Monday, August 29, 2011

Grant D. Miller (1863-1945) - Mortuary owner; County Coroner; EBMUD Founder

Grant D. Miller (Photo of crypt by Michael Colbruno)
MAIN MAUSOLEUM, SEC. 9, Tier 1, Crypt 420

Grant D. Miller was a well-known undertaker in Oakland, where a funeral home still bears his name. He was elected the Alameda County Coroner in 1914,  narrowly defeating incumbent Dr. Charles Tisdale. Miller served for 24 years until his voluntary retirement.  

He was born in Amador County, California on November 24, 1863 to David and Julia (Hinkson) Miller.  In 1879, he moved to San Francisco, where he attended the Pacific Business College. After graduating, he was hired as clerk by Wells Fargo where he worked for two years. He moved to Mariposa, California in 1882 and worked as the secretary of the Compromise Mining Company for two years, at which time he rejoined his father in worked on the family farm.

Just before the turn of the 20th century he arrived in Oakland and opened his funeral home.  Besides his service as the Alameda County Coroner, Miller was instrumental in founding the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EMBUD) in 1923 and served on its board until 1943, when he resigned because of poor health. He was also a founder of the Oakland Community Chest and the Eastbay Safety Council. 

He requested a simple funeral and that his pallbearers were all past and present employees of his mortuary. 

The original mortuary was located at 2372 East 14th Street and remained there until 1978. It is currently called the Grant Miller-John Cox Mortuary and is located at 2850 Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. 

 Above is a picture of the current mortuary as it appeared when it was built 1896 and  as it appeared in 2009. The building was redesigned in 1931 by architects Chester Miller and Carl Warnecke. Note the four windows that can be seen in both pictures.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lew Hing (劉興) (May 1858 – March 7, 1934) Prominent Businessman in SF and Oakland

Lew Hing
Hing crypt; Section 9, Main Mausoleum

Lew Hing (Lew Yu-ling) immigrated to the United States from the Sun Ning district in China in 1871 and became a pioneer in the canning industry. He owned four canneries in California, in the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, Monterey, and Antioch. His canneries supplied Herbert Hoover’s American Relief program following World War I. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Lew also owned a shipping company, two hotels, and an import-export business. In Mexico, he owned a cotton plantation. He was Chairman of the Board of Directors for the China Mail Steamship Company, and President of the Bank of Canton. 

He was also a real estate developer. Today, his legacy is maintained at the Pacific Cannery Lofts in Oakland by Holliday Development, where dedications are made in his honor in one of his original buildings for the Pacific Coast Canning Company.

In 1868 an older half brother of Lew Hing ventured to San Francisco to start a small metal shop on Commercial Street. With the success of his shop, in 1871 he urged his 12-year-old half brother, Lew Hing, to immigrate to America to join him in his growing business.

A few months after Lew arrived, his half-brother planned a brief vacation back to Canton to visit his family. His square rigged sailing vessel was off the coast of Japan when it caught fire and sank, causing all aboard to perish at sea. This left the young Lew Hing, at age 13, alone in San Francisco, without family or money.

Despite his grim circumstance, the growing Chinese community that would later become known as San Francisco’s Chinatown was beginning to form familial associations that provided leadership and social opportunities among the Chinese immigrants to America. Men with the same surnames would help each other as brothers. This was the beginning of Family Associations in Chinatown, and it was through such association that the young Lew Hing was able to survive.

In 1877, Lew Hing married Chin Shee (July 1860 – July 1947) in San Francisco. They had three sons and four daughters, each born in San Francisco.
  • Lew Yuet-yung, aka Mrs. Quan Yick-sun (1879–1967)
  • Lew Gin-gow (1885–1943)
  • Lew Yuen-hing, aka Mrs. Ho Chou-won (1889–1978)
  • Lew Wai-hing, aka Mrs. Ng Min-hing (1890–1969)
  • Thomas Gunn-sing Lew (1894–1974)
  • Lew Soon-hing Rose, aka Mrs. Francis Moon (1898–1993)
  • Ralph Ginn Lew (1903–1987)

Though he was never as skilled in metalwork as his older half-brother had been, he nonetheless learned the basics, such as soldering. In addition, among his odd jobs he helped a European woman make her fruit jams for storage in glass jars. This taught Lew about food preservation and how to avoid food poisoning. It was a natural next step for Lew to combine his metalwork with his food preservation skills to join in the new industry of canning foodstuffs.

