The Slater-Irving connection was sealed in Paraffine

Daniella Thompson

1841 San Antonio Road was the home of Fred Elton Irving, elder son of Berkeley mayor Samuel C. Irving. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

28 May 2007

Captain John Slater’s funeral in January 1908 was a grand affair. Louis Lorenz Stein (1902–1996), an East Bay historian and archivist who as a child lived at 1423 Walnut Street, long remembered the horse-drawn hearse and the procession of dignitaries who accompanied the deceased on the 1.3-mile route from the Slater residence at 1335 Shattuck Avenue to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church at 1640 Addison Street. It was, he said, one of the largest funeral processions he had seen in Berkeley.

San Francisco Call, 11 January 1908

Captain Slater’s obituary declared him to have been “part owner in steamship companies with Captains Dudreau and Miles [sic]” and his family “among the largest property owners in the north end.” Slater’s employers were captains Boudrow and Mighell, owners of the California Shipping Company and residents of 1536 and 1533 Oxford Street, respectively. The writer of the obituary may have exaggerated Slater’s role within the Boudrow & Mighell company, just as Slater’s land holdings appear to have been inflated beyond their actual extent.

Property assessment records indicate that the Slater holdings in 1908 consisted of two houses: 1335 Shattuck Avenue and 1426 Spruce Street. Family records show that the Slaters suffered a reversal of fortune as a result of the captain’s death. Louise Slater remarried in October 1909, but her second husband, Edward A. Phillips, a magazine writer, committed suicide after less than 15 months of marriage. In 1912, Louise sold the Shattuck Avenue house, keeping the smaller one.

At the time, daughter Marguerite was a student at the University of California, while younger sons Norman and Colby were at Berkeley High School. For a while, the family lived at 2317 Haste Street, a house they may have found thanks to their former Shattuck Avenue tenant, Andrew H. Irving.

Andrew H. Irving, bottom right, with fellow executives of the Paraffine Companies (Oakland Tribune 2 May 1925)

Plant superintendent of the Paraffine Paint Company, Irving was then living across the street, in the enormous and ornate Lafayette Apartments at 2314 Haste Street. (In 1935, the Lafayette would become Barrington Hall, the University Students’ Cooperative Association’s largest residential co-op.) By 1915, when Andrew’s elder brother, Samuel C. Irving, was elected mayor of Berkeley, their widowed mother and sister had also moved into the Lafayette.

Berkeley Gazette, 24 January 1917

The mother, Jane Scott Irving, was born in 1829 in Nova Scotia and died at the Lafayette in January 1917. Her obituary in the Berkeley Gazette declared her to have been the granddaughter of Zephaniah Williams, “one of the heroes of the revolution. Williams was presented with a purse of $3,000 and a sword of honor for his services in the war by the Continental Congress.”

The Gazette failed to mention that after fighting numerous battles against the British, Zephaniah Williams joined the Duke of Cumberland’s Regiment, in a unit consisting entirely of former officers and men of the American Continental Army, and spent three years as a British soldier on garrison duty in Jamaica.

When the regiment was disbanded in 1783, the American soldiers were allowed to settle in Nova Scotia and given land grants. In 1785, Williams came to Antigonish, NS and put down roots in a place now known as Williams Point.

While three Irvings were residing at the Lafayette Apartments, Louise Slater’s eldest son, James Herbert Slater (1889–1969), had gone to work for the Paraffine Paint Co. as an electrical engineer and took up residence at his grandmother’s home, 1402–04 Spruce Street. This two-flat Victorian cottage would remain under family ownership until 1970.

Jack Slater, the eldest of James Herbert Slater’s children, at 1402–04 Spruce Street, the family home inherited from the Colbys. (courtesy of the Slater family)

1402–04 Spruce Street today (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

The Paraffine Paint Company of San Francisco manufactured specialty paints, building papers, and ready roofing materials under the Pabco, Malthoid, and Ruberoid brand names. Malthoid, a bituminous rolled membrane with adhered granules, was in demand for roofing bungalows. In 1908, it was used to roof the “ultimate bungalow,” Greene & Greene’s famed Gamble House in Pasadena. According to an architectural report, it failed within the first 10 years.

