Sunday, February 24, 2013

Is that a Safe Neighborhood to Reproduce on my Layout?

Here's another source of information for folks modeling the past: the "Redlining Archives of California's Exclusionary Spaces" digitizes the maps formerly used by banks to decide whether lending money on a property in a particular neighborhood was a good idea. Redlining was legal up until the 1960's, and tended to pretty much ban neighborhoods with recent immigrants, Asians, or African-Americans from getting home loans through traditional sources. If you were in an expensive neighborhood with lots of bankers or captains of industry, the loans would be be trivial to get and much cheaper, but if you were buying in a neighborhood with (gasp!) Italians or other minorities, the banks might never consider a loan a good idea regardless of your personal bona-fides.

For my interest in 1930's San Jose, the maps highlight the relative prosperity or exclusiveness of each neighborhood. The written description of each neighborhood also gives some background on the typical ethnic groups, issues with sewers or taxes, and expectations about whether the neighborhood was improving or going downhill fast.

To check out interactive Google maps with the grading overlays and the notes on each area, visit the Testbed for the Redlining Archives, and choose a California city from the menu in the upper left. Maps exist for San Francisco, Oakland, Stockton, San Jose, and other major cities, based on the 1937 records.

From a quick scan of the Oakland maps, I can see that East Oakland was in the third out of four categories. In the notes on the area, the banks noted that although the weather was nice and the Chevrolet Plant gave many jobs, there was an inharmonious mix of houses, a lack of shopping, a measurable number of the "Latin races" and an infiltration of the "Dark Portuguese". (I assume they're something like Dark Wizards.)

For San Jose, the south side of town (near the Barron Gray cannery) was labelled "Italian Town" and was firmly in the fourth, worst category, listing inhabitants as 75% Italian with infiltrations of Slavs, Portuguese, and Mexicans. Houses were typically 35 years old (ranging from new to 75 years old), in fair to dilapidated condition:

"The section is known as 'Italian Town' and is the slum section of San Jose. There are, however, many isolated blocks on secluded streets where the improvements and immediate surroundings would justify a 'B' or 'C' grading, but in every direction within a stone's throw of such spots will be found industries... The area as a whole contains many thrifty families and soundly improved properties, and applications for loans should not be rejected without investigation."

That "loans should not be rejected without investigation" exception wasn't true for all areas; the area close to the Del Monte cannery definitely fell in the "Loan Availability: None" category for an excess of immigrants and a reputation as a red light district.

The data on each neighborhood also describes typical sale prices at the peak in 1929, at the bottom in 1933, and at the time of the survey in 1937. It's easy to see that the Great Depression hit housing prices much like we've been hit in the last few years, with prices dropping 30% from the high, but recovering several years later.

Interesting data, especially for some very unvarnished descriptions of what neighborhoods were like in the 1930's. Check it out, and let me know if Faller starts making "Dark Portuguese" HO figures so I can put them around some of the houses near my canneries.

[Great thanks to Burrito Justice who mentioned the data on Twitter. He blogs some great stuff about San Francisco's history and Bernal Heights's got a great San Francisco (and Bernal Heights) current state. Great content, even if it is severely lacking in cannery-and-packing-house content, and if he shares more photos of Sutro Tower than of the Campbell Water Tower.]

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Teaser: Hyde Cannery

And just to tease you all about the juicy facts about to be exposed about the Hyde Cannery, let's misquote Byron Henderson from a Layout Design and Operations Meet a few years ago:

You know, you really don't need to know everything about a particular prototype before you can start building. For example, you really don't need to know how many 40 and 50 pound lugs (crates for hauling fruit from the orchards) the Hyde Cannery in Campbell had before you can start building a model of the cannery. The answer, by the way, is 33,400...

(Byron's original quote was about the number of cars that the auto track at WP's San Jose freight station could hold, but you get the idea.)

In an upcoming episode, we'll also learn the definition of a "pie foundry", which also falls solidly in saucy territory.

Monday, February 18, 2013

How Much Would You Pay For This Fine Cannery?