Hing's Buckskin Brand

At age 18 in 1877, Lew Hing founded his first cannery with another metalworker of Family Association ties, Lew Yu-tung. The cannery was located at the northeast corner of Sacramento and Stockton Streets in San Francisco and took up the first two stories of the building with the basement as storage. Lew Hing and other Family Association members lived on the third floor.

In the 1880s–1890s, canning food was still a new concept. Lew Hing had embarked on a long period of trial and error before the cannery could reliably produce safe and edible canned foods. When food was not preserved properly or the cans were not fully sterilized (for example, each can had to be soldered individually by hand), noxious bacterial action would ruin the product, causing cans to swell and even explode. Eventually, Lew Hing developed safer and more effective formulas for canning various fruits and vegetables. These formulas were never documented since they were Lew Hing’s trade secrets and were kept from rival canneries. Canned fruit items became a very good seller in Chinatown as many Chinese made purchases to take back to China. Soon, the products were purchased by Westerners and sales expanded outside San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Lew’s original cannery thrived for over two decades. Then, in 1902, at age 44, he decided to close the Pacific Coast Canning Company cannery and retire to Canton. However, within a year Lew returned to the Bay Area, opening the at 12th and Pine Streets in Oakland.

Workers at Pacific Coast Cannery

Always on the cutting edge of progress, Lew built his new cannery as the first concrete building in the industrial part of Oakland, plus he insisted on the most advanced machinery for mass production of his products. Also, in contrast to San Francisco, Oakland had space for a larger cannery as well as providing the Southern Pacific railroad tracks directly to the cannery dock for easy shipping of Lew’s Buckskin brand canned goods throughout the United States. Products included asparagus, cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, and grapes. Tomatoes were the most popular. Always a stickler for quality, each morning, Lew would go to the Tasting Room and open, inspect, and taste batches of food processed the day before. Eventually, Buckskin canned goods would make their way throughout the Western hemisphere.

In 1906, Lew Hing was able to make substantial assistance to Bay Area earthquake victims. He opened his cannery to the homeless and also provided tents elsewhere for temporary shelter. He hired cooks to provide meals. Following the earthquake, many San Franciscan’s relocated to Oakland, including several Chinese. As with several ethnic groups, Chinese were compelled to remain in ethnic clusters. Lew assisted these Chinese with finance and leadership by organizing neighborhoods, including the area that became Oakland’s Chinatown. As a consequence, he became involved with many Oakland Chinatown organizations, making contributions to their many causes and forming business alliances in relation to the Pacific Canning Company.

As the Pacific Canning Company prospered, Lew Hing diversified his interests into many other areas, including a personal interest in the Loong Kong Tien Yee Association, an organization for the families of Lew, Quan, Jung and Chew, and fostered the group in both Oakland and San Francisco.

In 1907 Lew returned to San Francisco for added business interests. Given his natural leadership in the Chinese community, he became President of Bank of Canton, located at the northeast corner of Montgomery and Sacramento Streets. In the same year he also entered the hotel business, building The Republic Hotel on Grant Avenue (near Sacrament Street). However, his San Francisco interests had to be juggled with his work as president and owner of Pacific Coast Canning Company in Oakland. Always a careful and punctual man, he devised a schedule that allowed him to spend half of each work day in San Francisco, half in Oakland.

By 1910, Lew Hing had entered the import-export trade, first as an investor with Sing Chong and Fook Wah Companies which imported art goods from China. Then, in 1910, Lew Hing began his own import-export business, shipping wholesale Chinese food items from Hop Wo Cheung in Canton, China to Hop Wo Lung, a store on Grant Avenue in San Francisco.

By 1911, Lew Hing’s Pacific Coast Canning Company had become one of Oakland’s largest businesses, providing over 1,000 jobs during the peak canning seasons. Employees were usually from the local Portuguese, Italian, and Chinese communities. Lew Hing was the Bay Area’s single largest employer of Chinese.

