The Lyon building and other delights

February 12, 2016

As you walk up Broadway past the old Saw Mill building, you might notice two bronze letters in the sidewalk spelling out the word “NO.” That’s because you’re looking at it backward. Things make sense at the building’s main entrance, where a large stone/concrete lion with a dozen layes of paint looms over the door and the word “LYON” is spelled out in metal.


With that in mind, you can set out downhill from the doorway and see the letters rightly as the second half of LYON.


Or go uphill instead to see their counterpart. I have to assume that both of these once had four letters.


The building began in 1916 as Lyon Moving & Storage. It was quite grand, in the old Oakland style. Today, there are 53,000 storage companies in America, most of them quite bland and not a single one, I’m sure, with its name on the sidewalk in bronze.

In other developments, I spotted two more treasures during the week.

Blake & Bilger Company


38th Avenue at Opal Street

This is probably the best-preserved Blake & Bilger mark in the city. The firm was a major builder of Oakland’s first sidewalks, from the first decade of the 20th century, but today there are maybe a dozen of these marks left.

1926 – J. H. Fitzmaurice (II)


1501 Harrison Street

Fitzmaurice, founded in 1922 and still going strong as a general contractor, was the first sidewalk maker in Oakland to use the barrel-shaped stamp format, which it introduced in 1926 and used until at least 1941. Only a handful of this stamp’s first configuration — with “OAKLAND” placed above the center — have stamped dates inside the mark. So I had to capture this one even though I have another example from the Grand Lake neighborhood.

Special marks: C.C.A.A.C.

February 5, 2016

A few Oakland sidewalk marks include the distinctive oval stamp of the Cement Contractors Association of Alameda County. During my inventory I captured two of them. I’m positive there are others, but I wasn’t documenting them.



It’s possibly coincidental that both marks are from 1927. On the other hand, the late 1920s were the high-water mark in sidewalk contracting — I counted about 110 different workers and companies active in Oakland at that time. So that would have been the best time to establish the Cement Contractors Association of Alameda County.

I think that Herman Orth tailored his odd-shaped stamp to fit the association oval. I have examples from 1925, his earliest year, as well as 1926 and 1936. For all I know, he founded the association.

Special marks: Concrete masters of Oakland

January 29, 2016

I don’t know anything about the Master Concrete designation, but it’s probable that a craft union administered it. Although I didn’t seek out examples of each Master Concrete number, or even collate them until after my sidewalk survey was finished, I think I’ve captured all of the ones who practiced in Oakland.

Here they are, in numerical order.






Ryan continued to use “Master Concrete” on his mark after 1937, but without the number:




Ed Doty had two Master Concrete numbers.



I have to say that all of these Master Concrete workers did high-quality work. It was surely a source of pride, a higher wage, and more than the usual mortification when errors were made.


And the last of the series (so far anyway):


Except for Ed Doty’s number 17, all of these are even numbers. That’s odd. [Update: I missed Master Concrete number 7; so much for odd trends.]

Special marks: “Permission to pass over”

January 22, 2016

These are all over the place, but you stop noticing them because they make no sense. Several of these plaques surround the Emporium/Sears/Uber building.


From looking at the material for an online real-estate course, I gather that property owners post these notices to prevent people from encroaching upon their rights by asserting an “easement by prescription.” Shopping malls used to claim that notices like these allow them to prevent people from leafletting, for instance. That got overturned. It seems like overkill, and unenforceable, to treat a sidewalk the same way, but then I’m not a lawyer.

The examples I’ve seen are pretty old. Here’s one from an address on Claremont Avenue.


And this one’s in front of the Hutch, on Telegraph near 20th Street.


It looks like there wasn’t a third line of text. Maybe the lawyers said this wording was sufficient. Maybe it cost too much for a skilled laborer to hand-set individual brass letters spelling out the whole notice.

Special marks: The sidewalk unions of Oakland

January 15, 2016

The people who left their marks on the sidewalks they made in Oakland were a mix of workers. Some were individuals, and some were small businesses by today’s standards. But unions were there, too, in contention and in cooperation. The American Brotherhood of Cement Workers was the first of these.


The ABCW’s stamp consisted of a pair of cement worker’s tools, crossed, inside a circle made of the words “Union Made” plus the union’s initials and the local number, which looks like 19. I’ve photographed four examples in Oakland, all of them accompanying marks by the Oakland Paving Company. Both of the ones shown here are from 1914, as is this one, and the fourth is from 1913.


