Sidewalk maker: Angelo C. Sposeto

January 6, 2017

Angelo Charles Sposeto was born in Pennsylvania in 1912, the son of Italian immigrants Dominic (formerly Domenico Esposito) and Frances (formerly Francesca Valenti) Sposeto. The family moved to Des Moines, Iowa the same year, and little Angelo grew up in the bootlegging business, eventually running nightclubs there. He met and married Mary Jaquinto (formerly Iaquinta) in 1931. The 1940 census records him in Des Moines, Iowa, with four children, the youngest age 1. He was recorded as looking for work. The family records say that he was looking for a way out of the Mafia life he was born to.

They came to California in 1941 and lived in Albany and El Cerrito at first. There Angelo invented a concrete mix he named Marblecrete. It was used in his Rainbow Carwash at MacArthur and Broadway. His son Dominic, an attorney, has recorded a wealth of the family’s history in a book he is now giving away free. I have relied on it for these details.

His work on Oakland sidewalks is scarce and scattered. An Oakland Tribune item mentions him as a concrete contractor in 1946. The earliest sidewalk mark I have of his is from 1947, showing that he was a member of Local 594 of the OPCFIA at the time.

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The records of the Berkeley School Board show that in 1956, he was awarded a contract to install a retaining wall and drainage system on the Berkeley High athletic field.

Later in the 1950s, he acquired a proper concrete stamp.

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The only other date I have is 1963, drawn by hand inside the barrel-shaped mark.

The 1967 business directory listed Sposeto’s business at 9300 G Street, while Angelo and Mary lived at 2655 Wallace Street, a curious little road across 14th Avenue from Highland Hospital.

Angelo died in 1975, age 62, and is buried in Lafayette at Queen of Heaven Cemetery. He and Mary Sposeto had five children; with the death of son Frank Albert last week, only Dominic survives today. Frank worked for his father’s firm after serving in the military, and I’m sure he could have shared some stories about his dad and the streets of Oakland.

Sidewalk maker: Manuel Medis

December 30, 2016

Manuel D. Medis was born in Massachusetts to Manuel Medis, a Portuguese immigrant, and his wife Ella, a local of Portuguese descent, on 17 September 1895. He was the oldest of four children when the family moved to Oakland, where they were counted in the 1910 census. He served in the military during the first world war, after which he married an Ohio girl named Sylvia Mae Quickle.

Medis got into the concrete business right away. He was listed in the 1922 directory at 3806 Hopkins, in the Laurel district. As of 1924 he and Sylvia were living at 2427 Scenic Avenue, where they stayed the rest of their lives. The house is a typical working-class dwelling, though it’s been added on to since the 1960s.

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In the 1925 directory he was listed as part of a team, “Medis and Rose,” with an older cement worker named Manuel Rose. No marks from that pair survive, and they may not have used a stamp. Be that as it may, Medis the solo practitioner left his stamp on sidewalks all over Oakland. It never changed.

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I’ve documented examples dating from 1927 to 1940.

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I don’t know much much longer he practiced, but he was listed in the 1941 directory. He would have been in his mid-forties.

Manuel Medis died in 1954, and Sylvia stayed on at the Scenic Avenue house until her death in 1968. They seem to have been childless, but perhaps his three sisters stayed in town and supplied them with nieces and nephews. He’s buried in Golden Gate National Cemetery next to Sylvia.

Old concrete in the West Bay

December 23, 2016

Since this is a cleaning-up period at the end of the year, I’ll feature a couple of photos I’ve had for a long time and get them off my mind.

If you’ve been to the Quad at Stanford University, you may have noticed the excellent concrete walkways there. They date from the construction of the buildings in 1890 and were made by the same George Goodman, of San Francisco, whose lovely escutcheon stamp I featured here the other month.

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Goodman listed himself in the business directory as a specialist in the Schillinger Patent method, which wasn’t really about concrete per se but about making sidewalks in a way that would help keep them from breaking up. The next photo, though, is about concrete itself.

