Standard Gas Engine Company

September 22, 2017

The Standard Gas Engine Company was a major player in the Bay area, a center of innovation that dominated the Pacific coast in pioneering internal-combustion engines for marine applications. It was founded around 1900 but relocated to Oakland in the wake of the 1906 earthquake, on property it had fortuitously leased from the Port of Oakland a month earlier.

It thrived at this location, on the shore of Brooklyn Basin at the foot of Dennison Street, where ships could have their engines installed or repaired at the company’s wharf. The Standard Gas baseball team was part of the Industrial Intercounty League in the mid-teens. The plant expanded in 1916 after the acquisition of the Corlis Gas Engine Company. In 1917 the Tribune reported that the company was paying its employees a quarterly dividend from its profits. (Labor activists regard this kind of “company union” as a typical management trick to prevent real unions from forming.)

In the 1920s the Ford Motor Company contracted with the company to build parts for its products, such as the new Hamilton transmission for the Fordson line of tractors. In 1933 it began making engines for the American Diesel Engine company. The last reference to the company in the Oakland Tribune was in 1942.

Standard Gas Engine made stationary engines as well as boat and vehicle engines. Perhaps one of those, possibly a water pump, lies beneath this access cover.


Sidewalk maker: George McConnell

September 15, 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.

Access cover “D”

September 8, 2017

This fine piece of steel is E. 27th Street at Garden Street. If anyone has an idea what “D” might be, I’m all ears. The pattern is cool even if the owner is obscure.

Sidewalk maker: Gallagher & Burk

September 1, 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

August 25, 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.

Piedmont pavement fancywork

August 18, 2017

On Cambrian Avenue, in eastern Piedmont, are some striking examples of the concrete worker’s artisanship. This whole end of town is paved with the same pattern of grooves and plaques, apparently emplaced by the J. H. Fitzmaurice company. Where Cambrian and Sandringham Road meet is this elaborate custom corner.

And nearby is a fine example of freeform finish work by August Casqueiro, marked with his “concrete master” stamp.

In all my years of documenting the maker’s marks, I neglected this aspect of sidewalk making. Time to collect a gallery, and maybe learn the names of these features.

Workers made the golden sidewalks, curbs and gutters by laying down a layer of colored slip on top of standard concrete, and then doing the fancy scoring and tiling. Red sidewalks are made the same way. The town of Piedmont diligently bevels off the sidewalks wherever the concrete becomes a tripping hazard, and that exposes the inside details.

Sidewalk maker: The Ransome Company

August 11, 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.