SF Bay Homes Frank’s Tannery in Redwood City, CA

Posted on: December 28th, 2018 | By Cliff Keith | redwood city ca homes, Thursday Historical Information | No Comments

SF Bay Homes Frank’s Tannery in Redwood City CA

Here’s a brief history about one of Redwood City’s major employer before the internet explosion. Growing up in Redwood City the biggest employer was Frank’s Tannery. Many families depended on Frank’s Tannery to make sure they had food on their table and clothes on their backs. Frank’s Tannery was the structure everyone in town knew. Residents would point their finger towards Frank’s Tannery to any stranger visiting lovely Redwood City. As with most things there comes an end. Frank’s Tannery was no exception. 

Before the Civil War

On September 9, 1859, Wentworth and Company, incorporated and built a leather tannery in the salt march lands south of Embarcadero Creek, towards the bay of the settlement knows as Redwood Landing.SF Bay Homes Frank's Tannery in Redwood City, CA

Frank’s Tannery c.1917Today that would be where Toy R Us and the shopping center across from K-Mart sits. 

Wentworth and Company accumulated massive debt with their business practices thus becoming over extended to Joseph Frank & Company Joseph Frank was a San Francisco firm supplying hides to tanneries and the open market.  Eventually, for not being able to repaid their debt Joseph Frank became owners of Wentworth and Company.

Though the name was not changed for some time. In 1888, it became S.H. Frank & Company named after Joseph’s oldest son Samuel H., who started running the business in 1879. After the Frank’s took possession of the Wentworth tannery, they enlarged it and it became on of Redwood City’s largest employers.  It also rose to the distinction as being the biggest tannery on the West Coast.

Operations keyed to  the tannery took place around the waterfront, where ships laden with tan oak bark would arrive from S.H. Frank’s land on the Southern Oregon coast. Later, from Humboldt and Mendocino Counties. Hides came from local ranches initially, but as the San Francisco peninsula drew more population and less farmland was available Frank had to relied on other sources.  One of the major contributors to Frank’s Tannery initial success were various Wars. There was a high demand for leather during war times and Redwood City answered the call for the needs of several Armed Forces around the world.

World Impact

SF Bay Homes Frank's Tannery in Redwood City, CA
Tannery in process

During the Russo-Japanese War, Frank’s Tannery supplied the leather for soles of boots for the Japanese Army and Navy.  This was probably the first large contract for leather to an emerging Japan, where wood was still used for shoe soles.  (The Frank’s “Loggers Oak” brand leather was superior and none other met the United States government’s standards for it ski boot during WWII).

After the war, operations at Redwood City declined due to a lack of local hides and the fact that new synthetics were capturing the leather market.  In 1959, Frank’s Tannery closed. Prior to 1968, there were many old wooden buildings, a tall brick smokestack, and a steel water tower.  In 1968 much of the old tannery complex fell victim to a spectacular evening fire.  Those structures, which escaped the fire, became condemned and demolished in 1970.

The water tower was the only exception, which remained for few more years. The old ship channel once a pipeline for tan bark and other supplies required in operations at the tannery, still remain today. The creek has shoaled and is not its former width and depth. It is now isolated from the bay by Bayshore Freeway aka HWY-101, which would have been the eastern edge of the site.

Many changes

SF Bay Homes Frank's Tannery in Redwood City, CA
Painting of Frank’s Tannery in Redwood City, CA

There has been many changes to the land know as Frank’s Tannery. Currently there is shopping mall housing Clothing stores, Sporting Goods Store, Deli’s, and a Stake House. The Toy Store Toys-R-Us is scheduled to close in 2019. There is a good chance a developer will appear that will want to develop the land. Of late that development is usually a mix us concept with retail, housing, and parking. With the current flow of increased development of the Redwood City downtown core I would say the sprawling landscape of ships and barges, 4th of July Rodeos, and a Christmas shopping paradise for children are a thing of the past. 

However, the history of Redwood City Frank’s Tannery and what it did to provide employment and a way of life will not be forgotten. The rich history of Redwood City CA and its contribution to the World will never be forgotten.

When the Frank’s Tannery sold in the 1970’s it sat on 19 acres. The postal address was 1601 and 1605 Veteran Blvd. Redwood City, CA 94063. Frank’s Tannery in it last days had an owner, Benjamin Swig, of 950 Mason (Fairmont Hotel), San Francisco, CA 94106. Thank you to Jeffrey D. Rhoads. Mr. Rhoads is credited for most of the initial research which in part was used to establish the Historic Landmarks Element of the Redwood City General Plan, Appendix B, September 1976.  

Real Estate Site

Obviously, this is a real estate site and I am looking to provide a service to the community in the form of a Realtor. I have lived, worked, and served the city of Redwood City since 1969. I know Redwood City and I have 43+ year of real estate experience in and around Redwood City. I know it’s a different world and Redwood City 1950 does not exist. I do however, know the nooks and crannies of Redwood City and can find you the best price for your home no matter if you are selling or buying. I have been to this Rodeo before!

What to do next?

If you have a need for a Realtor or if you know of anyone in need of a Realtor there’s a simple 3-Step Process you can do to help yourself or them out…

  1. Pull out your cell phone
  2. Look up my number (hint 650-346-7366)
  3. Call me immediately

When you call we will discuss what is most important to you when selling or buying a home. If I can help you I will tell you. Likewise, if I can’t help you I will tell you. Put my 40+ years of experience in your corner. I haven’t seen it all but I sure have seen a lot! My expertise is mainly in residential home and residential income properties. If you are going through a family member’s estate and need help with valuation to present to the Courts I can help. If you want to understand an IRS 1031 Tax-Deferred Exchange I can help. If you need names of various vendors for work around your home I can help. All you need to do is the 3-Step Process listed above. 

Thank you. Your friend in the real estate business, Cliff Keith


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