Saturday, January 7, 2017

William Gilliat Thornally Jr. (1875-1944) – Part 3 Professional Life

Will's business card from the Ralph Thornally collection
In December of 1904, Will and an associate named J.R. Leavens won the contract to build a new post office for Fruitvale. It was their second job and cost $4000 to construct. This was the beginning of a long and distinguished career for Will as a contractor. The City of Oakland maintains a file on William G. Thornally because he is considered one of the prominent builders of his time. In 1995, I visited several of the properties in their files with my mother. I returned to see these properties in 2016 and visited some I had not seen in 2005. Many of the buildings he built are still in use – some in very good condition, others deteriorated, and some are gone.

St. Joseph's smoke house on the campus of the St. Joseph's
home. See below
In May of 1905, H.H. Stephton hired Will to build a 2-story home on Pearl Street near Encinal Avenue in Alameda for $2800.

Will also built his first combination commercial on the ground floor/residential on the second floor building in 1904. It is at 1218-22 Fruitvale Avenue. The original owner and architect was Marcus S. Leve. This building was in good condition in 1995 having been well maintained. It was included on a tour of the Fruitvale neighborhood given by Oakland Heritage Alliance.
1117-21 Linden apartment building

The city has records for seven properties Will built in 1905 - one for John Stadtler who was the architect for the building, and another for M.J. Sullivan on Vernon at Fleming Avenue.  The third was for C.A. Arnold on Allendale that cost $1100. The fourth was on High Street at Penneman for Walter H. Gamble. The architect for the latter was A.W. Gamble and cost $2600.  The fifth was on the northwest corner of East 17th Street for Dan L. and Virginia Crosby. Will was identified as both the builder and architect for this home that cost $2930. The sixth property was on Bassett Street and the original owner was Frank Rickert.  The seventh was for Emblem E Howatt. The city files have no other information about these two properties.
1321 Adeline Street
Theo and Louise Fricke hired Will’s company to build two residential flats at 1321-23 Adeline Street in Oakland in 1906. The architect was A.W. Smith. In 1995, this property was in good condition. The wood windows had been replaced with aluminum but otherwise the building retained much of its original detailing. When mom and I drove by to see this home the current resident invited us in.  The interior was also in good condition.  It had a coved ceiling, a built-in china cabinet, and nice detailing around the fireplace.

Claude and Virginia Shaw asked Will to build them a flat with two units at 1066-68 30th Street. This is also a wood-frame structure with modest detailing. In 1995 it was deteriorated but not terribly. The exterior had been spray coated with stucco. In 2016, the wood siding had been restored and the home was well-maintained.
1066 30th Street

On May 8, 1903 this article appeared in the Oakland Tribune. “A Building Contract given by the Masonic Temple Association of Fruitvale to W.G. Thornally Jr. for $14,827 has been filed. The work of erecting the temple building will be rushed to completion. The Masonic Cathedral Association gave a mortgage to the Travelers Insurance Company for$65,000. The site of the Scottish Rite Temple at 15th and Jackson Streets was security for the loan.” This would have been a very important contract and no doubt positioned him well for other work including work he did later on the main Scottish Rite Temple by Lake Merritt. City records show this building as having been built in 1909-10 at 3353-67 East 14th Street. The architect was Hugo Storch. Much of the original construction is still intact. Today this building is at the center of the vibrant Fruitvale neighborhood. It is located a block from the Fruitvale Transit Village which my firm did the landscape architectural design for.

Scottish Rite building in Fruitvale on E. 14th
In 1908, Will had a contract to build a triplex at 1117-21 Linden Street. The original owner was Frank Ricert. This was a wood-frame building with modest detailing. In 1995 it had a “must sell” sign on it and there was much evidence that the building had suffered from poor maintenance. In 2016, the building was occupied. 
Detail of 1117-21 Linden in West Oakland

In 1908, Will also constructed one of four commercial buildings all on the same block of East 14th Street. One is at 3315-19 East 14th - a wood-frame structure with commercial space at street level and apartments on the second floor. The original owner was H.H. Dopperud. In 1995, the original building was mostly intact with only minor alterations. In 2016, it looked even better with a vibrant paint job and thriving business.

3315-19 E. 14th Street - commercial with
apartments on 2nd floor
The second building on the block is at 3323-33 East 14th Street. It is similar to 3315 with commercial uses on the ground floor and flats above. The original owner was Theodore Bucher. In 1995 the ground floor of this building had been altered but the second floor was close to the original design. In 2016, the building housed the Tombstone Western Wear store that appeared to be a successful business.

