Was it a sign? History uncovered at San Pablo Ave. construction site

Photo Credit: Mike Kinney

By Mike Kinney

It was a sign. Actually, there were two signs.

At the construction site where a new Richmond-themed bar is set to open at 12513 San Pablo Ave. in Richmond, right next door to The Pup Hut, the community caught a momentary glimpse of the city’s past this week.

During my visit to the site where The Factory Bar is being built on Wednesday, I noticed two large, hand-painted signs for businesses that used the building in the past: Vista Day Real Estate and Golden Gate Bottle Exchange.

The signs were uncovered after work crews removed much of the facade of the commercial duplex property, which was built in 1948. Other past building occupants include SDW Construction, All Glass Window Company and Disney’s Nail Salon.

Fascinated by the signs, I began investigating their history. I discovered that Vista Day Real Estate company listed and sold new homes in what was then called the Grand Terrace  district, what we now call portions of the North & East neighborhood and East Richmond neighborhood. Vista Day Real Estate was active during the late 1940s to the 1960s.

Information for Golden Gate Bottle Exchange was more difficult to come by. I learned it was a bottle memorabilia collectors shop. According to the Old Bottle Magazine Annual Guide issue of June 1971, the Golden Gate Bottle Exchange was opened six days a week from 8 am to 5 pm, closed on Sundays.

They were a specialty bottle memorabilia shop that sold decanters figures that once had Jim Beam bourbon whiskey produced in Clermont, Kentucky, inside them. Also sold there were Erza Brooks decanters that contained genuine American bourbon from Bardstown, Kentucky. The shop also sold entire sets of miniature collector’s bottles.

The Ezra Brooks decanters were highly prized by memorabilia collectors. They were shaped like football and baseball players, Elvis, wild animals and racing cars that all contained Kentucky bourbon.

The Golden Gate Bottle Exchange had such a following with collectors in the Richmond-San Pablo area that it had its own social collectors club called the Golden Gate Erza Brooks Bottle & Specialties Club. The club met the third Wednesday of each month at the old Lucky Lanes Bowling Alley where the San Pablo Casino currently is located. The club would publish a monthly news letter as well.

Unfortunately, the hand-painted facade signs for the old businesses had to be torn down, due in part to extensive dry rot. This was the photo taken Thursday by photographer and community advocate Don Gosney.

In its place, however, new history will be made. The Factory Bar will feature an outdoor patio and aims to serve signature cocktails named after Richmond legends along with Richmond-based beers, wine, art and entertainment. The plans include significant physical improvements to the building, including to the facade and interior.