Q: When I bought my first Fresno home in the early 1970s I built a patio using adobe bricks from the Hans Sumpf Co. I really like the look of those bricks and over the years I used them on several more projects. Whatever happened to the company and what is its story?
Jeff Dippel, Fresno
A: Hans Sumpf was born in Coalinga in 1914, the son of German immigrants, according to a 2006 article in the Tile Heritage Foundation’s newsletter about the company’s closure.
Sumpf’s father was a geologist in Coalinga and Sumpf later studied engineering at Stanford University. “He loved the earth,” said one of his daughters, Laurie Sumpf Crosbie.
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Her father founded the brick company in Madera County in 1935. He developed a method for stabilizing adobe bricks that could withstand the elements, according to a 2005 Bee story. The company later branched out into making ceramics.
Sumpf partnered with George MacFadden and they “traded bricks for land and made more bricks,” according to Tile Heritage. When flood waters swamped Fresno in 1938, damaging many adobe houses in the Fig Garden area, Sumpf “was invited by many homeowners to make bricks in their front yards.” Another early job for Sumpf was the restoration work at Mission San Juan Bautista.
“For decades the Hans Sumpf Co. has been known for its sturdy adobe bricks, ceramics and premium clay favored by Fresno-area artists, including Margaret Hudson and Stan Bitters,” according to a 2005 Fresno Bee story.
In the early 1960s Sumpf hired Bitters, who created the company’s classic large, nubby thumb pots “by pushing coils of clay together with his thumb,” The Bee said. Another signature Bitters design was the handmade glazed tiles used in ceramic murals at many places, including the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, the Toyota Parts and Distribution Center in San Ramon and the Alcoa Training Center in Pittsburg.
1 millionThe number of bricks made yearly by the Sumpf Co. at its peak
Sumpf also invented a machine to mix and lay bricks. Crosbie said her father called the machine the “mud buggy.” The adobe bricks and pavers the company made were sundried, while the ceramics pieces made from adobe and different clays were fired, she said.
After Sumpf died in 1985, his wife, Louise, ran the company until her death in 2004. When the business closed its Madera plant in 2006 it was “one of the largest adobe brick makers in the nation,” The Bee said. At its peak, the Sumpf Co. made 1 million bricks annually.
Q: I recently read a book about Ernest and Julio Gallo and it mentioned that their father, Joseph Gallo Sr., had a ranch in the Fresno area back in the 1930s. What was the location of his ranch?
Gary Hughes, Fresno
A: According to “Blood and Wine: The Unauthorized Story of the Gallo Wine Empire” by Ellen Hawkes, Giuseppe “Joseph” Gallo was born in Fossano, Italy in 1882. He and his younger brother, Michelo “Mike” Gallo, came to America in the early 1900s and settled in Oakland.
The brothers grew up watching their parents make wine. After working at menial jobs, they formed the Gallo Wine Co., a wine distribution business, in 1909. Joseph went “on the road, visiting small wineries in the Central Valley where Italian winemakers were looking for distributors to whom they could sell their bulk wine,” Hawkes wrote.
In 1918 Joseph Gallo bought a vineyard in Antioch but gave up the poorly-producing vineyard three years later and moved to Livermore, where he ran his brother’s small cattle ranch.
Within a few years Gallo had bought two 20-acre vineyards near Livermore and built a house on his property.
In March 1932 Gallo bought “a rundown grape ranch” in Fresno, according to a New York Times story. The Fresno Bee reported the vineyard was at Arthur Avenue and Whites Bridge Road.
Gallo’s life took a tragic turn on June 31, 1933, when the 50-year-old allegedly shot and killed his wife, Assunta “Susie” Bianco, who was about 46, before turning the gun on himself.
According to The Fresno Bee, ranch workers Max Kane and Frank Madrigal found Susie Gallo’s body when they returned to the ranch about noon after delivering a load of hay to another ranch. “Apparently little had been done at the ranch after the hired men left,” the story said, which led investigating officers to believe the couple died about 9 a.m.
The workers found Susie Gallo’s body near the barn where she had been feeding the pigs and summoned authorities, the story said. Officers found Joseph Gallo’s body in the “dining alcove” of the home. There were no signs of struggle or foul play and there apparently wasn’t any discord between the couple.
The workers said Gallo had been despondent over his ill health, “but they noticed nothing strange in his manner when they had breakfast together,” the story said. Investigators found a $60 check for taxes written by Susie Gallo in the mailbox.
A Bee story on June 22, 1933, said the Gallos’ three sons – Ernest, Julio and Joseph – were ranchers in the Modesto area. Ernest Gallo said his father had recently been “morose and so despondent he would scarcely talk to him” and that his father “had been in increasing financial difficulties during the past four years.”
The Gallos’ funeral and burial were held in Modesto.
Q: My wife and I have owned a building at 1842 E. McKinley Ave. for 14 years that is a bar named Sandy’s Place. I am trying to find out what it was originally. I’ve heard it was built in 1942.
Olen Self, Fresno
A: There are no records for that address in 1942 in the Fresno city directories, but by 1944 neighboring properties in the 1700 to 1900 blocks of McKinley were occupied by the Blackstone Planing Mill and farmer R.H. Sohm.
There are no city directories for 1945 and 1946. The first directory entry for 1842 McKinley Ave. is for the Mason-Haven Real Estate office, J.C. Melton Electrical Construction and R.N. Whittington Building Materials.
A building in central Fresno that houses a bar was once an artificial arm factory.
In 1949 the building housed the State Department of Natural Resources Division of Fish and Game and the State Division of Real Estate.
In 1951 the building was home to Fresno Artificial Arm Co., whose president is listed as L.C. Thornton. An advertisement for the business in the directory says it was the “sole manufacturer of famous five-action Thornton hook with the thumb, manufacture and repair of orthopedic appliances, wheel chairs, invalid equipment and supplies.”
By 1953 the building had been repurposed as the home of Raleigh D. Faubion, the directory notes.
The building was converted into a long line of bars in 1955, starting with Dutch’s Ranch House Tavern. Dutch’s was gutted by fire in June 1968.
Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to email@example.com or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.