The forgotten lumberyards of El Cerrito

Builders Emporium was one of the biggest promoters in its day, advertising frequently in newspapers and giving contractors free booklets.

There was a lot of home building going on in El Cerrito and nearby areas in the years before and after World War II, and a lot of businesses selling the lumber and supplies to make it possible.
In the days before Home Depot, El Cerrito alone once had five different lumberyards along San Pablo Avenue, three of them pictured below. Lumberyards not pictured are Federal Builders Supply at 1434 San Pablo Ave. and Klier Bros. Lumber at 1138 San Pablo Ave. Later, there would be M.P. Dolan Lumber at 11106 San Pablo Ave. next to St. John’s Church and J.P. Dolan Lumber on Central Avenue just outside the city limits in Richmond (recently torn down).

El Cerrito Lumber at 1206 San Pablo Ave. (now 10812 San Pablo Ave.) was one of the oldest building supply concerns in town. It was purchased during World War II by Elmer Freethy, who needed a source of scarce building materials for his contracting business. The original building underwent a major remodel by Elmer's son, Jack Freethy, in 1996. The business, which had grown over time to include major portions of several blocks, closed in 2000 and the remodeled original building was moved across San Pablo and is now the Vitale Building.

Griffin Lumber at 1322 San Pablo Ave. (now 10944 San Pablo Ave.), was one of the properties cleared to build the Civic Plaza apartment complex.

Builders Emporium was at 1770 San Pablo Ave., near what is now the Del Norte BART station. (Photo courtesy of El Cerrito Historical Society)

The lumberyards and other businesses such as the TEPCO porcelain factory were served by the Santa Fe rail line that ran on the route now used by BART. This view is looking where the Del Norte station is today.

Chris Treadway