Archive for the ‘ Profiles’ Category

Sidewalk maker: J. O. Adler

October 27, 2017

John Olaf Adler was born in Sweden in 1857 and emigrated to the United States around 1880. He soon made his way to the thriving port city of San Francisco, where he became a citizen in 1886 and married Helena (Lena) Nilson in 1887. They were to have two daughters, Hulda and Mamie.

He was a career seaman, mentioned in the Call or listed in the San Francisco directories for 20 years as a ship’s officer on many different steamers serving the west coast ports: the San Vicente in 1887, the Point Arena in 1891, the Eureka in 1896, the Del Norte in 1899, the Celia in 1901, the Coquille River in 1905 and the Greenwood as of March 1906. He kept up his master’s license as late as 1919, when this photo was taken (thanks, He had blue eyes and tattoos on both forearms.

By 1896 he had moved his family across the bay to the town of Lorin, which became part of Berkeley soon after. The Adlers lived at 3040 Adeline, where the Ashby BART station sits, from 1900 until his death in 1926.

Around this time he got into the concrete business, according to the city directories. I’ve recorded his stamp in Oakland with dates from 1910 to 1916. Presumably other years are preserved in Berkeley. All of them look like the example above, except for this outlier from 1915.

I suspect, but cannot yet confirm, that he was the Adler of Adler and Peterson, the firm that left Oakland’s oldest surviving sidewalk stamps (from 1901 and 1907).

John and Lena Adler are buried at Mountain View Cemetery. She died in 1924, and it appears that her gravestone was moved on top of his when he died. He had remarried by the time of his death, and Anna survived him.


Sidewalk maker: A. Soda

October 13, 2017

Andrea Soda was born in southern Italy, near Provenza, in 1877, and came to America in 1907 with his wife Margherita (nee Argenta). He was listed in the 1908 directory as a cement worker. By 1912 he was living at 1137 65th Street, the address shown in his sidewalk stamps, and was the father of three children. He went by the name Andre or Andrew, and his wife likewise was called Marguerite or Margarita.

His draft form from 1917 described him as a man of medium height and build, with blue eyes and dark hair and not yet a naturalized citizen.

I have documented his marks from 1913 to 1937, all using the stamp shown above. The Tribune records him bidding on various jobs under the name A. Soda Company from 1928 to 1931 and A. Soda & Son (or Sons) from 1932 to the 1950s. (His sons were Yster Charles (“Y. C.” or Chester), born in 1908, and Stephen, born in 1912.) The company’s contracts grew in size over the years and came to focus on small bridges around Northern California.

On 5 November 1936, the firm was retimbering the old high-level tunnel above today’s Caldecott Tunnel when a collapse killed one of his workers. The paper quoted Y.C. as saying the firm had never, not once had such an accident before, and also noted that his workers kept photographers away from the scene. By this time Andrea had moved to Sacramento Street in Berkeley, with Chester still living at the old homestead.

By the 1940s Andrea had retired from the Soda firm and was running a liquor store at 6324 San Pablo Avenue. He died in 1948. Several family members, including Margherita, are entombed in a family crypt at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Hayward, but I can’t tell if he’s there too.

I was prompted to compose this post by spotting an A. Soda mark in Berkeley from 1916, a year not found in Oakland.

2099 Martin Luther King Jr. Way

Sidewalk maker: George McConnell

September 15, 2017

George Caswell McConnell was born in northern Ireland (records conflict on the exact place) in 1889. He married Isabelle Gibson Brown, a native of Dykehead, Scotland, in 1908 and emigrated to America in 1911. Their son William George was born in Chicago in 1912. A second baby, George, died in infancy in 1914.

His World War I draft record described him as tall and slender, with brown hair and eyes. He was working as a streetcar conductor in Chicago. His citizenship status was “declarant,” an interesting concept to consider in light of current events, and he claimed a religious exemption to the draft (not an easy thing at the time).

McConnell first appeared in the Oakland directory in 1923, the same year the breakup of his partnership with John Ogden was announced in the Tribune. The directories listed him as a cement worker, placing him and Isabelle at 2315 E. 27th Street (1923-25), 4070 Santa Rita Road (1926-27), and 2221 E. 27th Street (1928-30). In 1930 he was listed as an engraver for the jeweler Andrew Raust. His final appearance was in the 1933 directory, as a cement finisher living at 2637 23rd Avenue. This is 4070 Santa Rita Road, a charming street.

And this is 2221 E. 27th Street. Working people here could live well then.

Few of McConnell’s sidewalk marks bear dates. One from 1927 is hand-written. A few 1928 dates survive, like this one at 2215 E. 29th Street.

