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 Maybe whoever installed the sewer line down Keswick bought SPSD’s outdated hardware, or the Empire Foundry had a stack lying around.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.

Sidewalk maker: J. C. Estey

May 19, 2017

The worn, unobtrusive stamp of J. C. Estey can be seen wherever the pavement is oldest. But this man left a rich record.

John Crowell Estey was born in 1842 in Londonderry, New Hampshire. Some sources spelled the family name “Esty.” He served in the Union Army during the Civil War. A letter he wrote to his parents in 1865 is extant, in which he told them of the death of his brother Charles in a Confederate prison. He added, “It won’t do for me to live single much longer. In 1868 if I live and nothing happens before, then I think I will take a wife.”

The 1870 census listed him as a farmer, married to the former Harriet “Hattie” Evans and father of two-year-old Minnie, living in Manhattan Township, Kansas.

By 1876 he was registered to vote in San Francisco. In 1878 he was awarded a patent on a scheme to extract power from inside a water line.

As of 1879 Estey had moved to Oakland. The 1880 census listed him as a coal dealer with three children, including a son Charles. In 1882 the Daily Alta California reported that he had been elected Assistant Superintendent of the Central Mission Sunday School in Oakland. That same year the Oakland Tribune reported that he was moving his coal yard to 16th and San Pablo. In 1886 he was listed as a farmer in the rolls of the State Anti-Riparian Irrigation Organization of California, living at 535 17th Street, where the Oakland Ice Center is today. He was listed as an officer in the Civil War veterans association that same year.

Voter records show that between 1892 and 1896 he relocated to 458 E. 17th Street in East Oakland. In 1896 he was active in the People’s Party.

The 1900 census listed him as a cement contractor, and so did the 1901 Directory of American Cement Industries. He advertised in the Tribune in 1901 as “Contractor for all kinds of Cement Work, Concrete and Stone Walls.” This is significant because it pins him down as one of Oakland’s earliest sidewalk makers. It is conceivable that some of the pavement bearing his mark dates from before 1900. However, I have found only a few dated examples, all from 1912. Baker Street, in the Golden Gate neighborhood, has a bunch of them.

Estey died in 1919. I have no information on his gravesite, but he qualified for a Civil War veteran’s grave.

Sidewalk maker: Robert Appleby

May 12, 2017

Robert O. Appleby was born in Newbottle, County Durham, England, in 1883, where the 1901 census listed him as a “horse shoer above and below ground,” presumably in the coal mines. He escaped that miserable life to America in 1905, where he married Winifred E., another English immigrant who came to America in 1907. The 1910 census listed the couple and their first child as living in Linda township in Yuba County, where he and all his neighbors were gold dredgers.

Appleby showed up in the Oakland business directory in 1917. The 1920 census listed him as a blacksmith at the shipyards, living at 2500 63rd Avenue with Winifred and their two daughters. Looks like the house is still there.

In 1925 he changed his directory listing from blacksmith to cement contractor, a status he kept at least until the 1940 census.

I’ve recorded a sprinkling of his marks all around Oakland, dating from 1931 to 1937.

He was still at the 63rd Avenue address in 1944. He died in 1968 at a ripe old age, while Winifred died in 1962. She’s buried at Mountain View Cemetery, but I have no information about him.

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.