Let's go back to that nagging question: just how bad were things in the Santa Clara Valley during 1931 or 1932? The disappearance of the Ainsley and Hyde canneries give us some hints about that, along with property records of the time.

Let's start by considering the lucky seller, the Ainsley Cannery.

The Ainsley Cannery on Harrison Ave., on the edge of downtown Campbell, was one of the wunderkind of Campbell, producing voluminously from the turn of the century through the 1930's, and surviving as Drew and later Hunt's into the 1960's. I haven't written much about them yet (but certainly will once I start building the cannery building). Ainsley primarily sold to the British market, with Ainsley's family back at home in Britain doing the selling. This ought to sound similar to other canners, especially U.S. Products, who also did a very good business primarily selling outside the U.S.

But as the worst of the depression hit in the 1930's, Ainsley must have started thinking about exit strategies. In early 1934, Drew Canning (which had been operating a cannery in San Jose's Japantown) bought the Ainsley Cannery for $150,000. The sale document was recorded on March 13, 1934, (book 675, page 554), with J.C. Ainsley signing away the company as President and W.H. Lloyd as Secretary of "The Ainsley Corporation". On the Drew side, J.H. Townsend was listed Vice President and L. J. Campodonico as Secretary of Drew (and soon-to-be plant manager for the Campbell outpost.) The June 20, 1934 issue of the Campbell Interurban Press documented Campodonico's restart of the plant with the reminder that the first fruit canned would be arriving from Brentwood - strongly suggesting railroad deliveries of fresh fruit. In July, the Campbell Interurban Press noted that peach canning was delayed because "of the strike" (and which strike that is, I haven't bothered to check down. Feel free to poke around in Google News Archive if you're so inclined.) Drew planned to hire 500 during the 1934 season, quadruple the number needed by Ainsley in the horrible 1931 year!

Looking Inside the Cannery

The sale document didn't list more than the sale price and the principals of the two companies, so it's not terribly illuminating about the operations of the cannery. However, at the end of 1933, the family was obviously preparing for the sale by moving the Ainsley Packing Company assets to the "Ainsley Corporation". (Full grant deed transferring the assets filed Dec. 28, 1933, book 670, pg 321.) Exactly why they were doing the corporation jiggery-pokery I don't know, but wonderfully, they list the major assets of the cannery - land and some of the movable items - right in the reorganization document, and so give us an idea of what a successful canner might be like.

In terms of land, Ainsley owned the large parcel with the cannery - 470 feet of frontage on Harrison Ave., three warehouses, the factory itself, and the boiler house. The site also had its own well and water tower. The deed also lists four other properties owned by the company: an odd shaped lot on the other side of Harrison on the current site of the house cherished as the company office, a small "Hopkins Ave" lot, and two larger properties, one on the other side of the railroad tracks and a larger orchard on Hamilton Ave. The Hopkins Ave. property would be quite a mystery if I hadn't seen its name on a railroad property map, for the street no longer exists; it just north of the property between Harrison Ave. and the railroad tracks, and separated the Ainsley cannery from another cannery site. There wasn't an official crossing there, but it would have been a handy shortcut for workers headed from the cannery line over to the temporary housing on the other side of the tracks.

The deed also mentions some of the outbuildings needed for a cannery. The cafeteria building (along with stoves, kitchenwares, and furnishings) was included in the sale. The campground, rest room building, and cottages for cannery workers also were mentioned. They also call out two named cottages specifically ("Gillig cottage and Sharp cottage"); I suspect we'll never know where the names came from, but I'll give a quick guess they might have named the families that lived there before Ainsley took over the properties for the campground and cottages.

The transfer also included all the contents of the business, which isn't surprising for transferring between two Ainsley-controlled corporations. However, it's interesting that the canning equipment was included in the sale (I would have assumed it was leased, not purchased). The transfer also left out precisely five pieces of equipment: "one oak flat top desk, three oak chairs, and one gas heater". A more conspiracy-laden, suspicious science fiction fan might assume the furniture had some supernatural link that provided super canning powers. Either that, or Mr. Lloyd had brought his own furniture into the office, and didn't want it given away when they sold the company.