He made these one letter at a time, as evidenced by this botched mark.

As of 1931 he had adopted a more professional stamp.

At some point he used this arc-shaped stamp, but I have seen none with dates.

McConnell died in 1933 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

Sidewalk maker: Gallagher & Burk

September 1, 2017

The paving and grading firm Gallagher & Burk is an Oakland success story. It began in the early 1940s with the purchase by John A. (Jack) Gallagher (1908-?) and G. F. Burk of the Heafey-Moore Company, founded as Heafey, Moore & McNair by John Heafey, Milton J. Moore and Robert B. McNair in the early 1920s. Heafey-Moore operated an asphalt plant at 344 High Street as well as the Leona Quarry. I don’t know the details of the business arrangement, but Heafey-Moore continued existence until at least 1960.

I have documented Gallagher & Burk sidewalk stamps with firm dates from 1942 to 1962, and some questionable ones that may be earlier and later.

Edwin James “Ted” Gallagher (1920-2014) joined Jack at the firm in 1945 and eventually took charge. His son Ted Jr. served as president from 1987 to 1998.

In 1998 Gallagher & Burk was acquired by Oliver de Silva, Inc., and is now an independent affiliate of DeSilva Gates Construction, with a stub of a website. Its asphalt plant at 344 High Street, just before the High Street Bridge, produces material for paving jobs large and small all over the Bay area. Its biggest mark on the city of Oakland, however, is the enormous Leona Quarry in the Leona Hills that it acquired in 1946, now the “Monte Vista Villas at Leona Quarry.”

Sidewalk makers: The Ferreros

August 25, 2017

Fred Peter (Federigo Pietro) Ferrero was born in 1883 in Castellamonte, Torino province, Italy, emigrated in 1899, and launched a pottery business in 1920. Around 1927 he changed the firm to Fred Ferrero & Son, with his eldest son Romeo Achilles Ferrero (1908-1998). The other son Aldo Joseph (1912-1987) joined the firm, making it Fred Ferrero & Sons, in 1932. Fred died in 1944. In 1928 the History of Alameda County said about him, “He is a man of excellent personal qualities, straightforward in all his relations, and cordial and friendly in manner, and throughout Alameda County he is held in high regard.”

The company’s address was 1715 Webster Street, Alameda, starting in the early 1920s. Noted work by Ferrero includes the concrete and plaster for the Latham Square Building (1926) and the “art stone and staff ornaments” for the Grant Miller chapel on Telegraph Avenue (1931).

There are only two Fred Ferrero marks on Oakland sidewalks, neither of them dated. This one is on Longfellow Avenue.

Fred and Lucia (1888-1975) as well as Romeo and Jennie (1909-1978) are buried in San Pablo.

Aldo is the A. J. Ferrero of Alameda whose marks appear on Oakland sidewalks from 1952 to 1976. They are elegant and lightly pressed, so that they show up best when the sun is low.

In the mid-1960s, the firm also used this lozenge-shaped mark.

Aldo and Jan (1913-1991) are also buried in San Pablo.

There is also a G. Ferrero, who left a single surviving mark in Oakland from 1927, but he is not mentioned in connection with Fred’s family.

Sidewalk maker: The Ransome Company

August 11, 2017

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.

Sidewalk makers: Andersen & Montgomery

July 28, 2017

The Andersen & Montgomery partnership did a small number of surviving sidewalks in the Piedmont Avenue neighborhood and in Piedmont. This mark, from 1927, is at 945 Wildwood in Piedmont.

I’ve found two other marks dated 1929, but usually there are no dates.

The address on the stamp, 3796 Howe Street, was wiped out by the construction of the MacArthur-Broadway shopping center and then by the new Kaiser hospital building. John Andersen lived there with his wife Hulda (Lobel), according to the 1930 directory and the census. He was born in Denmark in 1859 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1883. Hulda was German, born in 1864, and immigrated in 1888. So they were pretty old by this time. She died in 1954, but I don’t know about him.

John Andersen was surely the “J. Andersen,” of 3774 Howe Street, responsible for this mark:

These date from 1912 to 1928 and are found mainly in North Oakland.

Robert B. Montgomery was a much younger man, born in Colorado in 1904 or 1905. He married the former Alice Sueell in 1929 and raised a family at 2626 Ivy Drive, where her folks lived. He dealt with bungalows, mainly. He is also responsible for this 1931 stamp on E. 24th Street.

It’s the only dated example I’ve found. Montgomery got in the paper in 1951 when he bought the Olympic Hotel building, at 2nd Avenue and E. 12th Street, and moved it across the street.