Sunday, April 21, 2013

What Do Dried Fruit Startups Use For Garages?

Everyone knows where startups are spawned: in the garages of Silicon Valley.  (Though with all the junk we store in them, not to mention model railroads, I'm surprised you can even fit a startup in most garages around here.)  But if you were going to clean up in the dried fruit business around the turn of the century, where would you start your company?

Maybe a livery stable?

UCSC's map collection, in addition to those aerial photos of Santa Clara County, turns out to also be sharing Sanborn maps from the turn of the century.  You can check out what Campbell was like in 1899 or 1905, or see San Jose as of 1884.  (Can you find the location of the old roundhouse off San Pedro St?) They have maps for other towns, especially in Santa Cruz County, but I'll leave the exploration of those maps to someone else.

Now the 1905 Campbell map has an interesting detail.  The Central Santa Clara Fruit Company shows up on the corner of Campbell Ave. and the railroad tracks. It's a location I know well, for it's the site of that art deco building I modeled a few years ago (and that still exists on the site).   I'd seen scattered mention of the company, but the map encouraged me to do a bit more poking around.

The Central Santa Clara Fruit Company was a short-lived packer that's left little of a paper trail. Terse mentions of the company appear in state records about corporations. Corporate records show it was incorporated in June, 1903 with $50,000 in capitalization. Like current-day startups, the Central Santa Clara Fruit Company appeared and disappeared quite quickly. It was already on the list of defunct corporations by 1905.

But why did a new prune startup begin at this site?  The back-to-back Sanborn maps help us figure that out. We know that folks didn't have attached two car garages back then.  The packers would want to be very close to the orchards, for the packing house had to be within a quick horse-and-wagon trip from the orchards and the drying yards.   They'd also want to be near the railroad, for there were few other ways to transport packed fruit to market in those days of dirt roads and schooners from Alviso.  Starting a new company (financed with only $50,000, according to the Secretary of State) probably meant they were saving their money to buy fruit, so building a new building was out.

Luckily, the 1899 map shows why the Central Santa Clara Fruit Company might have located here: they could take over the former space of a livery stable and hay warehouse right at Campbell Ave. and the railroad tracks! Convenient location, existing building: what could be better?

It also looks like a pretty nice building. A few pictures of their plant (and the former stable) made it into Jeanette Watson's "Campbell: The Orchard City" (pages 278, 280, and 293). The photos show a very Victorian, east-coast-ish building: clapboard, steep roof, and false fronts, suitable for upstate New York as much as California. The main building has a high center peak for a loft, but each side of the building is only a single story high. The false fronts match this, with a center two story facade, and two single story extensions hanging off it, with the office on the right. The Sanborn maps help us track down what the back looked like: the broad line around the sides and back seem to imply the roof sloped down in all directions. We also see the sides and back were corrugated iron. (Watson's photo on page 297 shows the corrugated iron peeking out along a side, with the prosperous false front towering over Campbell Ave.) The company signage, as seen in the photo above, is on the former separate hay barn next to the railroad tracks. The photos make it look like a well-maintained building - probably a good thing when you're on the most prominent corner on town.

The space would have been large, close to transportation, and just the thing for a group of entrepreneurs hoping to strike it rich in prunes. Who knows if the livery stable moved on its own or was pushed out by a landlord hoping on striking it rich with the promising new business? Hopefully J. F. Wehmeyer at the blacksmith shop next door got enough requests for machinery and metalwork to make up for any money he was losing from the removal of the horses.

Watson's photo of the Central Santa Clara sign is dated as pre-1911, so either the photographs are significantly earlier than marked, someone kept the building in good shape after their demise, or the company continued to operate even if they weren't legally a corporation. I'd worry about the dating of the photo because of the electric street lights, but the 1905 Sanborn maps notes that the plant has electric lights, so maybe a date of 1905 isn't so outlandish.

The 1905 Sanborn map gives us details about the company in operation. It shows a small but prosperous business with a large warehouse section at the front, and extensions in the back for a "BR. KETTLE" (no idea), a boiler, and an oil tank in the ground. Even this early in the dried fruit business, the stock items for a packing house - steam to hydrate and clean the fruit, and oil to power that boiler - were essential. Compared to later packing houses, this one has little storage space, either because they were selling all their fruit immediately (which matches the pre-World War I processes) or because they were a new company and couldn't afford a larger plant. There's no railroad spur, but the railroad station is immediately across the tracks from the packing house, and run under the watchful eye of the station agent, Charles Berry.

That 1903 incorporation date would have been an interesting time to be in the dried fruit business.  The major cooperative, the California Cured Fruit Association, had started in 1900 and had signed up 3,800 farmers - 75% of the dried fruit growers in the state.  When the 1900 and 1901 crops didn't sell well because of large crops in Europe, prices plummeted and the association couldn't sell their prunes.  In June 1901, they still had half the 1900 crop in their storage bins.  When the CCFA's death throes began, our little upstart might have decided this was the perfect time to enter the business. Campbell already had the large Campbell Fruit Grower's Union and their drying yard (at the current site of the Hyde Cannery), but maybe an independent packer was just what the town needed.

I'd be curious to see who the backers were behind Central Santa Clara Fruit: farmers, financiers, or businessmen? However, there's no information from my usual sources. The ancient county clerk records at the Santa Clara County Archives probably have the articles of incorporation for the company, but I'm not up for taking a day off work just to learn that one tidbit.

That old livery stable space didn't survive very long - the 1928 Campbell Sanborn map shows an empty space on that corner. When I first saw that Sanborn map, I assumed the corner had always had been a vacant and undesirable space, but now it's obvious that the 1899 livery stable just disappeared at some point. Maybe it was fire, or maybe it was modern development, but either way the Central Santa Clara Fruit Company's plant didn't last.

The Sanborn maps show a few other interesting details. I'll let you pick out some, but I'll note that the Sunsweet (formerly Campbell Fruit Union plant) doesn't exist yet - instead, it's site is an empty yard in 1905 that had been marked as a lumberyard in 1899. The Fruit Union didn't get started until September 1909, and the huge plant wasn't built until October 1912 according to the California Fruit News, so there's a few years before the Campbell railroad tracks will be bordered by a continuous row of warehouses.

[Photo of the Central Santa Clara Fruit Company taken from Jeanette Watson's "Campbell: the Orchard City". Check out the book for a couple other photos of a dried fruit startup's home.]

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