If you’ve been to the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, you must have noticed the vintage pavement there. Its age is uncertain, but probably from before 1900. The Granolithic Paving Company was listed in the 1887 business directory at 422 Montgomery Street, San Francisco.

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Peter Stuart, a Scot, invented granolithic concrete in the 1830s. It’s an extremely strong material, the Gorilla Glass of concrete, made by an ingenious method that lays down a surface layer, or screed, of concrete densely packed with finely crushed granite or similar rock. At the correct point in curing, an absorbent blanket is placed on the concrete to reduce the water content, raising its strength. (Low water content was one reason ancient Roman concrete was so strong.) Stuart’s granolithic method was patented in this country, as the stamp says, in 1882. The company that bore his name stayed in business until 2012.

While you’re there, walk south to John F. Kennedy Drive and visit the Alvord Lake Bridge, the first reinforced concrete bridge built in America.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Street blemishes

December 9, 2016

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No mater how carefully you build, someone will come along and make incisions in your work. When streets are re-asphalted, it seems like it happens within weeks. And the only time the repairs are seamless is when the city’s heritage ordinances require a complete restoration.

Until your building is historic, it’s at the mercy of history, and we just accept that degradation as the tax time imposes on existence. In this case, the patch-up crew not only couldn’t replace the original yellow bricks — and they could have if they hadn’t been in such a hurry — they couldn’t even figure out an easy way to match the original pattern. The result is not as bad as tagging, but it’s on the spectrum.

This is at that former bank on Broadway at Grand, the place I think of as the golden building. At least moments like this still happen regularly, if you’re looking.

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Be grateful for good buildings and the conscientious owners who keep them that way.

Sidewalk maker: Gene Tribuzio

December 2, 2016

Gaetano “Gene” Tribuzio was born 3 July 1889, in Bari, to Francesco Tribuzio and Isabella Siciliano. The Italian records give his birthplace as Mola di Bari, a seaside village east of the port of Bari, but the family and the U.S. immigration records say he was born in Acquaviva delle Fonti. He emigrated to America with his brother Nicola (see Nick Tribuzio), leaving two brothers behind and entering the U.S. on 6 March 1913.

Nick and Gaetano operated briefly as the Tribuzio Brothers, which I mentioned in my post about Nick. The 1926 directory lists him as “Guy,” living with his wife Mary (born Maria Cerimele) at 425 Market Street. Soon Guy, or Gene as he later called himself, was working on his own. His earliest surviving sidewalk stamp in Oakland is from 1928.

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In the early years he would often stamp the month underneath the mark.

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After 1936, he filed the address off his stamp and continued to use it into the 1950s. Presumably that’s when he moved to 3706 Porter Street. (If I ever get over that way and the house is still there, I’ll take a photo and stick it here.)

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This hand-drawn mark from 1940 shows a hint of his style. Notice that he misspelled his name Tribuzzio.

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The Tribuzios had six children, five sons and a daughter. The 1940 census records list the couple as “Gene” and “Mary” along with their children, living at 3706 Porter Street.

Some of the sons joined Gene as “G. Tribuzio & Sons.” I’ve recorded marks with that name, all of them hand-drawn, from 1948 to 1955. Solo “G. Tribuzio” stamped marks survive in Oakland up to 1954.

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He was the most prolific Tribuzio, and he left his work all over this city.

Gaetano Tribuzio died 9 October 1974. Various of his descendants have left comments on this site over the years, and I greatly appreciate their personal information.

Special marks: “Master Concrete” holders II

November 25, 2016

Lately I’ve found two more examples of “Master Concrete” bugs that I can add to the list. Gene Tribuzio was the holder of number 1, and there must be a story behind that.

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And Angelo Marin held number 5.

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Here are the other ones I’ve documented. Between numbers 1 and 18, I’m now missing 3, 9, 10, 13 and 15. There may be more beyond 18. Must keep eyes peeled.