Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tolerance for Error II: Getting More Data Points

One of my problems (and I suspect one of the problems real historians face) is that sometimes there's just not enough data. You might have a picture of this street corner in 1915, but what was it like in 1920? In 1930? In 1940? What about on the day after the photo was taken?

I already hit this problem trying to understand how the SP used the track between San Jose and Los Gatos during the 1930's. Even in that ten year stretch, things changed quite a bit in where SP personnel worked, which tracks were controlled by the chief dispatcher, and where signals were located.

So when I was looking at the packing houses around San Jose's Market Street station, I had only a few data points to use.

* Sanborn maps in UMI's collection told me the businesses in the different buildings in 1915 and 1950.
* The Southern Pacific valuation map copy I got from the California State Railroad Museum shows the owners in 1930 or so.
* I'd seen city directories from 1936 which gave me another data point. That's not a lot of data points - maybe one every twenty years.

Luckily beefed up their city directories since I first used their data. They now have Polk's San Jose city directory for most years between 1936 and 1952, a 1964 Santa Clara telephone directory, and a 1972 telephone directory. Polk's directories are particularly useful for us model railroaders because they also have entries sorted by street address, so it's easy to see which companies were in warehouses along your favorite road. Similar directories are available elsewhere; San Jose Public Library has scans of directories from around 1900-1915 on-line, and have paper copies for many more years in the California Room at the main downtown library.

So how quickly did the various businesses move around? First, let's check out Ryland Street, just north of the Market Street station and home to a bunch of packing houses.

100 Ryland Street held the Farmers' Union warehouse - that was a popular general store in San Jose. Tom McEnerney's family ran this - he was a former mayor of San Jose and helped develop the San Pedro Square restaurant neighborhood near the Farmers Union retail buildings. The building was occupied by Warren Dried Fruit Co. in 1936, 1940, 1945, and 1950. I don't know much about Warren, but there's enough tidbits on the web to suggest they'd been around for a long time. Family stories say my grandmother worked for them in Hayward as a bookkeeper, but I haven't found much detail on them there.

200 Ryland Street was occupied by J.B. Inderrieden dried fruit packing in 1915; they were a Chicago-based grocery wholesaler and fruit packer. Teresi Brothers were there in 1930 according to the valuation map. Winchester Dried Fruit was there in 1940; lawsuit details in 1936 say it was owned by Antonio Teresi and Bert Kirk. Jr. That's an impressive pair of owners; Teresi's father owned the huge Sorosis Fruit Ranch near Saratoga, and Bert Kirk was part of the family that owned the large Kirk Ranch near Willow Glen. Both would have had plenty of fruit to sell. Our house is on what used to be their land. In 1945 and 1950, Abinante and Nola was in the building; they were also in a packing house that's on my layout, but I'll talk more about that in a moment. They occupied the building from at least 1944 according to a building permit for foundation work.

392 San Pedro Street near the SP freight house had been occupied by the Mark-Lally Plumbing Warehouse on the 1915 map, but was occupied by G. B. Musante fruit buyer in 1936, 1940, 1945, and 1949. I've found no details on him.

395a North First Street, or my Earl Fruit Company packing house I built, was occupied by Earl Fruit Co. in 1936 and 1938, but was occupied by Heggblade and Marguleas Co "fruit buyers" in 1940. I didn't check to see if Earl Fruit Company had moved to a different building, or if they were starting to fade away.

After my visit to the Modesto and Empire Traction Company last month, I did learn that the kinds of warehouses that businesses expect over time changes; many of their 1950's era warehouses are uninteresting to potential renters because the ceilings are "only" 24 feet high. Modern warehousemen want 35' ceilings in the warehouse for easier material handling. I could imagine Earl Fruit moving to a more modern structure for just such a reason. Time to search the directories to see if they moved.

361 North Fourth Street, the Richmond Chase cannery located where the SP line curved down onto Fourth Street, is another cannery I model on my Market Street shelf layout. The 1915 Sanborn map lists it as "Golden Gate Packing Co.", but the 1950 map showed "Richmond Chase". I'd chosen Richmond Chase for my 1930's cannery. So how good a guess did I make? Bad. Hunts occupied the building in 1936 and 1940, and Richmond Chase's Plant #14 occupied it only in 1945. If I'm good, I'll re-label that building as Hunts.

And finally, how about that packing house off San Carlos Street that I've labelled as Abinante and Nola? It's again inappropriate. The 1936, 1949. , and 1945 directories shows it was "J. S. Roberts dried fruit", and it only became Abinante and Nola in 1949. I've definitely messed up on the name there by twenty years.

So that's it - for the buildings that weren't well-known (Earl Fruit, Abinante and Nola, Richmond Chase), by relying on maps 20 years out of date, I was wrong about the owners during the time of my layouts (early 1930's). Not a great score there.

So how picky should I be - does the name on the building count as artistic license? Should I be able to use names that weren't on the same building, or weren't on the building for twenty more years? I'm still trying to decide that.

On the other hand, even with the bad names, I've got a model railroad that's still a lot of fun to run. Spending a few extra years armchair-modeling would not have been worth the extra bits of knowledge I've gained since I first started the layout.

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