Evarts I. Blake.

Greater Oakland, 1911, a volume dealing with the big metropolis on the shores of San Francisco Bay .. online

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of being called upon to raise from three to
four million dollars in 30, 60 or 90 days,
which, of course, could only be done, during
hard times, by a sacrifice of a portion of
their holdings.

On the other hand, if capital invested
with the Realty Syndicate is of a per-
manent character, with definite dates of
maturity, they not only know at all times
exactly how they stand financially, but
have plenty of money to take advantage
of hard times and can actually profit dur-
ing such periods by making purchases of
hundreds of acres of land at rock-bottom

Old and experienced investors agree that
hard times must be faced periodically, and
that such periods can be made to reap
immense profits if properly anticipated by
the right financial methods and by a sub-
stantial, permanent cash reserve. The
Realty Syndicate cannot hope to depend


Greater Oakland, J911

The Realty Syndicate


upon the banks at such times; therefore,
to protect their clients, and be able to
take advantage of the low prices that al-
ways develop when money is theoretically
scarce, they prefer to take more time and
build up permanently substantial assets
rather than to adopt the easier and quicker
method of going to the banks and being
dependent upon the whims of Wall Street
and the unavoidable demands that banks
are forced to make when money tightens

The second reason why the Realty Syn-
dicate finds it better to cater to a widely
scattered clientele is because all banks
should rightfully give first privilege to local
investors. They could not expect the banks
of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Fresno, San
Jose, Stockton and Sacramento to finance
their great enterprises here in Oakland
when they are in duty bound to loan their
money in their own cities for local improve-

Using as they do, all of the time, from
two to four million dollars, their Oakland
banks would be unable to finance them
without handicapping other great public
and private enterprises now being carried
out in Oakland by concerns other than
The Realty Syndicate.

As the largest owners of real estate in
Oakland and Alameda County, The Syndi-
cate, for its own good, can best profit by
leaving Oakland banks free to loan their
surplus to the local public service corpora-
tions and smaller institutions of the com-
munity, to the home builder, the real es-
tate man, the merchant, the manufacturer
and the contractor, who, aided by this
money, build up the community and make
The Syndicate's assets more valuable with-
out any effort on their part.

The third reason why this corporation
prefers a multitude of small investors
scattered everywhere is because every
investor in its securities is naturally an
interested party in all its enterprises. At
present. The Syndicate has from 4,000 to
5,000 certificate holders. Every one of
these certificate holders has absolute con-
fidence in the institution and lasting friend-
ships are promoted that mean much in a
business of this character.

At any time they desired they could
probably call upon these 4,000 or 5,000
certificate holders and receive from them
from 20,000 to 30,000 names of people in-
terested in buying land in Oakland. Some
day the Realty Syndicate will subdivide
its great holdings upon a gigantic plan
and at that time their clientele of thou-
sands of certificate holders will be of tre-
mendous value in locating prospective
purchasers of their subdivision offerings.

That The Syndicate's ideas in this mat-
ter are founded upon a sound basis is evi-
denced by ample precedent in other cities
and are also further proven to be correct
by their great success here in Oakland,
where, in sixteen years, they have built
up probably the largest and strongest in-
stitution of the kind in the United States.

The Realty Syndicate have developed
nearly one hundred residential tracts in
Oakland, many of which have been almost
entirely built up. They are in addition to
these, the owners of valuable water-front
holdings and undeveloped acreage back of
Piedmont worth many millions of dollars.
They occupy their own building, a Class
"A," ten-story, million-dollar structure on
Broadway, near Fourteenth St. F. M.
Smith ("Borax Smith") is president of the


