Archive for the ‘streetscape’ Category

W. S. Snook & Son Plumbers

February 24, 2017

snook-and-son

You don’t often see a brass sidewalk plate placed by a plumbing firm, but the block of Clay Street between 14th and 15th Street was a prestigious address: the new H. C. Capwell store, built between 1910 and 1912 right behind the site of the new City Hall.

William S. Snook was a prominent Oaklander in his time, as recorded in Oakwiki. The 1911 directory lists his eldest son Frederick as a plumber, so we can assume that Frederick was the “Son” of the firm. The elder Snook died that same year.

There may be older Snook plates extant, which would read “W. S. Snook & Sons.”

Bricks and cobblestones

February 17, 2017

Older parts of Oakland feature gutter strips of brick and cobblestone.

bricks1

Cobblestones are rough blocks of solid stone that essentially never wear out. The most important thing in keeping cobblestone paving sound is the mortar. You don’t want loose cobblestones knocking around in the street.

bricks2

The material itself is tough, nondescript basalt or argillite or gneiss. Some of it could have been quarried locally, but I doubt it.

Then there’s good old brick.

bricks3

It’s easier to work with, but it doesn’t wear as well. I think that paving brick is a different grade of material than your wall-building brick.

People out there know a lot more about this stuff than me — people like Dan Mosier, creator of the California Bricks site.

East Bay Water Company

February 10, 2017

eastbaywaterco

The East Bay Water Company was a private water provider formed in 1916 from the wreckage of the People’s Water Company, but it struggled under the high costs for materials during World War I and insufficient water for its customers. Oakland and the East Bay were experiencing a boom at the time, and the company couldn’t expand fast enough despite having some 80 square miles of watershed land in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. It owned Lake Chabot and other reservoirs in Richmond, too. It pumped water from a wellfield in Alvarado. It built the San Pablo Dam in 1919. It ran a long series of informational ads in all the East Bay newspapers in 1920. It took over a competitor, the faltering Union Water Company, in 1921 for $1.1 million. It built the Upper San Leandro Dam in 1926 and the Lafayette Dam in 1928.

Nevertheless, in 1921 fed-up East Bay leaders pushed for the state to enact a law allowing a new type of special government agency — public utilities of regional size. The Municipal Utility District Act having passed, East Bay MUD was established by an overwhelming vote in 1923, and the new utility bought out East Bay Water in 1928 with $26 million in bond money.

That was 12 tumultuous years for this ambitious company. East Bay Water’s excess watershed lands were the core of the East Bay Regional Parks District formed in 1934, also under the state municipal utility district law.

Water company lids

February 3, 2017

You’ll see plenty of evidence on the street of the East Bay Municipal Utility District. Their 8-inch mains are marked with these ubiquitous caps.

ebmudlid

Much rarer are the caps for EBMUD’s predecessor, People’s Water Company. It served much of Oakland and points north for the first time, an important ally for developers, but went bankrupt more than a century ago.

peopleswaterco

Here’s another artifact I found up in the hills.

peopleswater

In 2013 it was the subject of a post on my other blog, Oakland Geology.

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.

greenbergs-lawncock

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

haysplate-piedmont1

haysplate-piedmont2

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.

scott-co

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.

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.

best-steel

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.

empire-and-wutelco

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.