Thursday, October 27, 2011

West Berkeley Macaroni Factory

It's not generally known, but this unassuming building on Fifth St. in Berkeley once housed the premier macaroni factory in the greater Bay Area.  The history of the factory, and it's founder, Simone Marengo, read like an exaggerated recounting of the American Dream.  Marengo was a poor Italian immigrant who arrived in the Bay Area in 1888, twenty years old and the head of an extended family.   Within four years he was the owner of a large home in West Berkeley, and within twenty he is shown as having owned numerous properties, both residential and commercial, was considered the unofficial "mayor" of West Berkeley, and was generally a man about town.

The macaroni factory rose out of the destruction following the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.  In the years immediately following the disaster the East Bay saw an enormous boom as families and businesses relocated away from the destruction in the city.  West Berkeley in particular saw a sharp spike in Italian residents and it was this demographic trend that inspired Marengo to open a macaroni factory in the East Bay.  Though it opened in 1907, the advertising copy for the West Berkeley Macaroni Factory touted its fifteen year history and the expertise of its highly trained staff (in reality, recent immigrants from Italy).  The West Berkeley Macaroni Factory remained in business until 1920, when the building was sold, but Marengo had long since left the partnership.  Always on the look out for a new money-making opportunity, he had stepped back from the day-to-day management of the macaroni factory as early as 1908 and concentrated on his investments and properties in Redding, CA.  The building on Fifth St. changed hands several times throughout the first half of the 20th century and was designated a Berkeley historical landmark in 1991

Getting There By Bike...
West Berkeley is easy to ride through.  There are a number of bicycle boulevards that criss-cross the area and I've never had a problem getting around. If you approach from inland, the best way to get to this site is to follow Channing towards the water.  Turn right at Fifth St. and ride north for two blocks.  The building in on the block between Bancroft and Allston.  The Church of the Good Shepherd, Episcopal is a few blocks away at Hearst and 9th.  The prow of the U.S.S. Indiana is located very close near the 4th street shopping district.

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