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January 11, 2011 > History: Old industries in Union City

History: Old industries in Union City

By Myrla Raymundo

One of the pioneer industries in Union City was the salt industry. As early as l850, in New Haven, later named Alvarado, salt deposits were gathered, and for a long time the entire County of Alameda depended on this supply. In 1862, John Quigley, a pioneer salt-maker of Alameda County, began operations as Quigley Salt Works in Alvarado (Union City). The original process, in use to this day, consists of admitting salt water, with the rising tide, into segregated "vat" acreage. Any connection between the vats and outside water is severed; water in the vats is allowed to evaporate until the remaining chloride of sodium (salt) can be gathered.

Pearce Cannery
The Marlo Cannery in Decoto was founded in l930 as Hooden Food. In l946, the name was changed to Pearce Cannery under the management of a former Hayward cannery executive, Jos Pearce. The Jos Pearce Canning Company brought prosperity to Alameda County; 350 men and women worked for Jos Pearce. Peaches came from Modesto and Merced; tomatoes from Alvarado, Decoto, Hayward, Fremont, Centerville, Niles and Warm Springs. The canning factory stopped operation in l945.

Pacific States Steel Plant
Situated on Nursery Road between Niles and Decoto, was one of the largest employers in Alameda County, providing jobs for 400 workers. It was a very large plant; their steel went into Government orders for winning the war and big orders for everyday structural requirements. Marion Newman was in charge of the plant. The plant closed in l978.

Holly Sugar Mill
Holly Sugar Mill was the nation's first successful beet sugar factory. The factory was built in l870 by E. H. Dyer, father of the American Beet Sugar Industry located on a corner of Dyers farm. The small factory began processing sugar beets on November 15, 1870 and produced 29 tons of sugar during its first operating season. The Holly Sugar Mill no longer exists.

Cheng Farm
The Cheng family farmed acres and acres of land in Union City. The Wah Sing Cheng Farm was located where the Crowne Plaza at Alvarado-Niles Road is located now. Wah Sing Cheng emigrated with his grandfather from Canton, China, in l9l9. His wife, Gum Hoo Cheng, arrived four years later as a picture-bride. They grew sugar beets, tomatoes, cucumber, bok choy, cabbages, cauliflower and corn.

The Gladiola Fields
You can no longer see the beautiful Gladiola Fields that were once a thriving industry in Union City. The City used to celebrate the long stemmed, multicolor flowers in an annual Gladiola Festival. The first Gladiola Queen was Betsy Borghi, mother of Frank Borghi Jr. of Union City.

Mr. I.V. Ralph
The leading merchant in Alvarado was Mr. I.V. Ralph, established in the area for many years. He had a well-stocked store of general merchandise on Levee Street, which was also the post office; he was postmaster. This was also the office of Sunset Telephone (he was the agent). Ralph also owned a carpet and furniture store across the street, which carried a good stock of window shades, matting and upholstered goods, etc.

Matsumoto Grocery
Every afternoon after school, a crowd of children headed for Matsumoto Grocery, the 80-year-old store in Old Alvarado, to buy fistfuls of candy. Like Priego's Market around the corner and Casada's Market in the heart of Decoto, it was one of the few "mom and pop" grocery stores that has managed to survive suburban sprawl and the age of supermarkets. The store, managed by owner Ben Matsumoto, has become an institution to the tiny Alvarado neighborhood where it was once the community's sole supplier of Oriental foods. Grace Handa, Ben Matsumoto's sister, was the store manager and said that she had worked in this store since she was 5 years old. The tiny store still exists.

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