From a modeling perspective, the list of cars gave some interesting details. Ainsley owned four trucks: 1 1926 one ton Ford dump truck, a 1926 one ton Ford flat bed truck, a 1926 two ton Federal truck, and a 1927 1.5 ton Chevrolet truck. With that level of specificity, it's easy to go searching the internet for photos of the particular truck models, and my first thought is how primitive all the trucks look. I've bought several of the Athearn Ford Model A trucks, and those look positively modern compared with the 1926 trucks. To really set the scene for the early 1930's in San Jose, and to really convince people that rail, not cars, dominate the valley, I really need to include more of the small trucks and primitive cars that would have existed at the time.

And on top of all that, we also learn about Ainsley's other assets - a pretty decent list of stocks, bonds, cash in savings accounts, 640 acres in Fresno, and an apartment house in San Francisco at Stockton and California (which I suspect is still there). They also list 90 tons of prunes, worth a paltry $6,800 - not that much more than the value of the lug boxes needed by the cannery. I'd love more detail on how many and what size those lug boxes were, for they'd make a very prototypical and impressive pile beside the cannery.

So if Ainsley sold for $150,000 in mid-1934, how much do you think the Hyde Cannery sold for two years before? Both were modern canneries, fixtures of the Campbell industrial scene, with established businesses. But 1931 and 1932 were bad years to be owning a cannery. The exact sale price will be disclosed next time.

[Photos of Ford Model TT one ton truck from Mike Stockard's photos of his truck on Model T Central. Photo of 1926 Federal truck from photo at Reynolds Alberta Museum, found at Ainsley Cannery photo from Calisphere / California Digital Library, from an image in the Frasher Foto collection at Ponoma Public Library.]

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Exciting Times at the Recorder's Office with Chattel Mortgages

For various reasons, I've been down by the County offices at lunchtime lately, and decided this would be a great time to poke around in the Santa Clara County Clerk/Recorder records. In California, the county recorder stores critical legal records: births, deaths, deeds, mortgages, subdivision maps, and the like, going all the way back to the 1850's. I'd always been a bit curious about land ownership, so I thought it might be fun to poke around on properties, both our current house as well as some of the canneries and packing houses I've been following.

I'll give the results of some of that research another day, but for now I'll highlight one tidbit of information I found, and I'll tell a little about what's good and bad about searching legal records.

Higgins-Hyde Lends Some Money

Now, land records alone aren't very interesting for the model railroader. They're not necessarily good for tracking down industries in a particular area, for land is often leased to businesses. The personal records - births, marriages, and deaths - can be found easier through or other genealogy sites without the trip downtown, and the legal records usually have much less color than, say, census records.

But that doesn't mean there aren't gems to discover. While tracking down the ownership of the "Abinante and Nola" packing house at 740 West San Carlos St., I got stuck trying to find the owner of the property before around 1950. After some failed searches, I decided to check in the 1930's records for mention of the occupant at the time, the infamous Higgins-Hyde Packing Co. I didn't find any deeds on my search, but I did turn up a couple agreements between Higgins-Hyde and local orchardists called "chattel mortgages".

A chattel mortgage is an agreement to borrow money on "movable personal property". In these cases, Higgins-Hyde lent money at the start of the year to orchardists to help them with the year's crop and also provided a minimum price for the crop. The orchardists mortgaged the crops of prunes on some or all of their land and perhaps some of their equipment, and in return got the cash immediately. The orchardists promised to properly care for, harvest, and prepare the crop for market, and use the proceeds of the sale to pay back Higgins-Hyde. If the sale price of the fruit was greater than the borrowed amount, the orchardists kept it. Higgins-Hyde kept the right to go and grab the fruit if the orchardists failed to maintain the orchard or protect the crop, and would also grab any additional collateral if the orchardists didn't cough up the prunes.