Industry Magazine, 1893

Oakland Tribune, 7 December 1919

Oakland Tribune, 4 May 1925

Oakland Tribune, 4 November 1925

Malthoid’s popularity extended as far as Australia and New Zealand. Sales were robust enough to warrant the extended visit of an executive from the home office. That executive was none other than Samuel C. Irving, Berkeley’s future mayor, who would serve as vice-president and manager of the Paraffine Companies from 1903 to 1930. His visit to Australia lasted close to a year, and Samuel was accompanied by his new wife, Laura. The couple’s first son, Fred Elton Irving, was born in Sydney in October 1886. The Irvings would not return to California until Fred was six months old.

Samuel C. Irving

Samuel C. Irving (1858–1930) was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He was the son of Andrew K. Irving, a Scottish shipwright. The Irving family came to the Bay Area from New York in 1868. According to Jane Scott Irving’s obituary in the Gazette, Andrew K. Irving founded the first shipbuilding yard on the Pacific Coast at San Francisco and organized the first labor union in the West.

In 1880, Andrew and Jane Irving were living with their five children in Vallejo, site of the U.S. Navy’s Mare Island shipyards. Samuel, who had graduated from U.C. in 1879, was still registered as a student when the census taker came calling the following year.

Shortly before he went to Australia in 1886, Samuel Irving married Laura F. Sell, a miner’s daughter from Brown’s Flat, Tuolumne County. Upon their return, the couple settled in Cow Hollow, San Francisco, where they raised their two sons. In 1901, Samuel Irving served as president of the Mechanics Institute and an ex-officio U.C. Regent.

Like many refugees of the San Francisco earthquake and fire, the Irvings moved to Berkeley in 1906. At the time, Samuel’s younger brother, Andrew, was rooming with the Slaters at 1335 Shattuck Avenue. Across the street, Captain Seabury’s house at 1322 Shattuck Ave. was unoccupied (more about Seabury in the next article). It seemed an ideal arrangement, and Samuel bought the house from Seabury. He would remain there for fifteen years.

While living at 1322 Shattuck Ave., the Republican Samuel Irving was twice elected mayor of Berkeley, serving from 1915 to 1919 (in 1926 he would run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat). Shortly after leaving office, he acquired the former Slater house across the street and resided in it for the rest of his life. On 2 December 1930, he was fatally struck by a car while crossing Shattuck Avenue on his way home. Samuel Irving was a member of the Bohemian, Commercial, Commonwealth, Faculty, and Hillside Clubs, the Berkeley lodges of Elks and Masons, and the Golden Bear Society.

Berkeley Gazette, 3 December 1930

Oakland Tribune, 5 December 1930

Samuel Irving’s sons followed him into his businesses. Fred (1886–1973) was a department manager at the Paraffine Companies until his father went into the cider, vinegar, and fruit-juice business. Shortly after the end of World War I, Fred could be found in Sonora, CA, managing the California Cider Company. Living with him was his younger brother Livingston, who looked after the orchards.

First Lieutenant Livingston G. Irving, right, and fellow pilots of the 103rd Aero Squadron (Jon Guttman: SPAD XII/XIII Aces of World War I)

Livingston Gilson Irving (1895–1983) had made a name for himself as a World War I ace flyer in the Lafayette Escadrille and the 103rd Aero Squadron and was a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action. After his stint as orchard keeper in Sonora, he went to work at the Paraffine Cos. as an engineer. During the 1920s, he continued to fly in the Air Corps Reserve out of Crissy Field. When the Dole Race from Oakland to Honolulu was announced in 1927, Livingston was the first contestant to enter. His plane was a Breese monoplane purchased and sponsored by the Paraffine Companies. Christened the Pabco Pacific Flyer, the plane was painted bright orange and sported the Indian warrior’s head insignia of the Lafayette Flying Corps.

The Pabco Pacific Flyer (Burl Burlingame, HyperScale Aircraft Galleries)

Technical problems plagued the Dole Race; of the 15 contestants, only eight took off and a mere two reached Hawaii. The Pabco Pacific Flyer was one of the non-starters. On the second attempt to take off, the plane rose briefly before crashing down. Livingston bought the wreck from the Paraffine Cos. for a reported $10 and had it rebuilt to his specifications. Renamed the Irving Cabin Monoplane, it was sold in 1929 to the Pacific Finance Corporation.

