Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mission Valley Canning: "Pleasant Working Conditions"

Folks get all up-in-arms with the excesses of typical Silicon Valley workplaces these days - bring your dog and cat to work, commute buses, forced yoga during meetings, and macrobiotic cafeterias. But we still saw that back in the old days, too.

Take, for instance, Mission Valley Canning, located at Autumn and Howard, just across Guadalupe River from the Food Machinery (Anderson Barngrover) factory, and a stone's throw from the SP's engine terminal at Lenzen Ave. They knew what it took to hire good workers:
"Looking for experienced tomato peelers for night shift, cafe and bus service, pleasant working conditions." Those Silicon Valley shuttle buses are looking old-fashioned, and I don't think I've seen any Silicon Valley companies advertising "pleasant working conditions" lately.

I first heard about Mission Valley when I saw this nice home video from 1963 showing the action out on the street in front of the cannery. Mission Valley primarily packed vegetables, as far as I can tell. Their wooden sign loco was only associated with vegetables, and one of their employees, Joseph Toselio, got a patent for an automatic stake setter that permitted easier harvesting of green beans. For that reason, I suspect they canned vegetables partially produced on their own farmland. They may not have always been a vegetable cannery; the July 19, 1945 issue of the San Jose News asked local canneries when they'd start canning pears, and one-year-old Mission Valley declared they weren't doing pears this year. Perhaps they started off doing fruit and realized there was less competition in vegetables?

Beyond that, I'm finding little; one obituary, some corporation records indicating Walter Hinckley at some point owned the cannery - but there's not a lot out on the Internet about them. Luckily, we've got that video.

I'm not sure of the exact location of the camera in the video; my guess is that the street shots are along Howard looking east towards Guadalupe River and FMC. That makes the buildings on the left some of the original Greco cannery buildings, best seen in this photo showing the ramshackle expansion of the cannery in a way only a model railroad structure builder could love.

But photos is all we have, now - Howard Street no longer exists; it's just an overflow parking lot for the Shark Tank, and eventually a widened Autumn Street extension will run through the former cannery site and we won't even have the ghost of Howard Street to hint where those cannery workers got nice meals and bus service home at the end of a graveyard shift.

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