Here's one of Higgins-Hyde's agreements with Fred and June Lester, well-known Willow Glen residents, from mid-August 1932. (Just to be precise, this mortgage was filed 8/17/1932, recorder's book 620, pg 294). This agreement, adding another $400 to an existing $4100 debt due in November of 2012, was signed just before Higgins-Hyde was savaged in the press for trying to undercut the Prune Pool.

And the agreement gives us a few hints about some of the Lester's orchard lands. The Lesters were best known for farmland south of downtown San Jose. Like a lot of orchardists, it appears they also owned and leased land in other parts of the Valley to expand their business or diversify their crop. This agreement covers two of these orchards not on the family ranch: a quarter quarter section of land (40 acres) at Bascom and Hamilton Avenues (now the site of a Whole Foods and large strip mall), and another 60 acres on White Road near Penitencia Creek in the Berryessa District of San Jose.

The Lesters also pledged a car (Studebaker) and tractor (50 h.p. Best Tractor. That Best tractor would be a nice detail for one of my orchards, for Best was a Bay Area company that produced continuous tread tractors that wouldn't compress the Santa Clara Valley's soft orchard soil. Best later meddled with Holt to form Caterpillar.

Note to self: buy more Studebaker models. Campbell sounds like it was more a Studebaker town than a Ford town.

The Lesters must've been a bit desperate for money after the low prices of the previous seasons; the agreement shows they borrowed $1500 in December 1931, then $2000 in March 1932, then $635 in April, and the final $400 in July, all payable in November.

There were at least three other similar mortgages filed the same year - the Leos on Latimer Ave. in Campbell, the Avilas off Monterey Road, and Gwins in San Martin. There also might have been separate contracts to sell the fruit at a fixed price to the company, but those wouldn't have gotten officially filed because they were simple contracts and not pledging ownership of specific assets.

One last note on the chattel mortgage: note that the Vice President of Higgins-Hyde at the time was Jack Roberts, probably the J.S. Roberts that occupied the site after Higgins-Hyde. Looks like Higgins-Hyde didn't skulk off into the night, but instead changed their name and kept packing after the Infamous Prune Pool Caper.

Searching at the Recorder's Office

I've only done a few searches at the Recorder's office, but here's some advice based on that experience.
  • Searching legal records is painful; they're not available online, so you need to be in the Recorder's office to see any of the actual deeds and mortgages. Indexes are awkward. Do as much research as you can about potential landowners and sale dates (to a likely year or month) before going to the Recorders office. Census records, city directories, and personal interviews can help you narrow searches before you start.
  • Deed searches require using an index book to find the "book" and "page" of a recorded instrument, then going to that "book" to see the actual record. For post-1980 records, the index is a computerized database, so it's easy to search for a particular owner. For the 1970's, you leaf through microfilmed computer-printed indices (luckily sorted alphabetically).

    Before that, the indexes are no longer alphabetical. Instead, you find the index book for a year or set of years. Each book is grouped by the first couple letters of last name and sorted by date. For Higgins-Hyde, you'd find the "H-J index book" as a set of images to browse. You'd then look through that book to find the section containing records involving people with the last name starting with "Hi-Hu" prefixes, then you'd read through that section in date order looking for any index entries referring to Higgins-Hyde. You'd then have a book and page for the actual document, and so you'd go to a separate database to actually see the deed. Finding the Higgins-Hyde documents in the 1932-1939 index required some back-and-forth to find the Hi-Hu section, then required scanning all fifty or hundred pages in the "Hi-Hu" section looking for mention of Higgins-Hyde.

    At least in the 1960's, the date-sorted by name prefix indexes are typed. Before then, you're getting into handwritten indices. The 1930's indexes can be clear or hard-to-read depending on the handwriting of the recorder. Luckily, the actual documents are typewritten so the legalese is easy to read. As you go earlier, you'll start finding cases where the legal documents are handwritten, and you'll find reading legal descriptions of properties to be a chore. Let's hope the folks who have been computerizing the census records might turn their handwriting skills to mortgages.

