Into the Breach Craft Detected

Empire Foundry, Oakland, CA

Sometimes you stare at something so long, you don’t see it anymore. I only saw the little steel door at the base of the chimney of my home in South Berkeley when I started to rearrange my plants to catch the winter sunlight. It’s quite short so I had to lay on the ground to open the door, hoping to find a blazing furnace and tiny workers behind it, but alas there was just dust.

Empire was one of a few steelworks in the area that gradually disappeared after being driven out by development in previously industrial parts of town. They specialized in manhole covers toward the end of their run and shipped them around the world. I never really thought about where steel came from but seeing “Oakland Cal” made me realize that there’s a where and also a who behind everything, and that a locally-made steel object cannot be taken for granted. Of course, as soon as I found the door, I also found the manhole cover about 100 yards away.

Actually using your fireplace is discouraged everywhere these days because of pollution so this door is now an archaic and nostalgic feature that adds “character” to my 100 year old apartment. Craft in Berkeley has always been well-regarded and even if the building is torn down, crafted objects like this cleanout door will make its way down to the fancy salvage yard and be reused.