Sidewalk maker: The Ransome Company

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.

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