Although Western Canning Company is included in the list of Principal Industries of West Oakland - 1920, the company's plant was actually located in Emeryville. The first portion of the company's Emeryville facility, located on Park Boulevard between Hollis and Watts, was completed in 1918. Western Canning was organized by the Mee family, and used Chinese labor.
In 1921, the company was purchased by Virden Packing Company as part of Charles E. Virden's attempt to build a large canning empire after the post-World War I recession. The August 1921 Canning Age article on the sale noted regrets with the sale, noting a Chinese worker had written "Good-bye" in both Engish and Chinese on the cafeteria blackboard. By 1926, Virden Packing's canneries were being sold off. The British importer Balfour Guthrie initially placed an offer to buy the plant in 1926, but the plant was finally bought by the California Packing Company (popularly known as Del Monte) in 1927. (The purchase was actually done by the "Sterling Company", which was controlled by Del Monte.) The former Western Canning Company building, by then known as Del Monte Plant #35, operated through 1989. Western Canning's former plant was torn down in 1992. The site was sold to Pixar Animation Studios in 1996 -- and is now Pixar's headquarters.
The following excerpt from 1920 addresses the need for worker housing faced by Oakland companies:
"Another altruistic event connected with the industrial history of Oakland for the past year is the housing programme, conceived, inaugurated and carried to a successful conclusion by the Western Canning Company.
This concern, like many others, found itself confronted with the housing problem for its employees. It built twenty-two bungalows with all up-to-date conveniences, including wall beds, etc. These were built around a court with flowers and vegetation, characteristic of our California, and in addition the corporation built a central house were infants and young children were nursed and cared for, while for the older children a playground, fitted out with all modern equipment, was constructed. This good example in keeping abreast with modern thought in regard to the co-operative spirit to be displayed towards employees, cannot but bear good fruit."
Question: Would there any remaining documentation in city planning records as to where this housing was located, and if so, are the bungalows still standing? Perhaps the City of Emeryville has these records - but my guess would be that the bungalows were torn down to allow the expansion of the Del Monte plant sometime between 1918 and 1992, and I am fairly certain that any that still remained would have been torn down to allow Pixar's construction.
- Emeryville, Emeryville Historical Society, Arcadia Publishing, 2005
- "Progress of the Western Canning Company," Western Canner and Packer, May 1919
- "Handsome New Plant of Western Canning Co.," Charles W. Geiger, Canning Age, 1920 - many photos of interior and machinery
- "New Factor Enters California Industry," Canning Age, 1921
- "Big Oakland Cannery Bought by Virden Company," California Fruit News, June 4, 1921
- Five California Packing Plants Are Reported Sold. May 5, 1926 Lyon County Recorder
- Five Virden Canneries Purchased by Sterling Co. for $3,500,000. September 14, 1927 Oakland Tribune.
- 1200 Park Avenue (Emeryville, CA) Agreement of Purchase and Sale -- Del Monte Corp and Pixar Animation Studios
- Stella Adoa Baptista, Recollections on Life in the Canneries. Oral History, Bancroft Library, 2004.
"East Bay Once Had a Bustling Cannery Row of Its Own," Abby Cohn, San Francisco Chronicle
May 26, 2000
Virden Packing Company to Buy Oakland Plant Sacramento Union May 25, 1921