More on the Great Western Power Company

July 22, 2016


I found another utility-hole cover from the Great Western Power Company at the south end of Ivanhoe Street, where it must have been since the late 1920s. This firm was a bigger deal than I thought last month. (Previous post here)

At its peak, the Great Western network, under the leadership of Mortimer Fleishhacker, extended all the way across California. Starting in 1908, the company dammed the Feather River at Big Meadows to create Lake Almanor reservoir, given its name for Alice, Martha and Elanor — the three children of the company’s vice president, Oakland lawyer Guy Earl.

Lassen Peak and Lake Almanor, 22 September 2006

More dams and turbines were built along the Feather River to generate electricity in a mighty “stairway of power.” The power lines ran from there all the way to Oakland.

The colorful origin story of Great Western in 1905, and the colorful story of how Great Western invaded PG&E’s market in the Santa Rosa region in 1912, are both well told on the Comstock House website.

In another remnant of the once-great firm, the Great Western Power Trail in El Cerrito runs where a substation once supplied electricity to the Hutchinson Quarry (presumably part of the Hutchinson construction empire that left its sidewalk stamps all over Oakland).

I’m thinking that these covers survive in other places outside Oakland.

Odds and ends

July 15, 2016

Here are a few add-ons for some previous posts on Oakland Underfoot.

I found a second variation of the utility-hole covers used by The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, predecessor of Pacific Bell, featured in my post of June 17. I’m quite taken with it.


I found another concrete master number used by a member of OPCFIA local 594. As of now that makes 16 different numbers, but I’m sure there are a few more out there. Previous posts are here and here and here.


Finally, I located a fourth sidewalk maker who was a member of the Cement Contractors Association of Alameda County. The other three are here.


My impression is that like the others, this mark dates from the late 1920s.

2016 – Seton Pacific Construction

July 8, 2016


5835 Keith Avenue

There are a bunch of these on Keith Avenue. Seton Pacific appears to have several offices in California; the one with this phone number is in San Francisco. I’ve never seen their marks before, so, welcome to Oakland!

This is the first mark I’ve found from 2016. Each year, I keep an eye out for marks from the new year. Here are the dates when I found my first current-year mark:

2016: 2 July
2015: 10 June
2014: 15 January
2013: 9 November
2012: 22 August
2011: 1 July
2010: 17 September
2009: 6 July

In 2008, the year I began this blog, I didn’t find a mark from the current year until Christmas, and that was an amateur mark. I didn’t find a professional mark from 2008 until June 2015.

This has been your meaningless data set for the week.

While I’m at it, here’s another new date for an old sidewalk maker.

1943 – A. MacDonald


San Pablo Avenue at 29th Street

This post shows why I keep my eyes open even after I’ve finished surveying the whole city. First, there’s always new stuff that was installed after I last came by. And second, sometimes I’d miss a mark, or find it indecipherable the first time. This was probably in the last category.

Sidewalk maker: Rosas Brothers

July 1, 2016

Rosas Brothers Construction, our leading current provider of sidewalk repairs, has left marks all over this town in recent years. When contracts come up for bid in the East Bay they compete hard, then get the job done and done well.


Although they don’t have a website, their sidewalk stamps have their phone number, an effective marketing tool used by Oakland concrete contractors since the mid-1920s. When I called that number, I learned that Victor, Umberto and Luis Rosas are the brothers who started this Oakland-based general contracting business in 2002. The offices are still in a little old house on Coliseum Way by the freeway. Their earliest stamp I’ve seen in Oakland is from 2009.


They have used two different marks. The one above came first, then the one below appeared in 2010. It appears that each crew carries its own stamp, because there’s a lot of variety in the marks. Some stamps have a complete set of numbers in the date, while others have the final digit of the date drawn by hand.


One day in early 2014, I happened to walk past one of their work sites in the Laurel district, and there on the ground was one of their silicone rubber stamps.


So this mark prints the data “201—” and the concrete finisher writes the last digit. The stamp goes on after the fresh concrete has begun to set — a worker sprays the job to soften the surface, then pushes the stamp in.


Some of Oakland’s sidewalk makers left 40 years’ worth of dates. Rosas Brothers has a ways to go, but they’ve made a very good start.

Animal tracks

June 24, 2016

Oakland’s sidewalks contain their makers’ marks and other things besides. In that respect, they remind me of geological strata, a subject close to my heart. Throughout time — well, throughout the billion years or so since they first evolved — animals of all kinds have left their tracks on the ground, from insects to dinosaurs (shown here from Dinosaur Ridge, near Denver).


Fossil tracks are classified as ichnofossils — preserved remains not of organisms’ bones or shells, but their actual behavior. Here are some human examples from our sidewalks.




We understand what humans were doing when they left these signs, as surely as we know why they left dated stamps on the pavement. They were saying, in one way or another, “hello it’s me.” The other animals, like Pig-Pig above or the nameless dog below, we can guess, were forced into the act and were saying “let me go!”