City records also list a building at 3333-47 East 14th Street that was started construction in 1909 and was completed in 1910. Originally, it was known as the Karr Building; later Cooper mortuary. The architect is unknown – it may be that Will designed and built the building. This building still existed in 2016 and had been substantially altered. It housed a variety store called Family Depot.

Tombstone Wester Wear at 3315 E. 14th Street 
A short article appeared in the Fruitvale Progress on Friday April 23, 1909 about these buildings. The headline was “Building in Fruitvale”.

W.H. (sic) Thornally is erecting two large buildings on East Fourteenth Street; one for G.W. Karr, containing two stores with flats above. This building has been leased for ten years by A.A. Barber & Co.’s undertaking establishment. The other building is for Mr. Bolesworth, the Fruitvale Avenue butcher. This building will also contain two stores with flats above. It is gratifying to see a young Fruitvale man proper in business, the more so when his prosperity comes from good and honest work.”

On July 1, 1909, Will served as both architect and builder for a Mission-style store that he built on the southwest corner of Fruitvale Avenue and East Fourteenth Street. The second floor was an eight-room flat. It was a $4,000 wooden structure, and the owner was Henry Barkmyer. In 2016, this property had been redeveloped as a Wendy’s fast food restaurant and parking lot.

Will did not win every contract he bid on though. The Nov. 21, 1910 Tribune reported that he lost the bid by just $61 to build a new tuberculosis hospital at the county infirmary. The winning bid was by Price and Smith.

Two years later on Dec. 12, 1912 he again lost the bid to build the new Peralta School in Oakland. He was one of 5 bidders. The low bid was by C. Christianson who was $532 lower than Will.

He did secure a contract with John Stadtler to build another ground floor commercial building with flats on the second floor in 1912. The address of this building is 3600-04 East 14th Street. In 1995 the building had been well maintained and was included on a history tour led by Oakland Heritage Alliance.
3600 East 14th Street

The following year he lost another school project that was to be built on Thirteenth Avenue in Oakland. This time his was the high bidder, so he must not have wanted the job. McClaren and Peterson won the contract.
On June 13, 1913 Will was back with a winning price to build an addition for a home in Alameda at 2112 Santa Clara Avenue. The owner of the property was Middlemus & Company.

He built the Ideal Victory New Process Laundry at 2639 East 9th Street in 1913. It was designed by H.R. Hill, Architect. In 1995 it had recently been upgraded and converted to artist live/work lofts. The original construction was intact with only minor alterations. The 2-story brick building with modest decorative brick work at the roof looked much the same in 2016.

In 1914-16 Will was contracted to build the Fruitvale Substation of the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph office at 3430 East 14th Street. This is a brick building that had been converted to apartments by 1995. The conversion was nicely done with much of the original architectural detailing retained.

I have a copy of a typed bid on W.G. Thornally Jr. letterhead to build an addition to the Greene Library in Oakland. It is dated November 15, 1916 and the price for the work was $10,000.
Will's bid for the Greene Library improvements

On June 17, 1917 the Tribune reported that “Will was to be paid $9305 for his work on a tubercular sanitarium”. The ArroyoSanitarium in Livermore was also referenced in Will’s obituary.  According to the online Livermore Class Picture Archive “The Arroyo Sanatorium is located south of Livermore on Arroyo Road. It was a hospital that specialized in the treatment of patients with tuberculosis. The main treatment at the time was rest and fresh air. Construction of the Sanatorium began in 1916. A separate hospital, called the Del Valle Farm (or Ranch), was built next to the Sanatorium in 1922 to treat children with tuberculosis. Del Valle Farm was consolidated with Arroyo Sanatorium in 1938. The Sanatorium closed in 1960.”

This historic postcard of the Arroyo Sanitorium is from the collection of Richard Saylor
In December of 1920 when Will was 45, he had a contract extended for work he was doing building a farm building and an alteration at the County Hospital. This would have been Highland Hospital.

In May of 1921, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors approved payment on a certificate received from Henry H. Meyers, Architect to pay W.G. Thornally for work completed on Highland County Hospital. He was to be paid $1685 for 3 contracts. Another article at that time reported that Will had submitted a bid of $120,861 and a certified check for $12,500 for construction of a service building, etc. at the county hospital.  So, at the age of 45, Will had reached the pinnacle of his career and was winning large and prestigious contracts.

In November of 1921, Will was one of 37 bidders on a warehouse at the municipal wharf in Richmond that was described as a super structure. He submitted several bids for different versions of construction in the order of $58,597. The article did not say who won the contract.

