478 1/2 - 10th St. 1896
Illustrated Directory of Oakland

Cotton Brothers and Company was a general contractor c.1900, specializing in the construction of bridges. It was run by Ernest Julius Cotton (c.1860 – 1915), Charles Earl Cotton (1865 – 1920), and James B. Agassiz.

Most of their work has been replaced by newer construction, but the Purdon Crossing Bridge in Nevada County, built in 1895, still stands. 1,2,13 The bridge is marked with a plaque from the local E Clampus Vitus chapter.

Locally, Cotton Brothers constructed numerous small bridges around Alameda County. Their largest project was probably the replacement Webster Street Bridge c.1900. According to the obituary for Ernest, the brothers had also done a fair amount of work in Hawai'i. 3

In 1925, a number of homes on Ritchie St. were constructed by Cotton Brothers, 5 but those were by Arthur W. Cotton and Gordon B. Cotton, 6 who were not related to Ernest and Charles, and who had died in 1915 and 1920, respectively. Also, it appears the company went bankrupt in 1912. 17

Battle with Southern Pacific

SF Call 10

Disputes over the waterfront in Oakland were nothing new, dating back to the beginning of Oakland, when founding scoundrel and first mayor Horace Carpentier gained control of the waterfront in exchange for a one-room schoolhouse.

In December 1906, Southern Pacific sent workers to remove materials the Cotton brothers had stored near the waterfront (between Webster and Harrison), saying the land belonged to S.P. 7 The brothers said not so fast—the title of the land hasn't been settled—and asked the sheriff for protection from S.P. 8,10 Although the Cotton's attorney, William R. Davis, a veteran of the battle for the waterfront, was eager to take on S.P., the brothers agreed to move as soon as a new location could be found, and S.P. agreed to return the two flatcars worth of material and equipment they had already hauled off. 9

"Pile-driving and pile-pulling imbroglio" 12

SF Examiner 14

The Cotton Brothers were also involved in an 1893 dispute between the city and Southern Pacific. The Waterfront Company had begun driving piles off the waterfront in order to subsequently fill the area and create land. The city was against it (probably because of SP's control of the waterfront), and got a restraining order from Judge Henshaw to stop them. Someone at the city noted the restraining order was only against driving more piles; it said nothing about removing the ones already driven. So mayor George Pardee signed a resolution to hire the Cotton Brothers to remove the piles. 11

An attorney for the Waterfront Company, J.E. Foulds, got news of it, and took a boat out to stop the work. One of the brothers handed him the work order, smiled, and continued supervising the work. Rebuffed, Foulds consulted with A.A. Moore, attorney for SP, who set about getting a new restraining order to stop the removal. Judge Henshaw issued modifications to the order, not only halting the removal of the piles, but granting the Waterfront Company the right to replace the ones that had already been removed. A copy of the order was presented to the Cotton Brothers, and work ceased. 11

Some of the piles were replaced, but the mayor and others wrote an affidavit and took it to Judge Henshaw's house at 11 o'clock at night, and the order was vacated. The Waterfront Company crew went back to work the morning, not having received word yet. The Cotton Brothers went back to work the next morning, too, and were able to pull piles 2 or 3 times faster than the other crew could drive them. Chief of Police Schaffer appeared on the scene, notified the railroad's crew, and the pile driving stopped. Interestingly, while the city contended it had the rights to stop the piles, Henshaw's quick reversal apparently hinged on a technicality: the city hadn't been formally served with the restraining order, and so things were outside Henshaw's jurisdiction. 12

All 132 pilings were pulled and rafted together, to await further legal battles. 15 After this exchange, when the city attorney of Alameda sent a letter to the Waterfront Company requesting the pilings near Alameda be pulled, too, the company quickly agreed and did the work themselves. 16

Ultimately, much of the bay around the railroad moles was filled, but in the mean time the city re-gained control of the waterfront.

Links and References

  1. Purdon Crossing Bridge slated for substantial work The Union March 11, 2013
  2. Cotton Brothers on BridgeHunter.com
  3. Ernest J. Cotton Dies After Long Illness Oakland Tribune March 22, 1915
  4. Charles E. Cotton obituary Oakland Tribune May 23, 1920
  5. Artistic Homes By Cotton Bros. Now On Sale Oakland Tribune July 19, 1925
  6. Polk's Oakland Directory 1925
  7. Claim Title to Property Oakland Tribune December 13, 1906
  8. Sheriff Keeps Peace in Struggle Against S.P. Oakland Tribune December 14, 1906
  9. Railroad Wins Without Suit San Francisco Chronicle December 15, 1906
  10. Cotton Brothers Get Sheriff to Stop Railroad Grab San Francisco Call December 14, 1906
  11. The Piles in the Bay Do Not Last Long Oakland Tribune October 10, 1893
  12. Clever Midnight Move by the City Officials Oakland Tribune October 11, 1893 (p2)
  13. 75th Year Sacramento Bee August 13, 1970
  14. Attack on the Piling San Francisco Examiner October 11, 1893
  15. The Pile-Pulling Oakland Tribune October 13, 1893
  16. Alameda's Water Fence Is Now Being Removed Oakland Tribune October 18, 1893
  17. Notice to Creditors Oakland Tribune September 27, 1912