Livingston G. Irving’s brief Dole Race lift-off at Bay Farm Island, Oakland, 1927 (Burl Burlingame, Honolulu Star-Bulletin)

Livingston retired from the Army Air Force as a colonel. He was not the only illustrious son of a prominent father to have come out of the Slater-Irving connection.

Colby E. Slater (Putah Creek Letter, Fall 2004)

Captain Slater’s youngest son, Colby Edmund “Babe” Slater (1896–1965), was a world-class athlete. In 1911 and ’12, “Babe” led the Berkeley High School rugby team to county, regional, and state titles. In 1914, he went on to the University Farm School (now U.C. Davis), starring in rugby, football, basketball, and baseball.

Upon graduation in 1917, “Babe” enlisted in the United States Army and served with the Medical Corps in France and Belgium during World War I. After the war, he raised sheep, hogs, and feed in Woodland, CA. When the Olympic Games Committee allowed the formation of a United States rugby team for the 1920 Summer Olympics, “Babe” Slater was one of the first players chosen. To everyone’s surprise, the inexperienced U.S. team won the Olympic gold medal after beating France 8-0.

The 1920 U.S. Olympic rugby team. Colby Slater is second from right in top row. (Rugby Football History)

In the 1924 Summer Olympics, “Babe” was captain of the U.S. rugby team, which also included his brother Norman (1894–1978). Once again, the U.S. beat France to win the gold. Angry French fans rioted in the stands, and rugby was thereafter removed from Olympic competition.

Nevada State Journal, Reno, 19 May 1924

Around 1927 “Babe” Slater bought land in Clarksburg, CA and raised various crops for close to thirty years. Norman Slater, who had been a mechanic in San Francisco, joined his brother’s farming operations. Their elder sister, Marguerite (1891–1977), had preceded Colby at the University Farm School. On 21 November 1915, the Oakland Tribune announced her engagement:

Romance and Agriculture at University Farm

A course in agriculture doesn’t sound romantic, but there is the university farm. Its possibilities should not be under-estimated, and since society has gone in for farming, they may be recommended.

One of the engagements of the season in the Berkeley set is a romance of the farm at Davis, where students of the Agriculture College of the University of California study the vagaries of grain and barley in the prosaic pursuit of a practical knowledge of farming.

Last week the engagement of Miss Marguerite Slater, daughter of Mrs. L.M. Phillips of Benvenue avenue, Berkeley, to Mr. Albert P. Messenger of Los Angeles was announced. Both are graduates of the Agricultural College and studied scientific farming at Davis. Miss Slater graduated with special honors, the only girl who has had this distinction in the agricultural course. Mr. Messenger took the course to fit himself for the management of his big ranch in the Imperial Valley, where they will live after the wedding.

As farm owners, the Messengers lived a peripatetic life. In 1918, when their daughter Jean was born, they were living in Brawley, Imperial County, where Albert was farm superintendent for the Oakley Company. In January 1920, they lived on a dairy farm in Fresno County which they partially owned. In August of that year, their second child, a son named Powers, was born in Shasta County. The third child, David, was born in 1923 Los Angeles County. The 1930 census listed them in San Pedro, CA, where Albert worked as a supervisor in the Department of Plant Quarantine.

Living in the same area was Marguerite’s mother, Louise Slater Phillips. who had moved from Berkeley to Long Beach in the early 1920s. At the time of the 1930 census, the 62-year-old Louise was working as a cosmetician in a beauty shop. She would die in San Pedro in May 1938.

A Slater reunion, l to r: Norman, Marguerite, James Herbert & Colby (courtesy of James Edward Slater)

The only Slater to remain in Berkeley was James Herbert, who continued to work for the Paraffine Cos. as chief electrical engineer and raised a family in the house inherited from his grandmother at 1402–04 Spruce Street before moving north to 776 Spruce in 1932. Not far from him, at 1814 San Antonio Road, lived Fred Irving, who had forsaken Paraffine for apple juice.

776 Spruce Street, James Herbert Slater’s home from 1932 until his death in 1969. His second son, Philip, married Lorraine Zugg, the girl next door. (courtesy of the Slater family)

776 Spruce Street today (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

This is the second part in a series of articles on captains’ houses and the families that inhabited them.

A shorter version of this article was published in the Berkeley Daily Planet on 1 June 2007.


Copyright © 2007–2019 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.