Lincoln Cushing knows more about Bay area labor history than I ever will. His site tells how the ABCW tangled with the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) in 1913. LIUNA prevailed upon the American Federation of Labor (the AFL in the AFL-CIO) to let it poach the ABCW’s members. After that, concrete workers were represented by LIUNA or by the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Finishers’ International Association, which is now named the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association (OPCMIA). I’ve only seen the stamp of OPCFIA Local 594 on Oakland’s sidewalks. (Today OPCMIA’s Local 66 represents the central Bay area and doesn’t do sidewalks.)

Here are seven different Local 594 bugs. The number inside is that of the master finisher. They’re mainly from the 1940s.








I did find one other union stamp. It’s somewhere in the Sheffield Village neighborhood — I no longer have the address.


Anyone know more about this one?

I want to end with an apology for not being a better documenter of these. I usually tried to avoid photographing the union bug as I shot the maker’s stamp, so there are surely more of these out there. But I looked at all of my thousands of photos in preparing this post, and I think nearly all of the different union bugs in this city worked their way into my collection.

Granite curbs

January 8, 2016


Older parts of Oakland are graced with proper curbstones — carved granite rather than molded concrete. They have the whiff of simpler times, of street trolleys and horse-drawn vehicles. They were made to last the ages, you might say.

Stone has always competed with concrete, with quality and cost both in the contest. Stone, above all, is durable, and it still beats concrete in that respect. But everything else has evolved in concrete’s favor. The skilled labor of stonecutters has waned while the strength and the convenience of concrete have grown.

A lot of downtown curbs are ironclad concrete, an early attempt to protect the curbs from chipping. I’ve never seen a new example, and I’ve seen a lot of places where the steel straps have warped.


Today we’re apparently okay with letting the curbs chip. In any case, chipping doesn’t seem to be a big problem. Concrete is easy to repair.

At the old YMCA building, on Telegraph at 21st Street, the curved granite corner curb appears to be part of the heritage designation.


You probably can’t replace these special-order stones any more. The quarries that made them are mostly long closed. And you can’t carve wheelchair-compliant curb cuts into them, either, which has led to an inelegant design on this corner with a wide concrete apron in the street. The building’s manager told me that a small pipe runs through it for street drainage, but it’s easily clogged. So the stone is preserved, but it’s not well displayed. Meanwhile the opposite corner has a nice new curb cut with the grooved concrete and the knobby yellow patch. Today’s ways really are better ways.

I’d be okay with the city replacing this corner. I wonder what the city does with the old curbstones. They should be recycled, perhaps in the parks.

Early tract markings

December 31, 2015

A small tract in deepest East Oakland preserves some very old sidewalks. The stretch of 104th and 103rd Avenues between International Boulevard and E Street — call it Iveywood West — features the following curiosities.



These arrows in the pavement point away from the street. On the north side of 104th, they appear to correspond to the edge of driveways. On the south side, they don’t. On 103rd they only appear on the south side.

Both streets also have stamped in the concrete what I assume are lot numbers. This is on 104th.


And this is on 103rd. They don’t correspond to the addresses.


The sidewalks are very consistent in appearance. I don’t recognize the maker’s style, so I can’t say who laid them down, but I believe they date from around 1910. The 1912 map suggests that the landowner was Ludovina Ivey. She was Ygnacio Peralta’s daughter and developed large tracts of Oakland near the San Leandro line. (She also owned the undeveloped land now preserved in King Estates Open Space.) Google Maps calls the adjacent neighborhood Iveywood.

I’ve seen lot numbers and arrows in one or two other places, but I can’t recall exactly where. If one of you knows of any, please add a comment.

Another odd thing is the appearance of many of the driveways.


They appear not to have been included in the original sidewalk, but instead were put in shortly afterward by a separate contractor. A few, like this, were made by sledgehammering the curb. Almost none are stamped by their makers, and the workmanship is often poor. I have the impression that the neighborhood was laid out without providing for driveways, under the assumption that ordinary people didn’t own cars.

In other news, I found two more sidewalk marks worth preserving here. As these continue to crop up, I’ll post them each week.

1945 – C. Valenzuela


1211 104th Avenue

Unlike my previous example from 1945, this uses only the last two digits of the year.

1951 – Wm. Ward


4250 Fair Avenue

Only the second Wm. Ward mark I’ve found.


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