Stone Quarries were an important part of Oakland’s growth and development, from the 1850s into the 21st century.
In Oakland’s earliest days, construction materials like stone blocks or paving stones were often imported as sailing-ship ballast, “the wrong way” around Cape Horn. (The blocks of buff-colored Indiana sandstone which today ring Astro Circle – salvaged from the first Oakland High school – reportedly arrived this way.) However, this was a difficult, highly dangerous, expensive and slow way to build a town.
Oakland’s geologic variability (due to tectonic activity that brought together an unusually large variety of California rock units) meant that a wide range of useful construction material (beyond sand and gravel) was readily obtainable with abundant cheap labor by Chinese and, later, European immigrants. Most locally quarried rock (except sandstone) tended to be of fractured, metamorphic shale-like kinds, but it ranged in colors and potential applications, and since much of Oakland’s period of most rapid growth occurred prior to the adoption of asphalt (in the 1920s), macadam was used extensively in road building. This led to more than a few quarries throughout the area, most of them small but a few of them quite large, as the city spread out. Except for the sandstone used structurally in a few Oakland buildings (like the First Unitarian Church), Oakland's quarries produced exclusively crushed rock.
Stone quarried in Oakland included the desirable stone called ‘blue rock’ in the trade, a flinty, fine-grained metamorphosed sandstone or argillite, slightly bluish when fresh; siliceous shales in various colors – mainly reddish or yellowish chert (aka “phthanite”) or jasper; and sandstones of various shades and grain sizes. Other material were described as disintegrated quartz, fine-grained basalt, granite, and even scattered pockets of limestone; however, quarriers seldom consulted with geologists and the two communities have different vocabularies. Some uses to which this material was put (beyond the macadam roads mentioned earlier) included top dressings for garden walkways, cemetery paths, and sidewalks; aggregate for concrete; and rubble, ballast, and gravel used for building foundations and railbeds.
Partial listing of defunct quarries
- Berkeley Rock Company Quarry: This site is on upper Broadway, just west of Brookside Avenue, near the location of College Preparatory School. "The deposit is a much altered trap-rock, and is used for concrete, macadam, and gutter rock. The company produces about 250 yards a day.” 1
- Blair Quarries: Operated by The Realty Syndicate, these were on Moraga Road east of Mountain View Cemetery on land that was formerly Blair's Park. The site of the main quarry, opened in 1901, is now occupied by Piedmont's corporation yard, on Red Rock Road. "The rock is a chert (phthanite), mostly red, some yellowish, and is extensively used as road-dressing in Piedmont district and in the cemetery. The company is opening a ‘blue rock’ quarry, of metamorphosed sandstone, on the south side of the road, and is tunneling in quest of rock for a quarry 50 yards west of and below the larger Blair quarry. Twenty men are at work.” 1The site of the southern quarry is now occupied by Piedmont Reservoir (Reservoir Number Two) at the top of Blair Avenue [need confirmation].
- ”Blake and Bilger Company’s Quarry (formerly the Oakland Paving Company’s Quarry); F. W. Bilger, secretary and treasurer, Central Bank Building, Fourteenth and Broadway, Oakland. Located on McAdam street [now Pleasant Valley Boulevard], just off Broadway. It was opened about 1870, and has been operated almost constantly since. It is the largest quarry in Alameda County. The rock is typical ‘blue rock,’ as termed by the trade, and is a metamorphosed sandstone, with lime carbonate in seams. It is used for macadam, concrete, and gutter rock.” 1 This site is now the Shops at the Ridge, located at Broadway and Pleasant Valley Road, and the adjacent quarry pond on property owned by the Claremont Country Club. An exhibit by the pond features large boulders of the stone, excavated during the most recent makeover. Workers at this quarry were mostly Italian, many of whom settled in the Temescal area and supported the social clubs there.
- “Broadway Quarry, on both sides of Broadway, near Hudson street, Oakland. The rock is a soft, friable, buff-colored sandstone, interbedded with soft, slate-colored shales. Idle in October, 1904.” 1
- “Crusher Quarry; E. B. & A. L. Stone Company, 900 Broadway, Oakland. Near their crushing plant on Laundry Farm; opened about 1899. Reddish, decayed rock is hauled from face without crushing, and used for sidewalks, etc.” 1 This is most probably the quarry east of Geranium and Stauffer Places, south of Redwood Road.
- “Curran Quarry; John Curran, School street, owner. This was formerly the O’Brien Quarry, and is on Maple avenue, Fruitvale District. The rock is termed ‘red cement gravel, and is a very much altered rock, recemented by a red clay. Used as a top dressing for roads and walks.” The walls of the former quarry can be seen behind the homes on uppermost Maple Avenue.
- “Diamond Cañon Quarry (Heyland Quarry); Hutchinson Company, 401 Fourteenth street, Oakland, owner. There are two quarries; in the upper one the rock is a hard, medium-grained, gray sandstone; in the lower quarry face in the canon, 100 yards below the road, is a flinty, dark-colored, metamorphosed sandstone. The crushing plant is abandoned and badly out of repair.” 1 The site of the upper quarry is now occupied by the Zion Lutheran Church. It is probably what was called the Hyland Quarry (in State Mineral Report 25, p. 449), which reports it as being owned by the Central Construction Company, then (in 1929) by Bowersmith Tuttle & John. The lower quarry, which must have been where the driving range is today, was later known as the Bates & Borland quarry.