  • Viewing documents can be very, very awkward. In some counties (such as Alameda County), all the non-modern records and indexes are on microfilm, requiring some work each time you need to change media. In Santa Clara county, the indexes and actual records are all on computer, but the user interfaces for viewing the documents can be clunky and often only allow a single window at a time.
  • Common names or similar corporation names can make searching ten times worse. Trying to search for records involving a prolific real estate investor, a title company, or subdivision builder could result in a couple entries a day or hundreds over a year. The indexes often contain the "grantor" and "grantee", so you might get hints about which records might be interesting, but you'd then need to dash to the actual records to decide if the one you're looking for.

    I learned to do my searches on the least-common name in a grantor-grantee pair. To find more on the Lester's interactions with Higgins-Hyde, it might be easier to look through the "Le" section of the grantee index for Lester rather than the "Hi" section for Higgins-Hyde.

  • Legal records are a big business, so prices are set for the legal and real estate folks searching records. Unofficial copies can be $10/document (plus a per-page charge) in Santa Clara County. Using a smart phone to capture screen images might be an easier way to save a bunch of interesting records.
  • Tracing ownership can be tedious. Generally, tracing the ownership of a particular piece of land means finding when the current owner bought the land, then searching backwards through the years to find when the previous owner bought, and repeating. If you know that Joe bought the land in 1980 from Jim, you'd have to then search backwards from 1980 looking for all records on Jim to find his purchase. Knowing that Jim bought some time around 1960 avoids a lot of tedious searching. You might even be able to search from two directions, going forward from a first owner rather than back from a last owner.
It's worth mentioning I also used the visits to the Recorder's office for non-model-railroad purposes. I managed to track down all the owners of our otherwise commonplace house all the way back to its construction. It turns out every owner has had some connection to high-tech: first a former Hughes engineer at IBM, then a Lockheed aeronautical engineer, a GE nuclear engineer, Sun/IBM family, and our Apple/IBM/Google family. That almost explains the unsafe electrical splices we found buried in the roof when we re-roofed in 2000.

There's other interesting facts in the Recorder's dusty files - a strangely cheap purchase of a warehouse from the SP by Abinante and Nola, notice of the sale of the George Hyde cannery on the courthouse steps in 1932, and a full accounting of the assets of the Ainsley Cannery during a corporate reorganization. Those can all wait till another day.

[Photo: Recorder's Office, San Diego County, 1962. From San Diego History.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Building the Market Street Station (and 3D-printing Architectural Details)

One of the reasons I like historical research is that it gives me additional inspiration and the occasional kick-in-the-pants to do more modeling. Sometimes, the research gives me insights into what other businesses I am modeling might look like - the report on Mission Valley Canning hinted at the appearance of a typical cannery. At other times, research about an unbuilt industry or building can make me eager to actually start construction.

Take the San Jose Market Street depot, for example. When the SP replaced the original 1860's station with a new depot built in 1883, stations with attached train sheds were all the rage. I've no idea why San Jose received such a depot. Perhaps the Victorians didn't appreciate being forced to walk into sunlight when boarding a train. Perhaps the buildings were modeled on Eastern stations intended for less pleasant weather. Perhaps the train shed helped a farm town's station look more impressive. There's some evidence for simply envy and image, too. I've seen reports that the Market Street station was built to compare favorably the South Pacific Coast's competing station and train shed in West San Jose. Regardless of the reason, the large shed was both an obvious landmark and product of its Victorian creation date. By the 1920's, it was hopelessly old-fashioned compared to the modern depots of the 1920's, lacking either the majesty of stone or the modern lines of Art Deco or Streamlined Moderne that might imply that San Jose was a forward-looking town. For the local comedians, disparaging the old station's train shed was always worth a few laughs. Patricia Loomis's "Signposts 2" book of famous San Jose streets repeated an old vaudeville joke that must've gotten some good laughs:

One comedian greets another with "How'd you get to San Jose?"
"I came on train."
"Where'd you get off?"
"That big thing that looks like a barn."
"Oh, yeah, Noah used it as an ark for one season, then sold it to the S.P."

