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Room for One More: 1918

Room for One More: 1918

Circa 1918. "Federal truck -- San Francisco Casket Co." Makers of the box you'll go in. 5x7 glass negative by Christopher Helin. View full size.


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The San Francisco Casket Company

The sign in the front window indicates this photo was taken in front of the headquarters for the San Francisco Casket Company, Inc. (SFCCI) which was at 621 - 627 Guerrero in 1918.

The firm was started about 1900 by George Dillman, and it was originally located at 542 Brannan. Dillman had been working at Samuel Nelson & Co., who were casket manufacturers, immediately before this. About 1903, SFCCI moved to 3120 17th Street for approximately two years, and then to 17th and Shotwell until around 1908. John H. Nuttman (1856 - 1946), who had been the vice-president, became president around 1907. It was circa 1908 that the business address changed to the 627 Guerrero location.

The October 9, 1918 issue of Building and Engineering News tell us this building on Guerrero was partially destroyed by fire causing $75,000 worth of damage. With the ongoing influenza epidemic in the fall of 1918 the fire could probably not have come at a worse time for the firm. The company had suffered another fire in February 1917 causing $15,000 in destruction to the four story structure.

The SFCCI then built a four story and basement brick factory, along with offices and showrooms, at 14th and Valencia for $75,000. The brick work apparently cost $20,800, and the steam boiler system was $3,479. The new factory address is shown as 325 Valencia in the 1919 Crocker-Langley San Francisco Directory, but later it became 321 Valencia.

The building plans, by Etienne A. Garin, were completed in December 1918, White & Gloor's plans for the building brick work were accepted on February 24, 1919, and all construction was completed by April 17, 1919. The building was officially recorded by the city on July 7, 1919. One interesting change is that Garin designed a mill work building, but architect Charles O. Clausen redesigned the plans to be reinforced concrete before the structure was built.

The new "L" shaped building still exists, but it has been heavily modified into residences and businesses. Most of the original brick work has been hidden, but some is still visible down an alley way. The company remained at this new location until 1962, but then it seems to have gone out of existence.

Eventually the president of the company became one of Nuttman's son, John B. Nuttman (1880 - 1960), and finally a daughter Hannah F. Spammer (1895 - 1980).

The snippet from Building & Engineering News below is from October 16, 1918 which tells of the fire. The second piece, from "The Standard," a weekly insurance newspaper from May 17, 1919, relates how the rules of the San Francisco Fire Commission prevented a quick extinguishing of the 1918 blaze. The last article, from the October 20, 1910 San Francisco Call, describes how one of the SFCCI drivers got out of a speeding ticket. The driver is likely William I. Nuttman (1889 - 1973) another one of John H. Nuttman's sons.

How to explain!?!??!

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to some Kaiser Permanente associates from the California region. Killing time until all the folks were on the line, I asked where they were calling from, and they said,"Oakland." I laughed and said, "I hope you drive better than some of the long-ago Oakland drivers I've seen on"

"What's that?" they asked.

"Well, it's mainly a large-format photography site, but the whimsical subject matter and amazing comments of the moderators and readers are what make it a Web addiction. Like the Oakland drivers; for the past couple of months they've had a series of 1950s photos of Oakland traffic accidents. And they have kittens dressed as people and beach scenes from 100 years ago, and . . . and decrepit old buildings . . . and . . . and there are photos of . . ."

"Jim, this is another one of your wild stories, right? There's no such thing as, right?"
Imagine if I tried explaining it today, with people seeing imagery in the woodgrain of caskets from 100 years ago!


        A psychological phenomenon involving a stimulus (an image or a sound) wherein the mind perceives a familiar pattern of something where none actually exists.

        Common examples are perceived images of animals, faces, or objects in cloud formations.

        Pareidolia is the visual or auditory form of apophenia, which is the perception of patterns within random data. Combined with apophenia and hierophany (manifestation of the sacred), pareidolia may have helped ancient Chinese society organize chaos and make the world intelligible. -- Wikipedia

[That would explain it. - Dave]

Coffins vs Caskets

Coffins are where Vampires sleep, Caskets are what they bury dead people in.

In the high-res blowup

In the lower board of the upper casket, I see a group of well-dressed office workers, circa 1925, at some sort of holiday gathering. One woman has an oil can in front of her.

I never would have noticed that without seeing this high-res enlargement. The lower casket just has a typical beach scene in what appears, to me, to be Galveston, Texas. Two people are walking, two are riding horses.

More Than Just Numbers

If you increase the resolution size of the photo you will see scenic views either hand painted scenes, lithographs or photos on the ends of the caskets, not numbers.

[Amazing. I see "The Last Supper" and "Dogs Playing Poker." What do you see? - Dave]


The two top rows are caskets. The bottom three are coffins I believe.

A simple pine box?

The wood used in these caskets appear to be redwood or cedar likely shipped down the coast from Northern California or Seattle. In 1900 a typical casket was made of wood often covered in cloth. Costs were around $16, about $400 in today's dollars. Mass-produced steel caskets didn't show up until 1918 when Batesville Casket introduced them. These appear to be a bit fancy with all the molding, 3 or 4 different styles. Curious what the numbers stamped on the ends indicate.

Mass Transit

Not the most luxurious of hearses, but isn't it commodious, though?


Look at that truck's suspension and talk about a hard ride.

Not that one would care in the first place. On one's final ride.


Considering there are no brakes on the front and probably mechanical ones on the rear, I sure wouldn't want to try to stop that overloaded truck on a San Francisco Hill!

It looks like a scene from a comedy short, where the front of the truck suddenly flies up when they try to start.

They Opened the Door and In Flew Enza

Perhaps the 1918 date is not a coincidence. The worldwide outbreak of Spanish Influenza in 1918 killed more people than WWI, and while San Francisco was spared the worst of it, there were still over 40,000 ill and 3000 dead in the city during the later half of 1918.

Considering it killed a disproportionate number of the poor and recent immigrants, a truckload of obviously low end (judging from the unfinished wood and lack of decoration or hardware) would have been a common sight for a few months.

Dept. of Public Health

NOTICE -- something about GARBAGE, MANURE, REFUSE and "premises."

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