Greater Oakland, 1911


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Greater Oakland, 1911

Frank M. Smith

The Financier-Philanthropist, Whose Foresight and Keen Appreciation

of the Natural Advantages of Oakland Have Materially Aided

Its Rapid Growth and Marvelous Development

By James King Steele

IGH on the hills above Oak-
land, overlooking the lovely
city, whose tall office build-
ings, thrusting themselves up
abruptly from a sea of foli-
age, proclaim the transition from a town
to a metropolis, is Arbor Villa, a stately
home, set in a beautiful floral park. The
house is huge, covering an immense area,
and is equipped with all manner of lux-
urious comforts and conveniences. Wide
porches surround it. great conservatories
adjoin it, roses and climbing shrubs cover
its walls. About are broad lawns, spread-
ing trees and flowers — a wonderland of
floral beauty bespeaking praise for the con-
stant care and attention which the garden-
ers have given it for so many years. Be-
low the park lies Oakland, stretching away
in unbroken continuity to the water front.
Then appears the blue Bay of San Fran-
cisco, with its fortified islands gleaming in the
sun, and San Francisco showing sharply in
the distance. Beyond is the Golden Gate, a
gap in the mountain wall whose serrated
crests pierce the skyline to north and south —
a wonderful panorama, which for variety, size
and beauty has no equal in the world.

As one walks about the beautiful grounds
of this superb home, he comes suddenly
upon a structure which at first glance seems
hardly in keeping with its surroundings.
This is a rough wooden cabin, such as is
commonly seen in the mountains. Before
it are several tree stumps and logs. The
incongruity of this house of rough boards,
in the midst of such luxury and beauty, is
striking, and demands an explanation. A

printed card beside the door gives this, and
at once it is seen that, instead of being
out of place, it is most fitting and appro-
priate. This is the story on the card : "This
cabin was built in the year '72 by Mr.
Smith, built with his own hands, lived in
by him during the time of his early dis-
covery of borax at Teels Marsh, Nevada."'

The Httle cabin, picked up bodily from
its place in the wilds of Nevada, trans-
ported and re-erectcd in the midst of such
splendid surroundings, throws an interest-
ing sidelight on the character of F. M.

Too many men who have gained wealth
are prone to forget the time when they did
not have as much of this world's goods as
they now have. They. "turn their backs upon
the ladder by which they did ascend" and
look with scorn on the things of days gone
by. To all such the rude little cabin in the
midst of present luxury should prove a
valuable lesson.

It was from the door of this cabin, which
Mr. Smith built with his own hands in
1872, that he looked out each day over the
shimmering surface of Teels Marsh in Ne-

At that time, Smith was engaged in filling
a wood contract for several of the ore
mills in the neighborhood of Columbus, Ne-
vada. Like many another young man of
those early days, he had gone with the
crowd into the mining camps of the great
silver State. But, unlike the most of them,
he realized that a man must have income
if he would succeed, so he took up sup-
plying wood to the camps, as a business.

Frank M. Smith




Greater Oakland, 1911

and at the same time kept on prospecting,
searching, "testing and hoping to find a
valuahle mining property."

It was while engaged in this work of
running his wood camps and prospecting
during all the spare time lie could find
that Smith first discovered the borax de-
posits of Teels Marsh.

The story of this discovery, told in 1005,
in his own words to a gathering of the
salesmen of the Pacific Coast Borax Com-
pany, of which he is president, is intensely

'T owned two or three wood ranches, had
a big band of pack animals and was doing
quite a prosperous business in fuel supply.
Incidentally I had acquired quite a number
of wildcat mining claims.

"Just before my discovery I had erected
a good, comfortable cabin in the mouth of a
narrow gulch that overlooked the marsh
where the cotton balls were being dug out.
It also commanded a view of Teel's Marsh,
which had not yet been thought of as a
borax producer.

"As I tramped over the hills locating the
timber I could distinctly see the gleaming
white surface of Teel's Marsh, and one day
I decided to make a tour of investigation.
I took two woodchoppers with me and it did
not take long to find that the marsh was cov-
ered with a heavy incrustation of a crystal-like
substance. Rude tests showed it to be borax,
and, as it afterwards proved. I had chanced
upon the very richest section of the deposits.

"We made a preliminary location that day
and I gathered samples and took them to an
assayer at Columbus. Without waiting for the
assay I established a dry camp in the marsh,
took down provisions and pack animals and
proceeded to locate several thousand acres,
most of which afterwards proved worthless.