In 1922, Will built another building for Pacific Telephone & Telegraph in the Elmhurst neighborhood at 8524-30 East 14th Street. The architect was E.V. Cobby.

A third Pacific Telephone & Telegraph building was built by Will for the Melrose neighborhood at 1180 57th Avenue. The architect is recorded as Chief Engineer PT&T Company in the city file.

Ralph Thornally saved a photo of a fourth phone company building that his father built in downtown Oakland. Ralph knew that this was one of the buildings that Will was most proud of. It is a beautiful structure. Sadly, this building was demolished and the site provides surface parking for the new telephone building at the corner of 17th and Franklin. The new building is across the street from my office on 17th Street. It is so tall that on some days it creates a terrible wind tunnel affect at the sidewalk. 
Phone company building on Franklin Street
from Ralph Thornally collection
The 1921 Oakland directory gave a business address for Will at 357 12th Street. In 1925 and 1930 the business address was 354 Hobart, and in 1938 it was at 24th and Magnolia.

Will was the successful bidder on Montclair School in 1925. The original building was brick with a tile roof. It was determined to be an earthquake risk and was replaced sometime before 1947. Montclair is one of the best schools in Oakland. It had a major addition added in 2015. An architect- led team that included PGAdesign competed for the contract but was not selected.

In 1924-25 Will designed and built a machine shop for his brother, Harry’s business Bay City Iron Works at 320-80 Washington. It was a poured-in-place concrete building with industrial sash windows, a stucco exterior, ½ mezzanine and four skylights. It cost $18,000. The building still exists but has undergone some renovation. See the post about Harry dated January 2016.
Interior shot taken during construction of the Scottish Rite
Temple at lake Merritt dated April 16, 1927.
 Ralph Thornally collection
No doubt the most prestigious contract Will had during his illustrious career was as Superintendent of Construction for the Scottish Rite Temple at Lake Merritt. Construction began in August 1926 and the first meeting was held just 17 months later in December 1927. This building is today an impressive landmark building. The General Contractor was McDonald and Kahn – they probably hired Will to oversee the construction project. Will’s photo appeared in the newspaper in 1926 in an article about this building. The cost was $1,250,000. The article noted that “when finished it will be the finest Scottish Rite Temple west of Chicago”.

In December of 1931 the Oakland Tribune reported that he’d won the bid to build a new Post Office in Alameda for $80,869.

Around 1935 Will was elected President of the Oakland Builders Exchange. He served in that capacity for five years. In 1938, a photo of Will as president of the Builders Exchange along with Lee H. Newbert, General Manager of PG&E was printed in the Oakland Tribune. The news story was about gas rates being reduced over the previous 10 years. See part 2.

In 1939, Will’s company built the St. Joseph’s Convalescent Home at 2645 E. 14th Street. The complex included a men’s smoke house, a guard house, a laundry and a maintenance building.  The architect was John J. Donovan who also designed Oakland City Hall and served as the City Architect for several years. The property was designated a City of Oakland landmark in 1984. The entire complex underwent a comprehensive rehabilitation from 2010-12 and now provides 83 units of affordable senior housing.
Main entrance to the St. Joseph's convalescents Home, now
apartments for low-income seniors
The following year on March 17, 1940 Will stepped down as President of the Oakland Builders Exchange and on September 29th of the same year the Oakland Tribune headline, “Oaklander Elected State Builder’s Head” announced that Will had become President of the statewide office.  The previous year he had served as Vice President. The event took place during the Building Exchange’s 15th annual convention in Long Beach. 

So, Will had a long and very successful business life - in part because he treated his workers and sub-contractors well. Cousin Randy Thornally shared a story from a man named Rigney that he met some years ago. Rigney was a tradesman who had worked for Will. He told Randy, "he always liked to work for William Thornally because he generally paid five cents more than the other contractors." Cousin Sue shared another Will Jr. story. She stopped at a cafe in Walnut Creek the mid 1990s and overheard a conversation between two older gentlemen about construction projects. Sue stopped at their table and asked if they'd ever heard of William Thornally. They lit up and "sang his praises as being smart, fair, responsible, well-respected and said he vowed that he would not lay off any employees in the depression ... he did make it possible by hook or crook to keep his workers employed and food on the table for their families." 

Most of the buildings Will built are still standing and unquestionably have had a significant impact on the City of Oakland and to a lesser extend the City of Alameda. I have more research to do in Alameda, and a new contact with the Scottish Rite organization, so there may be more to come about William Gilliat Thornally Jr.  Each of Will’s descendants should be rightfully proud of him, as I am.

Will's signature

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