History

Special Exhibits

Granite Rock Company, founded February 14, 1900, is proud of its rich history, which parallels the growth and development of California’s Central Coast. Throughout the years, our family has been inspired by the core values originally established by Arthur Roberts Wilson. With vision, inspiration and remarkable stewardship, his grandson Bruce Wilson Woolpert used these values to build the company into a successful and highly-respected business within the San Francisco and Monterey Bay region.

The company retains a rich collection of photographs and historic documents which span the years. They reveal the stories of the people of Graniterock, who have built an enduring company as they have provided for their families and contributed to their communities.

Graniterock’s Virtual Museum is a compilation of favorites from our collection. Photos and documents from each decade are selected to illustrate important people, locales and events of the time. From time to time, Special Collections will be added to highlight particular eras or interests.

We welcome comments, corrections and additions to our archives. Construction is an essential part of our region's history, and we are glad to be able to share our story with you.

Learn more about Graniterock’s history in the History Brochure and Redwood City History Brochure

Granite Rock Company’s roots lie deep in the history of the central California coast. In fact, its story began more than 200 million years ago, when a mass of molten granite began to push up from the depths of the earth through limestone, sandstone and clay on the bed of an ancient ocean. The granite cooled, contracted and cracked, and was folded, broken, crushed and uplifted as the Pacific Plate slowly drifted north. The fortuitous location of the granite directly upon the San Andreas Fault would ease future mining of this pre-fractured rock.

In 1769 the Portola Expedition camped on the Pajaro River and noted the giant trees with red-hued wood growing nearby, but its granite deposit would not be noticed for another 117 years. In 1871, while plotting the coastal Southern Pacific Railroad near Chittenden Pass, nine miles east of the town of Watsonville, engineers found granite in their path. It was perfect for use as ballast to form railroad beds as track was laid throughout the state.

On the heels of the Gold Rush, adventurous people were arriving in the West looking for a new life. Teenager Joanna McIntyre traveled across the Isthmus of Panama on route from Kentucky, and in California she met and married Enoch Wilson, a San Francisco shopkeeper. They sent their son Arthur to study engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Arthur Roberts Wilson graduated with the MIT class of 1890 and returned to California to begin his career as a construction engineer. He served a term as Oakland City Civil Engineer, and ran Oakland’s Leona Heights Quarry. Meanwhile, in Santa Cruz County, another young man named Warren Porter saw a good business opportunity in the little granite quarry at Aromas. He asked Wilson to join him in buying the quarry, and to operate it as well. A.R. Wilson borrowed $10,000, moved with his wife and children to Watsonville, and incorporated Granite Rock Company on February 14, 1900.

In the beginning, quarry operations were tough. Men used sledgehammers, picks, shovels and wheelbarrows to break and load rock onto horse drawn wagons for the trip to the railroad line. Workers were paid $1.75 per ten-hour day to produce 12 tons of broken rock in sizes of 6 inch and minus. Men slept at the quarry bunkhouse and ate at the cookhouse. Breakfast was served at 5 A.M. – work started at 6 A.M. Relief came in 1903 when the quarry was automated with a steam powered No. 3 McCully crusher. It produced 20 tons of 2 ½ inch rock per hour. The granite was transported from the quarry face in horse-drawn, side-dump rail cars, still loaded by hand.

Then disaster struck. The San Andreas Fault had created the quarry, and now it destroyed what stood in its path. The 1906 Earthquake flattened the new steam crushing plant and put a halt to operations. Train rails were twisted, rail cars overturned, and the quarry operation generally devastated. A.R. Wilson joined the disaster relief effort and hauled all the bread he could find to help San Francisco’s hungry citizens. Fortunately, the earthquake’s devastation created a new demand for construction. Granite Rock Company, with California State Contractor’s License No. 22, built a number of important buildings in San Francisco and around the Monterey Bay area. Among those still standing are the old Gilroy City Hall and the old San Francisco Wells Fargo Building.

As automobiles began to replace the horse and buggy, street paving became a necessity. Granite Rock Company received its first street contract for placement of water bond macadam on Lake Avenue in Watsonville, from Walker Street to the northeast city limits. The total contract, including grading and gutters, amounted to $18,000. In 1915, the California State Legislature passed a bill known as the “Get Out of the Mud Act” to encourage street modernization, and Granite Rock salesmen were busy signing up neighborhoods to pave their streets.

At the Aromas Quarry, a Marion steam shovel was purchased to further mechanize operations, and in 1911 horse drawn carts were replaced with a Porter steam locomotive to haul broken rock from the quarry face to the crusher. Rock was loaded onto wooden sided Western Dump rail cars, and men climbed up to break the big rocks with a sledgehammer. If the rock wouldn’t break, it was dumped for the powder crew to dynamite. At San Francisco’s 1915 Panama Pacific Exhibition, Granite Rock Company won the Gold Ribbon for excellence in crushed rock.

World War I caused freight costs to skyrocket, and as a result local plants were developed so that rock could be sold in small truck lots. Granite Rock Company built bunkers along the railroad from South San Francisco to San Luis Obispo to supply local construction businesses. Construction was booming throughout California, and Granite Rock Company was expanding with the state’s growing needs. In 1916, a railroad was built to Southern California’s Doheny oil fields, and Granite Rock sent men and machinery as far south as Santa Maria to do the work. In 1918, Granite Rock built the highway connecting Castroville with Moss Landing. Employed on this “Cauliflower Boulevard” job was a worker from Salinas named John Steinbeck.