"After setting the men at work, I started on
my regular round of visits to the wood ranches
and then on to Columbus. Here I found that
the analysis pronounced the specimens the very
finest borate of soda that had been found up
to that time. So I secured two associates at
Columbus, laid in fresh supplies and started
back for Teel's Marsh.

"I was so impressed by the assays that T
crowded the trip as much as possible and made
the last of the journey by night, arriving at
camp about midnight, guided by the camp-

lires. It was well I did so. for there I found
a friend of the assayer who had been given
a tip and had gone out in the hope of being
able to forestall me in locations. But next
morning he started of¥ on a wild goose chase
and before he had secured his bearings I liafi
the property well located.

"Up to this time it had been customary to
locate borax land under the saline law, a lo-
cator taking up 160 acres, but in the tall of
1872 Commissioner Drummond decided that
borax lands must be located as placer lands,
allowing only 20 acres to each locator.

"So our claims had to be all relocated and
this added immensely to the trouble and ex-
pense. Moreover the borax land was very
'spotted.' only a small portion of it suffi-
ciently rich to pay for working.

"Even at that time borax was worth 30 cents
a pound, but it soon dropped to only a frac-
tion of that, and it is interesting to note that
grain at that time cost $140 a ton and hay $60
a ton at Columbus, which was 25 miles from
Teel's Marsh.

"As soon as possible after securing satisfac-
tory title to enough of the borax-bearing land,
I made arrangements through my brother with
a Chicago company to put up a plant, and the
production of borax was then begun on a com-
mercial scale. It was little known except to
the druggists and blacksmiths, and druggists
were retailing it at 25 cents per ounce. The
total consumption in the United States at that
time was only about 600 tons per annum,
nevertheless before our products got onto the
market the price had fallen to about 10 cents
a pound.

"Teel's Marsh had been operated almost con-
tinuously since the first plant was started, and
for many years was the principal source of
supply. The total production of the marsh
had (to 1905) probably reached 17,000 tons.

"For a long time after the discovery of Teel's
Marsh every one in the borax business thought
that the borate of soda crusts on the marsh
and the cotton balls were the only available
natural sources for securing borax. But all
this time the teams which were hauling sup-
plies and prospectors into Death Valley were
crunching and grinding to pieces a ledge of
material that assayed higher in borax than
the marsh incrustations which we were work-
ing. But one day we had the ledge in the
Calico Mountains assayed and found it con-

Frank M. Smith



Greater Oakland, 1911

tained more boric acid tlian the cotton balls.
W. T. Coleman was associated with me in
this discovery and it was named Colmanite
after him.

"On the marsh mining borax had been a
placer proposition. Tlie men gathered it up
in winrows, shoveled it into wagons and hauled
it to the refining works. But now it became
a genuine quartz proposition, with ore in a
well-defined ledge. The mine is in the Calico
Mountains, among the very roughest sort of
desert mountainous country, twelve miles from
Daggett, the nearest railroad point. All the
supplies, including the water and fuel, had to
be hauled there and the ore must be hauled
to the railroad for shipment to the refinery.

"The workings are now (1905) over 600
feet underground, the point of profitable work-
ing is near at hand, and we are now taking
up the development of the deposits in Death
Valley, about which more will be said later."

Following the discovery of borax and the
placing of it on the market in sufficient quan-
tities to be of commercial value, the price
dropped from 30 to 10 cents per pound; and
here the genius of Mr. Smith was again dem-
onstrated. He realized that to make borax
mining profitable there must be a demand for
it. And so he set about to educate people up
to its value as a detergent, antiseptic and
household commodity and thus create a

He had already organized the Pacific Coast
Borax Company and erected a great refinery
at West Alameda, California, which refinery,
it may be noted in passing, was the first re-
inforced concrete building in the United States,
and pioneered the way for this now popular
method of construction. The borax was
brought from the mines in Death Valley and
the Calico Mountains to the railroad and
thence to the refinery.

