Vestiges of Western Union 2

October 21, 2016


Another variant of the Western Union utility-hole lid, at 14th and Broadway. (Here’s the first.) There’s always something new to see, no matter where you are.

M. Greenberg’s Sons Gas

October 14, 2016


Over at, they say that Morris Greenberg invented the “California” type of fire hydrant, and already I’m dizzy at this glimpse of obscure industrial history. That was decades after Greenberg, a Jewish immigrant born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1823, had started the Eagle Brass Foundry in 1854. The Jewish Museum of the American West devotes a page to Morris Greenberg that includes a photo.

Greenberg’s foundry, an essential building block of San Francisco, made all manner of metalwork. It was especially prized for its mastery of ship’s fittings, including the demanding art of casting bells.

When Morris died in 1884, his sons Leon and Joseph carried on, renaming the firm M. Greenberg’s Sons. The firm was going strong a hundred years later under the same name with Morris’s grandson Stuart in charge. But in 1969 they sold themselves to the Rich Valve Company, and that was that. Rich Valve was acquired by Clow Valve, adding Greenberg’s “wet barrel” hydrant design to its portfolio.

G. G. C. Co.

October 7, 2016


The peculiar round mark of the Golden Gate Construction Co. is so rare that I had to document this example, one of two at 5519 and 5527 Market Street. The company was in existence in the first decade of the 20th century. Another one is next to Lois the Pie Queen.

Sidewalk maker: Carl T. Petersen

September 30, 2016


Carl T. Petersen paved a lot of Oakland over the years, and he had many years, starting in the mid-1920s and lasting into the 1950s. This 1952 mark at 2009 Capp Street is a good example of his later marks.

Born in Denmark in 1888 or 1889, Petersen was working as a concrete contractor in Oakland as of 1923, at 1318 E. 12th Street. At that time he and his wife Hazel had one son, Carl Jr. They were there in 1924 as well.

The earliest surviving marks of his are from 1925. Those included his address at 3041 Champion Street, in the lower Dimond near the St. Jarlath’s church.


The house at that address is from that period, and the redwood tree is one Petersen could have planted himself.


In the driveway is an example of that early mark.


The latest example I have with that configuration is from 1929. During their time on Champion Street, Carl and Hazel had a second son, Eugene. Afterward Petersen’s marks consisted of only the upper line of text, lightly incised and placed right at the edge of the pavement.

As of 1930 the directory had the Petersens at 2324 E. 20th Street. The 1940 census listed them and their two sons. In the 1967 directory he and Hazel were listed at that address as “retired”. A Hazel Petersen, with the dates 1894-1971, is buried at Mountain View.

A few more marks

September 23, 2016

Over the last month or so I’ve run across a few marks I missed or dismissed during the big survey.

1920 – F & R Farrer


3070 Champion Street

The date is barely a whisper; at least it’s some time in the 1920s. The 1922 directory lists three Farrers — Robert, Fred and Arthur — as concrete workers, all at 7305 E. 14th Street, so this must be Fred and Robert’s outfit. They’re clearly related in some fashion to Farrer & Sons, attested with a mark from 1926. The evidence is scant.

1935 – M. Bua


4051 Suter Street

Again, the date may be a hallucination, but that’s what I decided when looking at in person. I wouldn’t bother with such a poor mark except that it’s only the second example by Michael Bua, who’s listed in the 1930 directory as a general contractor at 237 Bacon Building.

1939 – W. M. Sharp


1452 Lakeshore Avenue

This is a clearer example of the year than the one I had before, which I decided was really from 1938.

Early concrete, or artificial stone

September 16, 2016

The sidewalks of Oakland were not paved with concrete until the late 1800s. Before that, pedestrians were shielded from the dust and mud of the roadside with gravel paths or timber boardwalks, at best. It was a point of pride in Oakland, regularly mentioned in promotional literature, when the sidewalks began to be widely paved.

In some old sidewalk stamps you’ll see the abbreviation “A.S.P.”


That stands for “Artificial Stone Paving,” the early term of art for sidewalk concrete. Starting in 1887, the San Francisco directories had a classified section for artificial stone manufacturers. It included George F. and Harry N. Gray, the notorious Gray Brothers, at 316 Montgomery Street. The Grays operated three quarries in the city at 26th and Douglass streets (Diamond Heights), 29th and Castro streets (Corona Heights) and Green and Sansome streets (Telegraph Hill).

The same directory listed an Oakland firm, Oakland Artificial Stone Company, at 454 Ninth Street. If it ever produced sidewalks in this town, they do not survive.

You may wonder about the “Schillinger Patent.” It was a method, patented by John J. Schillinger in 1870, of making pavements that involved inserting tarpaper or similar materials between blocks of concrete. No less a person than Frederick Law Olmsted made the name famous among Supreme Court scholars when he designed some concrete paving for the U.S. Capitol grounds, specifying a technique of this type, and took the chance that Schillinger’s patent wouldn’t stand up in court. Schillinger sued the government in the federal Court of Claims, and in 1894 the Supreme Court ruled in Schillinger v. United States that because the offense was merely a tort the claims court had no jurisdiction.

Another San Francisco artificial stone manufacturer, George Goodman, was listed in the 1893 directory as a Schillinger Patent specialist.


One of his lovely marks survives here, at 1028 E. 17th Street.

Land and Water Conservation Fund plaque 2: Central Reservoir Park

September 9, 2016


When I featured a Land and Water Conservation Fund plaque here a few weeks ago, I had a nagging feeling I’d seen one elsewhere, and there it was in my photos from March 2013. Oakland’s second LWCF site is tucked away next to the covered Central Reservoir, which I wrote about a few years ago in Oakland Geology. With a total of $70,000 from the fund to acquire 4 acres and help develop it, the Central Reservoir project took shape in the early 1970s. That may account for the maturity of the palm allee leading in from East 29th Street — or more likely a suburban estate once occupied this spot.


The park is small but well equipped for kids’ teams to play daytime softball and soccer. It also has picnic tables, bathrooms, a basketball court and views of the steel-roofed reservoir.


I’m glad they left a plaque behind. As the podcaster Roman Mars says, always read the plaque.