California Here We Come
Published by Lucy Stewardson,
Located high in the Mojave Desert in California, the Oro Grande cement plant has a long history. The plant was built under the name Golden State Portland Cement Co., a company that had been established in 1907. It was one of a number built along the West Coast of the US at the end of the 19th Century and early 20th Century to take advantage of expansion in the region. According to Lesley et al., the plant had an initial capacity of 600 barrels/day (in contrast, the plant’s new finish mill produces 600 barrels in about 45 min.) and first cement was shipped in 1911.1 Writing in 1913, Charles Newhall placed capacity at 1000 barrels/day,2 while by 1924, capacity was placed at 5000 barrels/day.1
The plant was constructed on the site of a former gold mine (Oro Grande literally means ‘big gold’) and lime operation. Indeed, according to Joyce Wade, a historian of Route 66, which runs close to the Oro Grande plant, funding for the plant was secured on the promise to English investors that “in quarrying limestone for the cement plant, rich deposits of gold ore would be uncovered. Therefore, the investors would reap a double return on their investment: gold and cement.”3
A year earlier, in 1906, Southern California Cement Co. had been established by William G. Henshaw, constructing a successful cement plant in in Riverside, California. In 1909, the company began first production of cement and reorganised under the name Riverside Portland Cement Co.4 Riverside Cement – still led by Henshaw – would go on to purchase Golden State Portland Cement Co. in 1923; a year later, Henshaw died and “California lost one of its foremost upbuilders”.5
By 1928, as the US was entering the Great Depression, the company was renamed simply Riverside Cement Co. and the Oro Grande plant was shuttered. It would not be re-opened until 1942, when it was modernised and began producing cement for the war effort. Over the next few years, old production technology would be replaced with up-to-date technology, including five kilns, a waste heat recovery system, new silos, and grinding mills. Two further kilns were placed into service in 1959. For the next half century, the plant would operate with much the same equipment.
The company’s ownership over those years was less stable; according to Linss, the company would change owners and/or names eight times between 1958 and 1998, eventually ending up in the stable of Texas Industries.4 Texas Industries would merge with Martin Marietta in July 2014, before the Oro Grande plant – along with cement terminals in Stockton and San Diego – was purchased by the grandfather of all Californian cement companies, CalPortland Co., in August 2015 for US$420 million.6
- WESLEY, R.W., LOBER, J.B., and BARTLETT, G.S., (International Trade Press Inc., Chicago, 1924).
- NEWHALL, C.A., ‘Growth of Cement Industry on Pacific Coast’, Concrete-Cement Age (April 1913), pp. 196 – 198.
- Joyce Wade quoted in SOKYA, D., ‘Riverside Cement Company: Cementing Success’, Industry Today (October 2006), pp. 80 – 83.
- LINSS, D.J., ‘White Gold: Riverside Cement Celebrates 100 Years’, 10-4 Magazine (November 2006).
- According to Wesley, et al., “in addition to being interested in the manufacture of cement, [Henshaw] was actively identified with banking, salt, oil, mining and land development interests. To all of these enterprises he brought keen judgment and rare ability. He enjoyed the enviable reputation of having had no business failure to mark his long career. His greatest and most valuable contribution to the state of California, which he loved so well, was the last one he made, namely, impounding and distributing water over the semi-arid county of San Diego. He lived to see this crowning effort attain success.”
- ‘Martin Marietta Dispatches Principal TXI California Assets to CalPortland’, Concrete Products (6 August 2015). Accessed at: http://www.concreteproducts.com/news/9189-martin-marietta-dispatches-principal-txi-california-assets-to-calportland.html#.XK8YOOtKg3g
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