Some little lids and another sidewalk maker

January 20, 2017

Here’s a roundup of some cute brass lids I’ve seen in our sidewalks.

M. Greenberg’s Sons, the San Francisco firm I’ve mentioned before, made this lid next to the old Fairfax Theater building, out on Foothill at Belvedere.

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This pair of well-preserved covers made by the Hays company is on Piedmont Avenue.

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And this last one is from a company I haven’t featured here before. The Scott Company specialized in heating and ventilation systems, starting about 100 years ago.

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They were headquartered at 381 11th Street. I haven’t done a big search, but I do know they lasted until at least 1938. There was another Scott Company, in San Leandro, founded in 1975, that folded after a contracting scandal in San Francisco a few years ago, but that was not these guys.

Then there’s this sidewalk maker.

John Nisalas

nisalas

1299 Longridge Road

I haven’t been able to find out a thing about Mr. Nisalas. He must have been from outside Oakland.

The Silent Knight

January 13, 2017

Walking around the rim of Indian Gulch (aka Trestle Glen), I poked my head up St. James Circle, ’cause that’s what I do. And there was the weirdest looking utility-hole lid: a square contraption made of two steel triangles, forged in Oakland by Phoenix Iron Works.

silentknight

This odd access cover (to use the British term) was invented by William W. Taylor, of Cincinnati, in 1959. The idea was to avoid the noisy rattling when vehicles drive over warped or clogged lids. The U.S. Tax Court described it well in 1970:

The invention was advertised as “Silent Knight — The Modern Manhole Cover. The first and only truly progressive development in manhole covers in years.” A notable feature of the device was its square shape. The frame, which was to be installed at the mouth of the manhole and upon which the manhole lid was to rest, was square, and the lid was formed by two triangular halves, which were joined by iron rods to form a square. The sides of the lid were longer than the diameter of the manhole (to ensure that the lid could not fall through the manhole). As suggested by its name, Silent Knight was advertised as “silent and safe,” as well as economical. An advertising leaflet proclaimed: “Silent Knight products are made by foundries, North, South, East and West and sell at freely competitive prices.”

Here’s a closer look at the trademark.

silentknight-close

In 1960 the National Noise Abatement Council gave Taylor its Achievement Award for the invention. Licensees in Canada and the UK produced them, and the design still has fans in places like St. John’s, Newfoundland.

I wish there were some outside my place.

Sidewalk maker: Angelo C. Sposeto

January 6, 2017

Angelo Charles Sposeto was born in Pennsylvania in 1912, the son of Italian immigrants Dominic (formerly Domenico Esposito) and Frances (formerly Francesca Valenti) Sposeto. The family moved to Des Moines, Iowa the same year, and little Angelo grew up in the bootlegging business, eventually running nightclubs there. He met and married Mary Jaquinto (formerly Iaquinta) in 1931. The 1940 census records him in Des Moines, Iowa, with four children, the youngest age 1. He was recorded as looking for work. The family records say that he was looking for a way out of the Mafia life he was born to.

They came to California in 1941 and lived in Albany and El Cerrito at first. There Angelo invented a concrete mix he named Marblecrete. It was used in his Rainbow Carwash at MacArthur and Broadway. His son Dominic, an attorney, has recorded a wealth of the family’s history in a book he is now giving away free. I have relied on it for these details.

His work on Oakland sidewalks is scarce and scattered. An Oakland Tribune item mentions him as a concrete contractor in 1946. The earliest sidewalk mark I have of his is from 1947, showing that he was a member of Local 594 of the OPCFIA at the time.

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The records of the Berkeley School Board show that in 1956, he was awarded a contract to install a retaining wall and drainage system on the Berkeley High athletic field.

Later in the 1950s, he acquired a proper concrete stamp.

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The only other date I have is 1963, drawn by hand inside the barrel-shaped mark.

The 1967 business directory listed Sposeto’s business at 9300 G Street, while Angelo and Mary lived at 2655 Wallace Street, a curious little road across 14th Avenue from Highland Hospital.

Angelo died in 1975, age 62, and is buried in Lafayette at Queen of Heaven Cemetery. He and Mary Sposeto had five children; with the death of son Frank Albert last week, only Dominic survives today. Frank worked for his father’s firm after serving in the military, and I’m sure he could have shared some stories about his dad and the streets of Oakland.

