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East Bay Then and Now: The Slater-Irving Connection Was Sealed in Paraffine

By Daniella Thompson
Friday June 01, 2007

When Captain John Slater died in January 1908, a newspaper 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 confirm that the Slaters suffered a reversal of fortune as a result of the captain’s death. Louise Slater (1867–1948) remarried, but her second husband, Edward Phillips, lived for no more than three or four years. In 1912 or ’13, Louise sold the big house, keeping the smaller one. 

At the time, daughter Marguerite was a student at UC, 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 tenant, Andrew H. Irving. 

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. 

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 1402–04 Spruce Street, a few doors to the north of his mother’s property. This two-flat Victorian cottage would soon be acquired by the Slaters and remain under family ownership until 1970. 

The Paraffine Paint Company of San Francisco manufactured specialty paints, building papers, and ready roofing materials under the Pabco and Malthoid 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. 

Malthoid’s popularity extended as far as Australia and New Zealand, where many bungalows were being constructed. 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. The visit to Australia lasted close to a year, and Samuel was accompanied by his wife. 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 (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 UC in 1879, was still registered as a student when the census taker came calling the following year. 

Samuel married Laura Sell in 1886, and the couple settled in Cow Hollow, San Francisco, raising two sons. In 1901, Samuel served as president of the Mechanics Institute and an ex-officio UC 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 December 2, 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. 

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. 

Livingston G. 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. After his stint as orchard keeper, 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. 

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 Paraffin 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 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. Captain Slater’s youngest son, Colby E. “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 UC Davis), starring in rugby, football, basketball, and baseball. 

U pon 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 Olympics, “Babe” Slater was one of the first players chosen. To everyone’s surprise, the inexperienced U.S. team won the gold after beating France 8-0. 

In the 1924 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. 

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. The only Slater to remain in Berkeley was James Herbert, who continued to work for the Paraffine Cos. and raised a family at 1404 Spruce St. before moving north to 776 Spruce in the 1930s. Not far from him, at 1814 San Antonio Road, lived Fred Irving, who had forsaken Paraffine for apple juice. 


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



Photograph by Daniella Thompson.  

This house at 1841 San Antonio Road was the home of Fred E. Irving, elder son of Berkeley mayor Samuel C. Irving.  



Daniella Thompson publishes berkeleyheritage.com for the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA).