Monday, March 1, 2010
Gone But Not Forgotten
Title: Davenport Cement Centennial
By: Alverda Orlando & Robert Piwarzyk
Librarian Alverda Orlando has been an authoritative historian on Davenport, California for decades. This is the first time she has collaborated with Robert Piwarzyk, a limestone expert/engineer, to compile a complete history of Davenport Cement Plant, one of the few cement plants existing in California. It will be of even more significance in light of reports of the plant's permanent shutdown.
Unlike some books devoted to company history, Davenport Cement centennial is focused on a single and simple point: how events evolved as a continuing history. It narrates how the plant was conceived in 1903, as William Dingee, owner of the Standard Portland Cement Company, saw the potential of the significant limestone and shale deposits of Ben Lomond Mountains. Together with his partner Irving Buchman, he purchased a property 12 miles northwest of the city of Santa Cruz, to erect the second largest cement plant in the nation. Just a few months after the construction in 1905 of Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company plant and quarry, San Francisco was hit by earthquake and subsequent fire. This historical backdrop has predestined the fate of the Davenport plant ever since. To respond to the sudden overwhelming demand for cement and concrete, the construction of the Davenport plant was completed one year ahead of schedule. In late 1906, the plant started its limited operations. By 1910, its annual production rose from 560,000 barrels of cement to 1.4 million barrels, until World War II. With the years gone by, the importance of Davenport cement has by no means been diminished. On the contrary, its presence has been felt throughout the state of California, from San Francisco War Memorial Opera House (1932) to Golden Gate Bridge (1937), from Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) to Oakland-Alameda Coliseum (1966), and from Stanford Medical Center to the expansion of San Francisco International Airport, not to mention countless private homes built in California's cities and suburbs which used Davenport cement for their foundations.
For specialized readers, Davenport Cement centennial is an interesting read. It narrates a century of cement innovation by showing how limestone was obtained from the quarry, what raw mill process was involved: homogenizing raw material, calcinations in the kiln and then finish mill, and finally transportation: how cement was shipped. However, the book does not dwell exclusively on technology, but also focuses on the community behind the plant: the people who made natural resources and technologies work, and their small but complete society. The Davenport residents and cement plant workers built St. Vincent de Paul's in 1915, Crocker Hospital in 1910, a one-cell prison, and the one-room Pacific School.