When these hooftracks were made, the horse and its owner were probably both displeased. Oh, and the sidewalk maker too.


We don’t know what business this animal, a cat I think, was intent upon. But I can guess it was fed up with concrete by the time it finished licking its paws clean.


And as for the modern dinosaurs — pigeons — that left these three sets of tracks on Piedmont Avenue, they were probably doing the usual.


Tony Martin, a Georgia-based professor of paleontology, is fixated on trackways both ancient and modern. Check him out at

Vestiges of early communication companies

June 17, 2016

The turn of the last century was a busy time for two competing communication technologies, the telegraph and the telephone. Amazingly, our streets still bear witness to those days.

Telegraphy was the long-established, default technology in the 1870s. Newspapers, governments, banks and businesspeople of all kinds relied on telegraphy to transmit documents and other written communications, especially for long-distance messaging by teleprinter. By the 1860s, cities like San Francisco had networks of telegraphic call boxes for top-crust suits, who could press a button in their home or office to summon a messenger boy.

The Postal Telegraph Cable Company was a nationwide competitor to Western Union until the 1940s, kind of like Apple versus Microsoft. This utility-hole cover is at Franklin and 7th streets.


The company was founded in 1887 as the Pacific Postal Telegraph Cable Company, in San Francisco. The “Pacific” was lopped off some time before 1908, when the business directory listed its Oakland headquarters at 1058 Broadway. It still had the name as of 1917, but eventually its name became Postal Telegraph Company. Western Union finally took it over during the World War II years (1943 or 1945 depending on the source), but telegraphs had already lost the competition with telephones.

Speaking of which, the first telephone network in the Bay area was launched in 1877 by a spinoff of Western Union. In 1880 it merged with a competitor to become the Pacific Bell Telephone Company, the ancestor of “Pac Bell.”

In 1883, a new company under the same management was set up to operate telephone networks everywhere in the West outside of San Francisco. At first named Sunset Telephone-Telegraph Company, it took the name Sunset Telephone and Telegraph Company in 1889. This ST&T Co. cover, with a unique scallop design, is at 6th and Franklin streets.


Undergrounding of telephone lines began in the 1890s, so I think that’s the earliest this cover could be. The 1898 directory listed Sunset at 572 12th Street, and in 1908 Sunset was at 1275 Franklin Street. It had merged the year before with the Pacific States Telephone & Telegraph Company.

And who were they? They were Pacific Bell, reincorporated in 1890 as The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company and changed in 1900 to Pacific States T&T. This TPT&T Company cover is somewhere in the lower Uptown area.


Pacific was granted its Oakland franchise by the city in 1892, so presumably the cover dates from the 1890s.

Finally, there was the short-lived Home Telephone Company, which had subsidiaries serving local subscribers in cities across the country. There was an Oakland Home Telephone Co. and a Home Telephone Co. of Alameda County, here represented by a cover on 20th Street near Rashida Muhammad Street.


The firm was listed at 19th and Cypress Streets in the 1908 directory, while Oakland Home was at 67 Bacon Block. It was incorporated in 1905 (“one of several branch companies incorporated by the main concern”), and had its Oakland franchise granted in February 1906. Some time before 1911, the various Home Companies merged into Bay Cities Home Telephone Company. Pacific T&T absorbed it in 1912, taking over Home’s 50-year franchise.

Pacific T&T, like most other telephone companies, was really part of the Bell System. . .


. . . which itself was part of AT&T (originally the American Telephone and Telegraph Company).


The wonderful Deco office tower of Pacific Tel and Tel, known for many years as the Pac Bell building, is a San Francisco landmark to this day.

Vestiges of other power companies

June 10, 2016

It took more than a generation for Oakland to secure today’s electric power system under Pacific Gas & Electric Company. Last week I showed you some surviving utility-hole lids from PG&E’s largest competitor in Oakland, Great Western Power Company of California. Here are two more from a century ago.

Another utility firm from those early days was the Oakland Gas, Light & Heat Company.


The Oakland Wiki states that the company took this name in 1884, having previously used several variants of Oakland Gaslight. It’s listed by that name in the 1898 and 1910 business directories, with headquarters at 13th and Clay streets. Unfortunately I don’t have a precise recollection of where this lid is; roughly Jefferson and 18th streets. But I’ve seen several.

For a time, there was also the Berkeley Electric Lighting Company. I think that’s the firm behind this lid.


Originally the Berkeley Electric Light & Power Company, it was listed in the 1898 directory under the name Berkeley Electric Lighting Company at 2110 Center Street, Berkeley. In 1908 it was listed at 2225 Shattuck Avenue, but by then it was formally a branch of the Oakland Gas, Light & Heat Company. The odd shapes in this lid may represent the initials that got removed when the company changed its name. I’ve seen a couple of these.

Incidentally, since last week’s post I’ve found more Great Western Power Co. lids in Franklin Street as far down as 11th Street. It’s not always easy to check these things in the middle of the street!


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