Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Earthquakes and Canneries

Earthquakes and canneries never seem to get along well. At best, all those nicely stacked empty cans fall over; at worst, the roof falls in and crushes the nice machinery. There's stories about how the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake not only doomed the San Martin winery south of Morgan Hill, but also damaged the few remaining canneries in the San Jose and Santa Clara area.

As I've been researching the local canneries, I'll sometimes wander into pre-1930's history, but I've never seen much about how the businesses in San Francisco and San Jose survived the 1906 earthquake - there has been little in the newspapers about the damage to businesses. This week, while checking out the history of Code Portwood Canning Company, the Oakland precursor to H. G. Prince and later Del Monte's Fruitvale cannery, I found the following article.

It's from (of all places) the July 5, 1906 Adelaide (Australia) Advertiser, where the "General Merchandise" section highlights the damage done to San Francisco canneries by the Great 1906 Earthquake:

Canned fruits are wanted, but holders of leading kinds are inclined to keep stocks for better prices, which are expected to rule when the season's demand comes along. According to San Francisco mail advices, the destruction of the following fruit canneries is reported: California Fruit Canners' Association, Sansome street branch, capacity 400,000 cases, and Fontana branch, capacity 250,000 cases; Central Californian Canneries, San Francisco branch, capacity 200,000 cases; Californian Canneries Company, capacity 100,000 cases; Presidio Fruit Canning Company, capacity 100,000 cases; Corville Packing Company, capacity 60,000 cases-the foregoing being destroyed by fire, while the Code Portwood Cannery, with a capacity of 125,000 cases, was wrecked by earthquake. It is estimated, therefore, that the pack will be curtailed by 500,000 to 750,000 cases. Some of the canneries will, it is stated, be able to operate at establishments outside San Francisco, and the Central Company will operate at Sacramento, Sebastopol, and Visalia, where enlargements of plant have taken place.
There's some interesting tidbits here: the California Fruit Canners Association was one of the first attempts to create an industry-dominating combine in the fruit industry, sucking up several of the largest canneries. The CFCA later was a founding part of Del Monte when it was created in 1916. In this article, there's the note about the two CFCA canneries on Sansome Street (perhaps King-Morse?) and "Fontana branch" which probably references the M. J. Fontana and Company plant near Fisherman's Wharf, which became Del Monte Plant #1 and later "The Cannery".

The Central California Canneries plant at Bay and Mason, interestingly enough, burned the day before the earthquake in a rather nasty twist of fate, as noted by the Pacific Rural Press a couple months later. The Central California Canneries owners were also kicking the tires on a plant in Yuba City which itself burned a month later on May 20. I'm not sure I'd let the Central California Canneries folks check out my cannery after that bad luck.

It's also interesting how most of the canneries were "destroyed by fire", but Code-Portwood's plant, over on Tenth and Brannan, was explicitly listed as destroyed by the earthquake. The June 9, 1906 Pacific Rural Press also reports that Code Portwood's plant didn't burn, but that wasn't going to stop the company from moving to the more pleasant climate of Oakland and leave San Francisco behind.

1 comment:

  1. My company owns the San Martin Winery property. A Guinness subsidiary owned it up until~1988/1989. They were looking for a buyer, to no avail. They also had a problem with their corking process, which is bad for business. I have letters of intent that show that Gordon Biersch was originally looking to possible put their brewery there. ASV Wines now operates the winery. They are known for making the Trader Joe's Reserve label organic red wines.