Archive for the ‘streetscape’ Category


May 26, 2017

This utility hole cover sits on Keswick Court, on the south side of Shepherd Canyon. My searches for any information about SPSD have drawn a total blank. It might stand for the San Pablo Sanitary District, which existed from 1921 to 1978 when it became the West County Wastewater District. Maybe whoever installed the sewer line down Keswick bought SPSD’s outdated hardware, or the Empire Foundry had a stack lying around. I mean, who would care?

I have few other clues. Keswick was shown as unpaved on the 1947 topo map and paved on the 1959 edition, so the lid may date from the fifties. And yet Beaconsfield Road, just up the hill, contains a water main cap from People’s Water Company, which ceased to exist in 1914. I can only assume that EBMUD used old PWC inventory when it pushed water service into the area.

For more clues, I must rely on the kindness of my readers.

Access cover anatomy

May 5, 2017

This large and elaborate East Bay MUD access cover, on San Leandro Avenue in deep East Oakland, displays a lovely radial design. It also includes good examples of some typical features of access covers.

At the top and bottom edges, at 12 and 6 o’clock, are lifting notches, where a worker attaches the hooks to raise the lid safely. Halfway out from the center is a ring of aeration holes, arranged on the major compass points. They happen to filled with dirt, except for the one marking Northeast. Their function is to equalize the pressure between the hole and the atmosphere, guarding against the effects of unusual events, like a tornado in the air or a sudden flood or explosion down below, that might push the lid out of its rim.

The smaller lid on the right side has its own lifting hole. Presumably it allows access so someone can monitor conditions in the shaft without going through the chore of pulling off the large lid. Because a smooth finish could present a slipping hazard, the secondary lid was textured by a welder. Perhaps there’s an arcane pattern in it representing a message, but it’s more likely to be a random set of metal bits, a scribble arranged by eye and intuition.

The A.C.F.C. & W.C.D.

April 28, 2017

The owner of this access hole has a name that rolls off the tongue: the Alameda County Flood Control & Water Conservation District. They’re the people who manage much of the East Bay’s runoff. One of our streams is buried here, along San Leandro Avenue — probably Stonehurst Creek, the little branch of San Leandro Creek that runs along the railroad tracks by 105th Avenue.

L. D. Frazee Heating

April 21, 2017

Leonard D. Frazee was born in Illinois in 1870. The 1920 census listed his family at 699 36th Street, with his wife Ellen and three children who were born in Kentucky, Missouri and California respectively. The second child was Leonard Jr.

The Oakland business directories list Frazee between 1907 and 1928. At first he called himself a steamfitter, first in Emeryville and, as of 1910, at an address that became 3230 Courtland Street. From the 1914 to 1928 directories he was listed as a heating contractor at 699 36th Street, where he raised his family.

In 1919 he was granted half of a patent for an innovative damper design.

Frazee died in 1930. I’m not sure if he is related to the owners of the Frazee Paints business, but probably not.

Oakland sawblade

April 14, 2017

659 15th Street is the nondescript butt-end of the building whose main space, facing Martin Luther King Jr. Way, houses the East Bay Fencers Gym.

The web offers me almost no information on what’s here. That’s OK. I think I know something about the person. The evidence in the concrete suggests a small-time artisan or artist, someone skilled and obsessive enough to create these objects, proud enough to mark the place, yet self-effacing too.

As a fruit is to the tree that bears it, so are artists to the community that nourishes them. As a fellow Oaklander, I accept and return the salute with this post.

In other news, here’s yet another variant of the 2011 Rosas Brothers stamp.

2011 – Rosas Brothers

394 Orange Street

I don’t know how this happens.

San Francisco Gas & Electric Company

March 31, 2017

If I recall correctly, this access lid is on Jefferson or Martin Luther King down around 10th Street. It belonged to the San Francisco Gas & Electric Company, which was in existence from 1896 to 1906. SFG&E merged with the California Gas and Electric Corporation to form Pacific Gas & Electric, still in business today as PG&E.

The company opened a gas manufacturing plant in Oakland in 1905, down where Howard Terminal is today.

The six cleverly placed lifting holes are a nice touch.

Relics of the Oakland water war

March 9, 2017

54th Street preserves some very old streetscape to go with its old houses. Both of these water-main lids are on the same block.

The Contra Costa Water Company was Anthony Chabot’s baby, founded in 1866. That was the company that built the two dams at Lake Temescal and Lake Chabot Reservoir. It got involved in Oakland’s nasty “water war” during the 1890s. In short, Chabot’s company turned down William Dingee’s request to extend water service to his properties in Montclair and Piedmont, and in 1893 Dingee formed the Oakland Water Company in response, tapping wells in upper Shepherd Canyon.

The competition grew heated, then ugly. Mutual disparagement escalated to mutual accusations of sabotage. Customers of both companies suffered poor service.

In 1898 the two firms were obliged to merge, with Dingee in charge under his former rival’s name. Less than a decade later, the People’s Water Company devoured the Contra Costa Water Company. I think this lid used hardware from both People’s and Oakland water companies, perhaps a fresh cap in an old ring or just mixed inventory in the People’s warehouse.

People’s Water Company collapsed within a decade, too, with the short-lived East Bay Water Company springing from its wreckage. Only after the East Bay Municipal Utility Company was formed did Oakland get good, reliable water service. Remember the water wars whenever someone tells you private enterprise can do everything better and cheaper.