- “Easton & Wilson Quarry; Clark Avery, at quarry, owner. On Lincoln avenue, 1 mile from Diamond P. O. It was opened about 1899 and worked intermittently for two years. The rock, a blue metamophosed sandstone, occurs in boulders. Large quantities of soft sandstone and slaty shales made so much waste that it was unprofitable to work at the time. Two other small openings show similar characteristics.” 1 This site is now occupied by the Head-Royce School.
- “Fruitvale White Gravel Mine (Packard Quarry); George Mack, in charge. A small quarry at the end of Maple avenue, Fruitvale District. A disintegrated quartz rock, with a clay cementing material in seams; used as a top dressing for roads and walks.” 1 This may have been a pit just past Maple Avenue overlooking the north end of Jordan Road, on the trace of the Hayward fault. The material described is a good match for the fault gouge exposed there by the London Road landslide.
- Leona Heights Quarry: "E. B. & A. L. Stone Company, 900 Broadway, Oakland, owner; G. H. Luchs, superintendent. It was formerly the California Improvement Company’s quarry. It is on Laundry Farm, on the summit of a prominent ridge, one mile north of Mills College. The rock is a fine-grained basalt, and is used for macadam and concrete. The quarry face is about 125 feet high. Two gravity trams, one 2500 feet long and the other 1200 feet, take the rock from the quarry to the crusher at the termini of the railroads, both narrow and broad gauge. About 300 yards a day are rushed by two Gates crushers. Electricity is used for power. Thirty-five men are at work in the quarry.” 1This site was reclaimed and is now occupied by Merritt College. For many years its largest pit was called Devil's Hole and used by residents for motorcycle exercises.
- Leona Quarry: 7100 Mountain Boulevard, the huge scar overlooking I-580 at Edwards Drive. This quarry was operated by a succession of owners, starting with the Ransome-Crummey company in 1904 and ending with Gallagher & Burk in 2005. The site is now Monte Vista Villas.
- “Mills College Quarry; (same owner as the Leona Heights Quarry: E. B. & A. L. Stone Company, 900 Broadway, Oakland). Near the college grounds; opened c. 1892. The rock is a red gravel and clay mixture, and is used as top dressing for garden and side walks, without crushing. Electric trains, both broad and narrow gauge, enter this and the ‘Crusher Quarry.’” 1
- Piedmont Paving Company (formerly Alameda Macadamizing Company) Quarry: "It was opened in 1878 by the Alameda Macadamizing Company, and reopened by the present management about 1892. The rock is a fine grained, metamorphosed sandstone, bluish in color, locally termed ‘blue rock.’ It is used chiefly for macadam, but some is utilized for rubble and ballast.” 1 This site is now Davie Tennis Stadium. (In a 1992 talk, historian Ted Wurm erroneously said the Morcom Rose Garden was the site of the quarry. There is no bedrock mapped at the Rose Garden.)
- “Ransome Construction Company’s Quarry; office, 473 Fourteenth street, Oakland. This quarry is on the Old Fish Ranch road, about 5½ miles from the Oakland City Hall. It was opened in April, 1904. A tramway 600 feet long carries rock from the quarry face to the crusher at side of road. The rock is a fine-grained basalt, used for macadam and concrete. Some gutter rocks are sorted out. The rock is hauled to Oakland and Berkeley by wagon. Eighteen quarrymen were at work in October, 1904.” 1This site is now part of Sibley Regional Volcanic Reserve.
- Red Rock Quarry, located in Piedmont on Red Rock Road off Moraga Avenue, owned by W. H. Maxwell. It is now the parking lot outside the Piedmont corporate yard [confirmation needed].
- “Syndicate Quarry; The Realty Syndicate, 1160 Broadway, Oakland, owner. Located on south side of Buckeye avenue, half a mile northeast of the Catholic cemetery. It was opened about 1901, and has been worked intermittently. The rock is a jasper (phthanite), similar to that in the Blair quarry.” 1
- Catucci Quarry: located where Bishop O'Dowd High School now sits. See Joseph Catucci.
“Alameda County contains large quarries of granite, limestone and sandstone, suitable for building purposes. The quarry from which the stone used in erecting the Deaf and Dumb and Blind Asylum was obtained, is situated on Pryal’s ranch, about four miles from Oakland. The supply of this stone in exhaustless. [This appears to have been what became the site of the Berkeley Rock Company quarry.] A quarry of close-grained, grayish sandstone, has recently been opened about four miles from Hayward’s. Nearly all the brown sandstone used in San Francisco, is obtained from quarries in this vicinity.” 3
Links and References
- The Structural and Industrial Materials of California, Bulletin No. 38, California, State Mining Bureau, San Francisco, California, 1906 (available on archive.org)
- Mines and Mineral Producers Active in California (1994-1995), Special Publication 103 (Revised 1996), California Department of Conservation, Division of Mines and Geology, in cooperation with California Department of Conservation, Office of Mine Reclamation.
- The Natural Wealth of California … with a detailed description of each county, its topography, Scenery, Cities and Towns, Agricultural Advantages, Mineral Resources, and Varied Productions, By Titus Fey Cronise, San Francisco: H. H. Bancroft & Company, 1868, pp. 153. (Available on Google Books and archive.org)
- Stone Quarries & Beyond – Alameda County
To-do for this article
- locate quarry sites on map (some street names have changed)
- reduce percentage of copied material (indicated by italics), perhaps by summarizing