In 1922, A.R. Wilson became Granite Rock Company president and majority shareholder. Also that year, Wilson founded Granite Construction Company as a separate entity and became its first president. In 1924, Wilson started Central Supply Company, which distributed building materials. Granite Rock Company remained the producer of rock and sand products for construction projects and materials sales. Also in 1922, the 56 year old Wilson, recently widowed, married Anna R. Weiss of St. Louis, Missouri and began to raise a new family. In the meantime, A.R.’s son, A.J. “Jeff” Wilson, assumed the vice-presidency of Granite Rock. All was well until one day when driving home from work at the quarry, A.R. Wilson suffered a massive heart attack and died. His wife Anna, now 43 and with two toddlers to rear, assumed presidency of the company, and Jeff Wilson took over as General Manager. All of this took place just ten days before the stock market crash of 1929.

The Great Depression took a heavy toll on American business, and Granite Rock was no exception. Work was so scarce at the quarry that a whistle was blown to call men in when as little as one car of rock was ordered. The Board of Directors had to ask permission from the Federal Reserve Bank in order to give Christmas bonuses. Unable to offer regular employment, the company made interest free loans to cover medical bills. Struggling to keep its three companies afloat, the Wilson family sold its interest in Granite Construction to Walter Wilkinson and Bert Scott in 1936. South San Francisco, San Jose and San Luis Obispo branches of Central Supply Company were also sold.

However, in the 1930s progress did take place. Central Supply Company opened California’s first asphaltic concrete plant at Aromas, and began California’s first delivery of pre-mixed concrete in tiny dump trucks. This concrete went for projects such as the WPA’s construction of the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. World War II brought new activity to Granite Rock. Materials were needed to build Fort Ord, Camp McQuaide and the Navy airstrip in Watsonville. Many men were away serving in the armed forces and working in war plants, so workers came from Jamaica, and for the first time, if only temporarily, women were employed at the quarry. A new plant was built at Asilomar in Pacific Grove, and excavation of the mining face at the Aromas Quarry brought it down 100 feet, now level with the train tracks. A new primary crushing plant was built at the lower level, with a grand opening in 1946.

By the early 1950s, Jeff Wilson had left Granite Rock and Anna Wilson had retired. Her daughter, Mary Elizabeth (Betsy) Wilson Woolpert, took over as president. Again, it was a time for growth. Wet processing and loading plants were built at Aromas, and new plants were built at Salinas, Felton, Santa Cruz and Los Gatos. Central Supply purchased its first fleet of transit mixer trucks from Ford Motor Company in Salinas. Betsy Woolpert had two young children at home, and turned the company presidency over to her husband, Bruce G. Woolpert.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Granite Rock grew with the tremendous development of the Monterey and San Francisco Bay areas. Central Supply was merged with Granite Rock to form one company for construction materials production and sales, and expansion took place in sand, concrete, asphaltic concrete and building materials operations. Plants were opened in San Jose, Redwood City, Santa Cruz, Gilroy, Hollister, Salinas and Seaside. In step with the times, Graniterock installed its first computer – an IBM System 3. In the 1980s, the company undertook a major investment to completely modernize operations at the quarry in Aromas. First, a giant mobile primary crusher was designed and built – the world’s largest of its kind. Conveyors were installed to carry rock from the primary crusher to a new wash plant and secondary crushers. Finally, an innovative, computer automated truck and rail car loading system was unveiled at the rechristened A.R. Wilson Quarry.

The 1990s brought even more innovation. Graniterock Construction Division quickly became one of California’s premier heavy engineering contractors. New concrete, sand and recycling operations were added to the Graniterock family. But perhaps most significant was a fresh focus on meeting customer needs by providing precise, fast and flexible service. Attention to personal development and the empowerment of Graniterock People also improved quality and customer assistance. Graniterock was recognized for its accomplishments with awards for excellence in management and business practices, most notably in 1992 with the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award, the nation’s highest honor for business excellence. Fortune Magazine placed Graniterock on its annual list of the country’s 100 Best Places to Work. Commitment to community service, always a company priority, was expressed in new ways, such as “Pops and Rocks” Independence Day concerts to benefit the United Way, and support of excellence in education in Santa Cruz County public schools.

On February 14, 2000, A.R. Wilson’s grandson, Bruce Wilson Woolpert, welcomed President George H.W. Bush, Graniterock People, customers and friends to a gala 100th anniversary celebration. Preparing for a new millennium, expansive corporate offices were opened in Watsonville in 2002, and company sites were added in Oakland, Cupertino and Milpitas. A Graniterock Web site brought information to a new world of customers, and technical innovations were applied in ever more creative ways. During this decade, an impressive array of ground-breaking systems was developed to advance productivity and customer service. The cutting edge GraniteXpress 2 ™ automated truck loading system eliminated customer wait time and provided customers with the benefits of up to the minute quantity and productivity reports at quarry and asphalt locations. A unique sales and invoicing system consolidated invoices across product lines, and quality focused technological research and development delivered contractors and owners the performance results they wanted. Graniterock’s concern for the environment earned awards for community stewardship, and leadership in Green Technology helped solve customer problems in an environmentally friendly way.

Now, still family owned and operated, Graniterock locations extend from Oakland to Monterey. The values of quality, innovation and respect for people which were first established by the Company’s founder, Arthur R. Wilson, continue to lead Graniterock into the future.