Mojave is the nearest railroad point to
Death Valley and the dreary wretchedness of
the trip from Death Valley to Mojave could
not be pictured. For 167 miles the road
stretches away, encountering one obstacle
after another. There is more than 50 miles
of desert to be crossed without a drop of
water, with the winds blowing incessantly,
carrying clouds of sand, and the sun beating
down unmercifully. There are rugged pre-
cipitous mountains to be crossed, with im-

passable grades over which heavy loads must
be hauled with safety; there is one strip of
40 miles where the road raises on an average
grade of 100 feet to the mile. The difficulties
at first seemed insurmountable.

When development began there was no mode
of conveyance which answered the require-
ments. So the problem was taken up, under
direction of Mr. Smith, by J. S. W. Perry,
the superintendent of the company's mines in
tlie Calico Mountains. His task was to con-
struct a vehicle strong enough to stand the
tremendous strain of the road and the dread-
ful heat of the region and large enough to
carry a carload of borax and to take it through
the rocky canyons and up the precipitous
mountains of the Panamint range.

As a result Mr. Perry gave the company
the largest wagons in the world and the fam-
ous 20-mule team. Feed and water stations
were established along the route. At some
places water tanks on wheels were used ; the
team going in fills the tank and hauls it to the
next station, and the team coming out returns
the empty tank to the nearest spring. The
tanks were necessarily made of iron because
of the terrible heat of that region — wooden
tanks would dry out and fall to pieces as
soon as partly empty.

It takes a pretty big wagon to load half a
carload of borax onto it. But when that
wagon must be hauled through deep beds of
sand and up steep inclines and down sharp
declivities, all the time grinding over rocks
and smashing against boulders under a burn-
ing sun, it calls for something very unusual
in the way of wagonmaking. And the wagons
that the 20-mule teams haul are unusual.
The rear wheels are seven feet in diameter,
with a tire eight inches wide and five inches
thick. The forward wheels are five feet in
diameter. The spokes are of split oak five
and one-half inches at the butt. The forward
axletrees are made of solid steel bars three
and one-fourth inches square. The bed of the
wagon is sixteen feet long, four feet wide and
six feet deep, and the distance between the
wheels is six feet. The whole wagon weighs
7,800 pounds and they cost more than $900
apiece to make them. Ten of these wagons
were built and they were in constant use for
five years without a single breakdown. Some
of them have been used recently to haul
borax from the Calico Mountains to Dag-

Frank M. Smith



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Greater Oakland, 191 1

It requires considerable motive power to
handle these immense wagons, for two are
generally coupled together, one behind the
other, so that the load is a full carload. But
the team, made up of two horses and eighteen
mules, handles the load with comparative ease,
and covers from seventeen to twenty miles
a day.

The horses attached to the tongue are great,
big 2,800-pound teams, and ahead of them
stretch the mules with their doubletrees geared
to a chain leading from the front axle. The
most tractable pair of mules is put in front,
while the more fractious, the stubborn and the
vicious teams are placed between. The nigh
leader has a shorter strap from the left jaw
than the other mule has, and from this bridle
a braided cotton rope about half an inch in
diameter runs back through the bridle of each
mule to the hand of the driver, who sits on
a box in the front of the wagon, some eight
feet above the ground, or on the "high
wheeler." This braided cotton line is the
famous "jerk line," about 120 feet long, with
which the team is guided.

In advertising his product Mr. Smith did
most spectacular and effective advertising.
Keenly alive to the impression which is made
on the public by anything unusual, he seized
on the means of transportation as his trade
mark and made the "20-Mule Team Brand"
famous the world over. Not only was it
spread broadcast throughout the press of the
country, but the famous 20-mule team, under
the charge of "Borax Bill," the most famous
of the 20-muIe teamsters, was sent under its
own power to all the leading cities of the
country. Borax Bill was a character worthy
a place in history, and his feat of driving
his team of twenty mules hitched to the great
freighting wagons and guided solely by the
"jerk line" up Broadway, New York, from
the Battery to Forty-second Street, still is
told as one of the marvelous feats of horse-

With the advertising came increased con-
sumption of borax and its products and Mr.
Smith increased the scope of his operations.
He established another large refinery at Bay-
onne. New Jersey, which serves the Eastern
trade. Then he went abroad and organized
the United Borax Company, Ltd., of London,
England, which is capitalized at some millions
of pounds sterling and pays immense divi-

dends. These companies practically control
the bora.x output of the world, and as presi-
dent of them Mr. Smith is referred to as the
"Borax King."

