San Mateo County Genealogical Society's Blog featuring society events, projects, meeting notes and other items of relevance to genealogists.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

The Quonset Huts of San Mateo County Part 2

Part 2

Margaret Melaney


Our readers discover more huts!


From Ruth Satterthwaite:

There are still some along El Camino Real in Palo Alto.

…The Old Pro at the intersection of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road, which was shut down in April 2007 and replaced by the AT&T retail store.

…. 4 Less Smog Check of Palo Alto at 3508 El Camino Real and Nine Minute Oil & Lube at 3839 El Camino Real, Palo Alto.  If you can get your hands on a copy of Over Time Palo Alto 1947-1980, by Ben Hatfield with Barry Anderson (ISBN 978-0-7385-4691-9, published in 2008 by Arcadia Publishing), you should find a number of aerial photos of Palo Alto, several of which show Quonset huts, only some of which still exist.  


From Barbara Ebel:

In the Belmont Corporation Yard on Sem Lane (off Shoreway Rd) the sign shop is housed
in a Quonset hut.  (I worked for the City of Belmont for 21 years.)  

Got it!  Thanks for the addition.  I see it's even got curtains in the windows.  Did you ever go in it?  I wonder what it's like in the summer.     Maggie

Yes, I've been in it.  I know the auto shop (building 

opposite)was hot in the summer.  I stored some material for a county-wide storm water program I chaired for a while in the auto shop.  The shop manager added ceiling insulation bit by bit and that helped.   I don't know if Rick (sign guy) did the same; probably.  They were all very good with construction and fixing things.        Barbara

Quonset huts started to appear as surplus after the war.  The earliest ads are from around 1945-6.  Notice that one article reports that a hut was washed up on the beach near Half Moon Bay and taken as salvage!

Articles from                                San Mateo Times,  27 June, 1946

San Mateo Times, 12 Dec. 1952

San Mateo Times, 3 May 1946

San Mateo Times 18 July, 1953

Because so many were located near the old San Carlos Airport, it was thought that they might have functioned as airplane hangars.  Did you know there was an airport on Old County Road?  Right where Home Depot is today!

It appears from the caption that there may have been huts here prior to the War.  I haven't been able to confirm that from maps.  According to the San Carlos Airport Association "In 1940 operations were moved near to Brittan and Industrial Roads. The airport was relocated to its present site on the east side of 101 in 1948"  So the airport would have been gone by the time huts were available as surplus.

Quonsets show up very well on Sanborn Maps.  If you're interested in the history of an area, these maps are invaluable for learning about buildings.

"The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps are a valuable resource for genealogists, historians, urban planners, teachers or anyone with a personal connection to a community, street or building.  The maps depict more than 12,000 American towns and cities.  They show the size, shape and construction materials of dwellings, commercial buildings, factories and other structures.  They indicate both the names and width of streets, and show property boundaries and how individual buildings were used.  House and block numbers are identified.  They also show the location of water mains, fire alarm boxes and fire hydrants."

Here are some of the San Carlos huts as shown on 1952 Sanborn maps.
These are the front and rear views of the auto shop at 1527 Old County Road.  The building which used to be to the right is missing. 

Another section shows the two huts on Center Street, front and side views.  You'll notice that they are all colored grey on the map.  The Sanborn map key identifies these structures as "Iron buildings".  This was certainly important from a fire insurance perspective, since it determined the risk involved in insuring, and also let the fire department know what to expect.  The maps also included locations of fire hydrants.

Perhaps you've driven past a few Quonset huts but never really thought about them.  But once you start looking, they'll pop up all over the Bay Area.  Here's another group I'm calling "Quonset Gulch", spotted by sharp-eyed Barbara Ebel.  They're at the corner of Howland and Winslow in RWC.

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