Friday, April 24, 2020

Freight Stops: Union Ice Company

In an age before refrigerator cars or home freezers, there was the Union Ice Company. Incorporated on December 21, 1875, the company focused initially on patenting and buying patents for technologies that could be used to create cold storage places and commercial-grade ice. After securing said patents, it reincorporated on November 3, 1882 under the management of the Bay Area entrepreneur Lloyd Tevis. This allowed the company to rebrand itself as a commercial freezing business rather than simply a patent collector.

A Union Ice delivery carriage making a delivery, c. 1900. [Banning Library—colorized by DeOldify]
By March 1883, the Union Ice Company began operating off Fourth Street in San Francisco and I Street in Sacramento with its first cold storage facilities. The water was not local but rather brought in by train from several springs in the Sierra Nevada. The company quickly established a relationship with the Southern Pacific Railroad, allowing it to expand throughout the Central Coast over California and become the primary bulk freezing business in the state. Small ice depots were built in Oakland, Stockton, and San José, and others began to appear over the next few years.

Ice harvesters in the Sierra Nevada with Southern Pacific Railroad boxcars in the background, c. 1880s.
[The Sun—colorized by DeOldify]
During this time, Santa Cruz had no local ice supplier. For the most part, ice was brought in over the mountains from the Los Gatos Manufacturing Company, which had converted one of its out buildings to a freezing works. By February 1889, pressure from the Union Ice Company was such that the Los Gatos company leased its buildings for ten years to its competitor. This allowed that status quo to remain, but it did not fix the problem of hauling large blocks of ice over the mountains to Santa Cruz almost daily nor address the rapidly escalating price of ice deliveries in the Santa Cruz area.

An ice harvesting and cutting plant in the Sierra Nevada, 1886. [Arctic Glacier—colorized by DeOldify]
The threat of competition in Santa Cruz in 1890 is likely what prompted the Union Ice Company to finally build a small ice house within the city. A local office on Pacific Avenue was set up in June 1891 to oversee local operations. A few years later, an ice house appeared at the site of the old South Pacific Coast Railroad's Beach Station near the modern intersection of Pacific Avenue and Beach Street. This location was ideal since it sat near the crossroads of the Southern Pacific Railroad's narrow-gauge and standard-gauge tracks and just at the base of the Railroad Wharf, upon which freshly-caught fish were loaded into waiting boxcars. Once filled, the boxcars could easily be moved down the track to the ice house where crews could load in ice blocks to keep the fish cold for their transport to the Bay Area and elsewhere along the Central Coast.

For unknown reasons, the Union Ice Company decided to relocate its ice house at the beach to the site of the old Park Street depot at the top of Chestnut Street in June 1908. A single spur left after the upgrading of the lines to standard-gauge catered to the spot, but why it was chosen remains a mystery. The ice house appears to have been the same as that at the beach and never received significant improvements or expansion. The building may have been moved due to some legacy of the 1906 earthquake, or perhaps in anticipation of the construction of the Municipal Wharf in the coming years. In any case, it was only a temporary relocation lasting just over ten years.

The Santa Cruz Union Depot yard with the Union Ice Company at right, 1953. Photograph by L. L. Boney.
[Jim Vail—colorized by DeOldify]
In December 1918, the Daniels Transfer Company's warehouse on Chestnut Street burned down. The Union Ice Company quickly moved in and began restoring the warehouse and expanding its facilities. Within a few years, the company had expanded to take over the adjacent Burnett Brothers property as well. Simultaneously to this, a new ice house was built at the Watsonville Junction yard in 1927, allowing the company to expand to South County for the first time.

A Union Ice delivery man loading ice into a truck, c. 1940s. [Arctic Glacier—colorized by DeOldify]
At its height, the Union Ice Company provided many services to the community. Its primary business was commercial grade ice, which was sold to the railroad, local businesses, and individuals for many different uses. Ice blown into refrigerator cars kept fish, meats, and produce cold as it travelled throughout the country. In a time before flash frozen food, this was the next best option. Ice blocks were sold to individuals and businesses for use in their ice boxes. This business remained popular throughout the 1920s and 1930s until electricity became widespread even in rural areas and private refrigerators became more affordable. Locations such as the Ben Lomond Inn became places for locals to top up their ice stores. The company also sold wood and coal throughout the 1920s.

A Union Ice deliveryman delivering ice to a private home, c. 1940s. [Arctic Glacier—colorized by DeOldify]
Success in the 1930s allowed further expansion of its facilities throughout the 1930s. All of the structures were replaced in late 1929 and early 1930 with an industrial fruit-packing plant and egg storage room attached to its original freezing works. A new railroad spur was extended to the facility, replacing two earlier spurs, and this remained in place until the late 1990s. Eventually a creamery and dairy storage warehouse were added as well as a flash freeze plant in 1938 in coordination with the Santa Cruz Fruit Packing Company. The Union Ice Company property ended its expansion in 1941 with the addition of a larger freezer behind the main freezer.

Despite its financial victories, the company pulled out of Santa Cruz around 1951, when it leased the facilities in Santa Cruz to Stokely Foods Company, which had previously operated out of a warehouse in Seabright. After only four years, Stokely left and the facilities on Chestnut Street were leased to John F. Inglis Frozen Foods Company (Jiffco), which returned the site to its use as a flash freeze plant for two decades. Following Jiffco's acquisition by United Foods in 1970, the plant at Santa Cruz began a slow decline.

Despite minor upgrades in the early 1970s, by the beginning of the 1980s, the facility had shut down and sat vacant beside the railroad tracks. Periodic fires inside the building caused by vagrants led to an inferno on August 15, 1990 that levelled the building.  The property had already been sold to Maynard Manson and Jeff Canepa by this point, and the pair of property developers wished to demolish the structure and turn the site into an office complex. When push came to shove, they decided to build low income housing instead. Union Ice Company was eventually acquired by Arctic Glacier Inc. in 2007.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Main Beach Ice Box: 36.9533N, 122.0237W
Park Street Ice Box: 36.9759N, 122.0299W
Chestnut Street Freezer: 37.9682N, 122.0294W

The site of the original Beach Street ice house is now occupied by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The Park Street ice house, meanwhile, was located near at approximately 702 Chestnut Street and is now occupied by a private home. The main freezing plant, later John Inglis Frozen Foods, was between Laurel and Jenne Streets along Chestnut Street and is now a residential housing subdivision known as Chestnut Street Apartments. No remnant of any of the three ice facilities remains today.

Citations & Credits:

1 comment:

  1. I assume the 1953 photo by L.L. Boney is of a double header Suntan
    Special. Note the semaphore automatic block signal identical to the
    type shown in the c. 1950 photo by Margaret Koch in the Mission Hill
    tunnel article. Until the 1940 washout, these signals guarded the
    entire Mountain Route from San Jose to Santa Cruz. After this, they
    were scaled back to San Jose - Los Gatos and Eblis - Santa Cruz.
    This latter vestige of signals were removed by the end of the 1950's.

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