He was registered to vote in Salinas in 1890 and in New Idria in 1892. He married Mary Jacka or Jacquén, a native of Mexico, in 1885. In the 1900 census he was listed as a traveling salesman living in French Gulch Township, Shasta County, with Mary and three children. Two years later he was registered to vote in Tiburon. But he lived in Berkeley, at 2313 Webster Street, when he stamped this sidewalk in 1903 with “G. D. Prentice Co.” It’s the only example I’ve found in Oakland.

In 1904 he was listed as a partner, with E. C. Wiggin, in Prentice & Wiggin. Perhaps they left some marks in Berkeley, but there are none in Oakland today. In 1905 he was listed alone again, and his son Clarence was listed at the same address as a student. From 1906 to 1909 they were Prentice & Son, cement contractors, but after that George was listed as a salesman. When Clarence got engaged in 1906, the Oakland Tribune called his father “the well-known Berkeley contractor.”

In the 1920 census he was living in Piedmont, occupation manager of a gold mine. Among his populous household was a grandson, George P.

He surfaced again as a concrete contractor in the 1920s, living at 2207 13th Avenue. This is the house at that address, courtesy of Google Street View.

And this 1925 mark sits right across the street.

The same address appears on the Prentice & Kaiser stamp, but I know nothing about that firm.

I have marks of his from 1924 to 1932. But as of 1930, he had wiped the address off his mark, leaving only “Oakland” at the bottom.

In this mark from 1931, the name is given as George D. Prentice Jr.

There are four reasons a man might do this. The first one is out, because George’s only son was named Clarence. The second reason would be that George Junior was George’s grandson. That seems far-fetched, although George P. would have been 21 at the time. Perhaps the 1920 census got his initial wrong, and he really was another George D. The third reason would be that George’s father, also named George D. Prentice, showed up in the household. Oddly, there were two Civil War veterans named George D. Prentice. One served in the Confederate Army (possibly the publisher’s son), and the other served in the Union Colored Troops. That seems far-fetched too.

The fourth reason is coincidence. A George D. Prentice Jr., age 21, is listed in the 1930 census, a roomer at the home of Isabelle Arnest at 1231 E. 19th Street. He gave his occupation as foreman at an oil company. The 1930 directory lists him at 1843 18th Avenue. Did this guy take over his namesake’s business? Was he actually the “George P.” of the 1920 census? That’s my best guess. He left us this single stamp from 1937.

I haven’t been able to learn when old George died, but he was gone in the 1933 directory.

Relics of the Oakland water war

March 9, 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.

Sidewalk maker: J. H. Fitzmaurice

March 3, 2017

The J. H. Fitzmaurice company is nearing its hundredth year in Oakland. Everywhere you go, you’ll see its distinctive sidewalk stamps, even though the firm appears to have stopped using it some 50 years ago.

fitzmaurice-sign

The firm was incorporated in 1922 by John Herbert Fitzmaurice, who lived at 698 Walavista Avenue at the time. Fitzmaurice was born 31 January 1889 in California and died on 3 November 1957.

The 1915 through 1917 directories listed him as an employee of the Ransome Crummey Company, so he was well equipped by experience to run his own firm. About this time he married Emma Helen Heavey and started a family.

Previous to 1922 Fitzmaurice was a landscaping and paving company, and that remained the firm’s bread and butter for many years. This was its earliest stamp. I’ve found a half-dozen surviving examples, none of which were dated. These may even have predated incorporation.

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The earliest stamp with a date is this one, the first barrel-shaped stamp to be used in Oakland. The design quickly became very popular, and today it’s still the default.

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I’ve found three other designs. Their dates overlap somewhat, which leads me to believe that each crew used its stamp until it broke or wore out or was lost. Here they are, in the order that makes the most sense to me.

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Then there’s the classic stamp. I have found a single dated example, with a hand-drawn “1952” next to it. But there are thousands of these all over town, none of them on recent concrete.

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John’s son, John Jr., worked for the company but eventually moved on to run the Alta Building Material Company, in Oakland (now a local branch of family-owned Westside Building Material). The Fitzmaurice firm remained in family hands until quite recently. In 2014 Tim Fitzmaurice turned over the reins to Mohammad Hakimi, and the firm sails on. I always meant to knock on their door and ask about the old days — see if any of the old stamps are still lying around.

W. S. Snook & Son Plumbers

February 24, 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

February 17, 2017

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

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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.

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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.

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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

February 10, 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.