Now that's classic entertainment. They don't make comedians like that any more.

I'd built the station building for Market Street back in 2003 when I first built the shelf layout. The station appeared quickly, but I always hesitated on starting the train shed. The missing train shed's been an obvious hole on that layout for several years now. When I researched the closing of the station in old newspapers back in December, I got reminded of how cool a building it would be, and with that inspiration, started building.

The train shed is built from styrene sheet and rod. My biggest challenge was getting the rough proportions of the building correct and identifying the wall configurations (and noticing the venting occasionally visible at the top of each wall). Actual construction took only a couple days once I'd tested out measurements and shape. Each side is 26 inches long, constructed of alternating body sections and leg supports. I created a jig to hold each of the body sections (with 6x12 beams forming the top and bottom trim) against each 12x12 leg at the proper height.

My biggest challenge was figuring out how to do the yellow-and-brown paint job. I'd initially decided to try assembling the skeleton and trim out of 12x12 styrene, painting all the trim brown, then dropping in pre-painted yellow scribed sheet for the body. A couple attempts at that convinced me I couldn't size the scribed siding perfectly enough for the walls to look neat. Instead, I glued the walls together as one assembly, with all trim and body assembled, then used masking to get the neat paint job. I initially spray-painted the entire model yellow, masked off the parts to keep the yellow body color, and sprayed the brown trim.

Although the rough shape of the train shed is simple, older pictures often hint at victorian trim throughout the structure. Like many late 19th century wood stations, the overall design resembled the Eastlake or Stick styles of architecture that borrowed every bit of ornamentation available from architectural feature catalogs of the era. Both styles were really a product of their time, for all that fancy carving was affordable only thanks to cheap mass production and power tools. Ornamented and carved brackets and corbels fit in the corner between each post and cross-beam and hold up the wide eaves.

Although I could hand-construct all these supports from styrene strip, I'd never be able to add the typical carved detail or add the curves often seen in the actual ornaments. No commercial sources could help either. Checking my Walthers catalog, I also didn't see any parts from Grandt Line or any other manufacturer that would be the right size and shape. Even my lucky eBay find of injection-molded Victorian windows, doors, and trim from some unknown kit or manufacturer didn't have the correct shapes or enough pieces for the train shed.

One possibility would be to make my own pieces somehow. Although my 3d printer or the commercial ones I used in the past wouldn't have enough detail, I knew better printers existed. Seth Neumann had created modern light fixtures and security cameras through the Shapeways 3d printer service using their high-resolution "Frosted Ultra Detail" material. Trying out Frosted Ultra Detail seemed worth a gamble.

With SketchUp, I drew 3d models for both the eave supports and brackets. Because of the size of the castings and the way Shapeways charges, it was best to attach all the parts to a single sprue, so I added a 0.5 mm square sprue and attached copies of the part design to the central sprue. The 3d design process made designing the small and large brackets easy, as the small brackets were just scaled-down versions of the large ones. Once I was reasonably satisfied with the design, I sent an order off to Shapeways, along with $25, and a couple weeks later I had two sprues of brackets and a sprue of eave supports - not necessarily cheap, but also not that much more than what it would have cost me to buy several packets of Grandt Line parts.

The smaller brackets are two scale feet (7mm) on a side; the larger brackets are four and a half feet, with sixteen small and two large brackets per sprue. The eave supports are 3' long, with 32 on the sprue. The details on the parts are pretty amazing; the brackets have carved circles that are 0.1 or 0.2 mm above the surface of the part, and they printed quite clearly. Each part is just a bit more than a millimeter thick. The parts show no layer lines; my only problem was that circle details on one side of the brackets didn't adhere and flaked off. I suspect the problems happened when the detail needed to be printed below the body of the bracket. That wasn't much of a problem for me - each piece only had one visible side.

The Market Street train shed still has a lot of work to do - what you see here is straight from this afternoon's spray painting, and there's a bunch of touch-up to do: add the roof, add remaining details, touch up paint, and weather. Stay tuned for more progress on the train shed!