Sidewalk maker: Manuel Medis

December 30, 2016

Manuel D. Medis was born in Massachusetts to Manuel Medis, a Portuguese immigrant, and his wife Ella, a local of Portuguese descent, on 17 September 1895. He was the oldest of four children when the family moved to Oakland, where they were counted in the 1910 census. He served in the military during the first world war, after which he married an Ohio girl named Sylvia Mae Quickle.

Medis got into the concrete business right away. He was listed in the 1922 directory at 3806 Hopkins, in the Laurel district. As of 1924 he and Sylvia were living at 2427 Scenic Avenue, where they stayed the rest of their lives. The house is a typical working-class dwelling, though it’s been added on to since the 1960s.

2427scenicave-medis

In the 1925 directory he was listed as part of a team, “Medis and Rose,” with an older cement worker named Manuel Rose. No marks from that pair survive, and they may not have used a stamp. Be that as it may, Medis the solo practitioner left his stamp on sidewalks all over Oakland. It never changed.

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I’ve documented examples dating from 1927 to 1940.

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I don’t know much much longer he practiced, but he was listed in the 1941 directory. He would have been in his mid-forties.

Manuel Medis died in 1954, and Sylvia stayed on at the Scenic Avenue house until her death in 1968. They seem to have been childless, but perhaps his three sisters stayed in town and supplied them with nieces and nephews. He’s buried in Golden Gate National Cemetery next to Sylvia.

Old concrete in the West Bay

December 23, 2016

Since this is a cleaning-up period at the end of the year, I’ll feature a couple of photos I’ve had for a long time and get them off my mind.

If you’ve been to the Quad at Stanford University, you may have noticed the excellent concrete walkways there. They date from the construction of the buildings in 1890 and were made by the same George Goodman, of San Francisco, whose lovely escutcheon stamp I featured here the other month.

goodmans

Goodman listed himself in the business directory as a specialist in the Schillinger Patent method, which wasn’t really about concrete per se but about making sidewalks in a way that would help keep them from breaking up. The next photo, though, is about concrete itself.

If you’ve been to the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, you must have noticed the vintage pavement there. Its age is uncertain, but probably from before 1900. The Granolithic Paving Company was listed in the 1887 business directory at 422 Montgomery Street, San Francisco.

granolithic

Peter Stuart, a Scot, invented granolithic concrete in the 1830s. It’s an extremely strong material, the Gorilla Glass of concrete, made by an ingenious method that lays down a surface layer, or screed, of concrete densely packed with finely crushed granite or similar rock. At the correct point in curing, an absorbent blanket is placed on the concrete to reduce the water content, raising its strength. (Low water content was one reason ancient Roman concrete was so strong.) Stuart’s granolithic method was patented in this country, as the stamp says, in 1882. The company that bore his name stayed in business until 2012.

While you’re there, walk south to John F. Kennedy Drive and visit the Alvord Lake Bridge, the first reinforced concrete bridge built in America.

Oakland’s lid makers I: Best, Empire, Phoenix

December 16, 2016

This week I focused on utility-hole covers again, with an eye on the different foundries that manufactured them.

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Best Steel Casting Company used to have a huge plant in farthest East Oakland, by the railroad tracks at 105th Avenue. I think this is on Broadway around 29th Street.

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Empire Foundry was founded in 1905, but it seems to be defunct. Its last address was 1950 Embarcadero. It produced a great many lids in a wide range of designs. This example on Harrison Street, made for Western Union, is an unusual one for both companies. Perhaps it’s related to Empire Road, down south of Hegenberger.

phoenix-ironworks

And then there’s Phoenix Iron Works, in Oakland since 1901. Today it’s a shadow of its former self in a funky building in the 5th Avenue Marina, flying the Jolly Roger out front. See more of its work at the Oakland Wiki.

Street blemishes

December 9, 2016

brickpaverepair

No mater how carefully you build, someone will come along and make incisions in your work. When streets are re-asphalted, it seems like it happens within weeks. And the only time the repairs are seamless is when the city’s heritage ordinances require a complete restoration.

Until your building is historic, it’s at the mercy of history, and we just accept that degradation as the tax time imposes on existence. In this case, the patch-up crew not only couldn’t replace the original yellow bricks — and they could have if they hadn’t been in such a hurry — they couldn’t even figure out an easy way to match the original pattern. The result is not as bad as tagging, but it’s on the spectrum.

This is at that former bank on Broadway at Grand, the place I think of as the golden building. At least moments like this still happen regularly, if you’re looking.

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Be grateful for good buildings and the conscientious owners who keep them that way.