In 1912 Lew built his second hotel, originally named the Mun Ming Lue Kwan, at 858-870 Clay Street, between Grant and Stockton Streets. Still in existence, the name has since been changed to The Lew Hing building in honor of Lew.

In 1915, Lew accepted the position of Chairman of the Board of Directors for the China Mail Steamship Co. Ltd., whose office was in the same building as his Bank of Canton office.

From 1916 to 1921, Lew Hing was the principal owner of a cotton plantation known as Wa Muck in Mexicali, Mexico. For laborers, he conscripted hundreds of Chinese from China who would pass through San Francisco and go directly to Mexico by rail. Lew Hing set aside a few city blocks of land on the plantation for shops to accommodate the needs of Chinese workers. The remains of this impromptu Chinatown still exist in Mexicali.

Inventive and industrious throughout his life, Lew Hing was very progressive for his time. He was also a man of high principles. Coming from his very humble beginning, he had great compassion for Chinese immigrants in America because he understood them well. He was a well-respected gentleman who generated much business in the community and created many job opportunities for the Chinese in the Bay Area. He contributed in upgrading the quality of life for Chinese immigrants in their ordeal of assimilation and integration into the Western ways of life in these United States.

He also related well to the Caucasian community, as indicated when he often attended formal civic events and was included in the inner circle of San Francisco’s long-time mayor, Jimmy Rolph. Lew became very American in his ways, never again desiring to return to China.

[The original information for this article was provided by Jean Moon Liu, granddaughter of Lew Hing and daughter of Mrs. Francis Moon]

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Frank Gordon “Limb” McKenry (1888-1956) Cincinnati Reds Pitcher; Committed Suicide

Limb McKenry

Lot 67, Plot 137

Frank “Limb” McKenry was a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds in 1915 and 1916 where he compiled a 6-6 record with a 3.10 ERA. Due to his 6’ 4”, 205-pound physique, he was also known as “Big Pete.”

In 1916 he was called to service in the California National Guard and shortly thereafter  retired to run his fruit farm in California’s Central Valley.

In 1934, McKenry and his wife divorced and he began struggling with depression. As his rheumatoid arthritis grew progressively worse he decided to end his life on the evening of November 1, 1956. He placed a shotgun in his mouth and fired. He left no note.

Lincoln "Link" Blakely (1912-1976) Cincinnati Reds Outfielder

Linc Blakely

Main Mausoleum, Sec. 9, Crypt 153, Tier 10

Lincoln Blakely was born in Oakland and attended Oakland Technical High School.

In 1934 Lincoln Blakely had a good shot at becoming the regular leftfielder for the Cincinnati Reds, but greed and his ego may have ended his big league career. After two good offensive games and a career of being underpaid in the minor leagues, Blakely took the advice of a newsboy and initiated a one-man sit down strike demanding more money. The Reds found a new leftfielder and Blakely never played another major league game. Harlin Pool ended up becoming the leftfielder for the Reds.

Blakely ended up playing only 34 games, batting just .225 in 102 at-bats and never hitting a homerun.

Bill Brenzel (1910-1979) Major League Baseball Player and Scout

Bill Brenzel

Outdoor Garden Mausoleum, Crypt 11, Tier 2

Bill Branzel was an Oakland native who attended Fremont High School. He left school when he was 16 years old to play baseball for the Mission Club of the Pacific Coast League in San Francisco.

In 1931, at the age of 20, he joined the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and beat out full-time catcher Fred Hoffman for the starting job. In 1934, he was purchased by the Cleveland Indians from Kansas City and eventually became the first string catcher when Frankie Pytlak left because of illness. He ended up playing two seasons for Cleveland before retiring.

Known for his quick wit and slow feet, he made it to the majors based on his defensive skills, not his offensive prowess. He only hit .198 in his three major league seasons.

After his career ended he managed in the minor leagues before becoming a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers. One of his major recruits was Earl Robinson, the two sport star of the California Golden Bears. Robinson ended up signing a $75,000 bonus with the Dodgers, a record at the time for a black player.

His son Gary also played baseball in college and the minor leagues.