A Power in Other Lines of Industry.

But Mr. Smith has not confined himself to
the borax business alone. Other lines have
attracted him and have been benefited by his
entrance into those fields. This is particu-
larly true in the matter of the transportation
situation. Just as his active mind grasped
the problem of transporting the borax across
the desert sands to the railroads and manufac-
tured giant wagons drawn by the greatest
teams of animals ever used for commercial
purposes, so he looked over Oakland and re-
alized the need of adequate transportation
facilities. As a result the Oakland Traction
Company was organized and later on the Key
Route system. By means of these lines and
their affiliations, Oakland and the adjacent ter-
ritory is now the most efficiently served of any
city in America. From poorly constructed
and operated street car lines, Mr. Smith and
his associates have built up a splendid urban
and interurban system, serving the city of Oak-
land and the entire territory from Berkeley
to Haywards, a distance of over twenty-five
miles, operating magnificent cars and trains at
frequent intervals, and the development along
these lines has but begun.

Mr. Smith is a great believer in orgamza-'
tion. From the first his companies have been
models of organized efficiency. This is because
he has the power of enlisting the absolute sup •
port and loyalty of every man who works for
him. Through his personality he binds his
lieutenants and associates to himself with
bonds that cannot be broken. He is a just
man, a liberal man and a wise man, and as he
has progressed he has taken those who have
helped him along with him, making them
share in his prosperity. His latest move in
the direction of organization was the incorpo-
ration of the great United Properties Com-
pany of California.

A Mighty Power in the Transportation

Under this head all the transportation prop-
erties in which Mr. Smith is interested, with
a number of water and power and other public
utility companies, were merged into a giant

Frank M. Smith


Another View of F. M. Smith's Residence. Sth Avenue and East 24th Street. Oakland


Greater Oakland, 19U

corporation known as tlie United Properties
Compan}' of California, with a capitalization
of $200,000,000.

With this tremendous organization, of which
he is president, Mr. Smith practically controls
the transportation situation on tlie mainland,
or Oakland, side of the bay, and that he in-
tends to use it for the development of that
side is evident in the broad scope of the plans
and improvements now being considered.

Chief of these is the filling in of the present
Key Route pier, making a solid earth mole
200 feet wide from the shoreline almost to the
pier terminal. In connection with this a gi-
gantic system of model docks and wharves
will probably be built extending from the
southern side of the mole and capable of ac-
commodating the largest trans-Pacific liners.
Franchises and permits for this work have
been granted by both the United States gov-
ernment and the city of Oakland and the
plans are now under way. The filling in of
the Key Route basin by which hundreds of
acres of valuable water-front land will be
gained for factory and industrial sites, is
another feature of this colossal plan of devel-
opment. Another angle is the addition of
freight business to the present passenger traf-
fic of the Key Route, which will enable it to
secure practically all the terminal freight
traffic of the mainland. This naturally will be
of enormous value in the building up of those
sections suitable for factories and shops of
various kinds. With its facilities the Key
Route will be able to handle freight direct
from the ships lying at its docks to the cars
on its own rails, whence they can be switched
to any of the three great transcontinental lines
operating with it.

A Man of Forcible and Charming

Like all men who have forced themselves
through tlieir own efforts and indomitable will
over all obstacles to success, F. M. Smith is a
man of great force and power. His mind is
quick to see opportunity and equally quick to
act upon it. He is a keen judge of men, se-
lecting his assistants with infinite care and

Online LibraryEvarts I. BlakeGreater Oakland, 1911, a volume dealing with the big metropolis on the shores of San Francisco Bay .. → online text (page 16 of 30)