Sidewalk makers: The DeGuardas

Three generations of DeGuardas have built sidewalks in Oakland and elsewhere in the Bay Area. It all began with Salvatore P. Guardalibeni (1884-1977), who immigrated from Italy in 1910. The family name is also commonly spelled Guardalabene, Guardalibena, etc. He married Mamie in 1910 and they had their five children (Marino, Leonard, Theresa, Salvatore and Marie) in New Jersey between 1913 and 1922.

“Salvatore DeGuarda” shows up in directories from 1923 to 1928 living at 1363 88th Avenue. Over the years he was listed as a contractor, a laborer, a builder, and a cement worker. His earliest surviving mark in Oakland is from 1926.

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Several undated marks in East Oakland must date from this period. The majority of surviving marks are of this elegant design.

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The 1930 and 1933 directories listed Salvatore and Mamie at 1801 34th Avenue. As of 1934 they were living at 2918 E. 16th Street.

The next date found in Oakland is 1938, on a stamp without the address, just the name “S. De Guarda.” Other undated examples must also date from the 1930s. Salvatore and Mamie were living at 2175 38th Avenue that year along with Leonard, Marino and Theresa, although a newspaper story from that year puts Leonard at 1175 38th Avenue.

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As of 1940, Salvatore lived with Mamie at 1636 36th Avenue, while in 1941 Leonard and Elva lived at 1725 E. 21st Street (listed as a salesman for Diamond Dairy).

Salvatore Anthony DeGuarda the son (1920-2012) had a storied life, starting as a swimmer (along with Esther Williams) in Billy Rose‘s Aquacade at the 1939 World’s Fair on Treasure Island. He was also the model for the swimmer in white in Diego Rivera’s Pan American Unity mural, made at the World’s Fair. A stint as a movie stuntman followed. He was for a time an associate of Mae West, appearing in one or more of her films under the name John Dexter.

Sal took over the family business in 1955, so it must have been he who drew this mark in 1956. The 1967 directory lists a “Saml De Guarda” at 3321 E. 16th Street.

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Sal and his son Rocky carried on the family business together, moving it to San Francisco where it is fondly remembered on Yelp. However, neither of them used a sidewalk stamp, and more’s the pity.

Late in life, Sal Jr. adopted the mission of recreating the iconic Goddess of Pacific Unity statue from the World’s Fair.

Salvatore’s other son Leonard DeGuarda (1915-1960) had a shorter career, ending in 1938. His business address, at 4040 Quigley Street, appears to have been wiped out by construction of the 580 freeway. A small apartment building sits there today.

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I thank members of the DeGuarda family for their help and memories.

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One Response to “Sidewalk makers: The DeGuardas”

  1. Mike Fitz Says:

    Great post- referencing Esther Wiliams, Mae West, and The Billy Rose Aquacade of 1939!

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