Who is TJ Garvey and why is his name on Bay Area sidewalks?

Usually if you’re looking at the ground in the Bay Area, you’re just trying to avoid stepping on something unpleasant. But perhaps you’ve also noticed, at random intervals, the neat stamps of a man’s name: T.J. Garvey.

Eagle-eyed pedestrians in Berkeley and Oakland will have seen Garvey’s name; it looks old-fashioned and lovely, accenting a large block of concrete sidewalk every so often. After years of walking over his name, I decided to finally investigate who Mr. Garvey was.

Through census records and city directories, a portrait of Thomas Joseph Garvey emerges. His father John was born in Kansas, his mother Lizzie was from Ireland. On Aug. 11, 1898, the young Garvey family was joined by little blue-eyed, brown-haired Thomas.

In 1917, Garvey’s World War I draft card indicated he was a shipfitter at Union Iron Works, a huge ship-building company in Oakland. As a shipfitter, he would have helped rivet or weld together ship parts. That skill would suit him well in his next job.

In the 1933 Polk’s Oakland City Directory, Garvey listed his services as a concrete contractor. Eighty-six years later, evidence of his success can be seen all over Oakland and Berkeley, particularly around the Rockridge and Elmwood areas. According to the directory, he lived nearby at 5686 Ocean View Drive, a block away from present-day Rockridge BART.

With each sidewalk job, Garvey would put his unique stamp on the drying concrete. His name “TJ GARVEY” and sometimes, often in fading numbers, the date of his work can be still be found. Stamps from the 1930s until the late 1950s bear his name.

He’s not the only one whose name or company graces Bay Area sidewalks. If you’re looking, you can find all kinds of stamps, some dating from the early 1900s. Oakland Underfoot keeps an inventory of sidewalk stamps, from old to modern-day.

As for Garvey, he continued to live and work in the Bay Area until his death in 1960. His wife, Fern, is buried beside him at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Hayward.

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/oakland-berkeley-sidewalk-stamps-names-13686300.php.

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