Reichert’s pit, the Fruit Vale White Cement Gravel Quarry

Starting on 8 June 1871, an ad in the Oakland Daily Transcript touted “White Quartz Gravel / for Sidewalks, Garden Walks, and Carriage Drives, It Makes A Beautiful And Solid Walk!” and offered this recommendation:

Mayor N. W. Spaulding, in his recent message to the City Council, said: ‘The only macadam walks which have so far proved successful have been made from [the Fowler quarry or] the white cement gravel found in the vicinity of Fruit Vale. The latter appears to be preferable because it becomes more solidified than any other material heretofore used, being less affected by the agencies of the weather. It has been used in some localities in this city for the last eighteen months. The peculiarities which recommend this cement gravel are: that when it is exposed to the elements it becomes adhesive and firm, is comparatively free from mud in Winter and dust in Summer. This makes it a complete and permanent improvement. Sidewalks made from this material are estimated to cost about 35 cents per lineal foot for walks eighteen feet wide.’ The subscriber has now got his road through to the White Cement Gravel Quarry, and will furnish at short notice any amount of Gravel for the above purposes, by leaving orders at Gardiner & Hunt’s office, Broadway, between Eighth and Ninth Sts., Oakland, and at the Brooklyn Postoffice.”

It was signed “L. Reichert, Fruit Vale.”

This material seems quite out of place for Oakland, and its properties appear unlikely too. But I’ve tracked it to land that Reichert owned above the Dimond district, at the end of today’s Maple Avenue, where a “gravel bank” is noted on the 1878 Thompson & West map.

And we’ve been here! It’s in the land south of the LDS Temple that was ruined by the London Road landslide in 1970. And that explains the peculiarities of the material. It was fault gouge: bedrock crunched into powder by the Hayward fault.

I believe its self-cementing character comes from a significant content of calcium carbonate, which is present both in the Franciscan melange on the downhill side and in the serpentinite a little ways uphill.

Despite the mayor’s endorsement, business for the Fruit Vale Quartz Company seemed to be spotty. Business broker Andrew Baird, of San Francisco, took over for a short time in 1873 under his own name; then Reichert sold the “inexhaustible” gravel pit, and the 25-acre parcel it sat on, in July 1873 to Elias L. Beard, a prominent wheeler-dealer based in Mission San Jose. Beard is shown as the owner in later maps (misspelled Baird, probably because the adjoining parcel was owned by Julia C. Baird). The 1874 city directory lists L. Reichert Jr. as a teamster with the Fruit Vale Quartz Company — perhaps the founder’s son.

Baird tried again to sell the parcel in 1875, 1876 and 1878, the year that Beard went bankrupt and lost almost everything.

I have little idea what happened after that, except that the State Bureau of Mines annual report 38, published in 1906, recorded this as the “Packard Quarry,” of which the newspapers make no mention. And as of 1912, the land was in the hands of the Realty Syndicate, part of its enormous hillside empire. A decade later the land began to undergo the process of residential subdivision that endures to this day.

3 Responses to “Reichert’s pit, the Fruit Vale White Cement Gravel Quarry”

  1. Amelia Sue Marshall Says:

    What an amazing revelation!

    An oversize map book from the Realty Syndicate, removed from 1440 Broadway by an anonymous donor, and provided to the Oakland History Center at the Main Library a couple of years ago, showed how the Realty Syndicate developed Guido Street, nearby the Wilshire Heights/London Road landslide area. Presumably the Realty Syndicate owned property up there as well.

    Local stories hold that the Abbott family maintained chicken coops on or near the hillside where the LDS Temple was built, and some property owners felt caused the landslide.

    Park Abbott, one of the founders of the old Co-Op supermarket chain, was briefly married to Jack London’s daughter Joan, who begat their son Bart Abbott. London Road in the landslide area was named in honor of the author and his family.

    Park Abbott was in the business of building arts-and-crafts type houses on spec, and it was some of these that were among the 19 structures that collapsed in the 1970 landslide. The fact that the soils on which they were built was in fact a gravel pit adds to the head-slapping factor.

    Those of us who were shopping for real estate in the aftermath of the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989 will recall how the corridor along the Warren Freeway was deemed “The Special Studies Zone”, where extra geotech testing and reports were required. In retrospect, this was a good idea.

  2. Andrew Aldrich Says:

    When walking in the hills (as I do several times a week) I often wonder to what extent the owners of these properties – especially the more recent buyers as well as owners of houses built on steep inclines – are aware of the risks of slides, both from the saturation of soils during especially wet years and from (inevitable) tectonic activity along the Hayward Fault – and then (heaven forbid) both occurring simultaneously.

  3. Andrew Alden Says:

    So do I, so do I.

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