A History of Chinese Americans in California:
Bay Side Canning Company
The town of Alviso is located in the South San Francisco Bay region, near San Jose.
There are seven buildings, groups of buildings, or sites associated with the Bay Side Canning Company in Alviso.
1. The cold storage plant (formerly Cribari Winery), a vernacular brick commercial building with a wood shake roof on the southwest corner of Hope and Elizabeth streets.
2. The main cannery (formerly Alviso Watch Factory), four brick and concrete buildings with Mission Revival details, on the northwest corner of Hope and Elizabeth streets, owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
3. An office, a small two-story building (greatly modernized), on the southeast corner of Hope and Elizabeth streets.
4. "China Camp," a two-story building (greatly modernized), on the northeast corner of Hope and Elizabeth streets (now called the "Mudflat Refuge").
5. The site of the apple drier, on the southeast corner of El Dorado and Taylor streets.
6. The site of the Tom Foon Chew Home, on the northeast corner of El Dorado and Taylor streets.
7. The site of cabins, on Mill Street between Hope and El Dorado streets.
The forerunner of the Bay Side Canning Company of Alviso was the Precita Canning Company at Broadway and Sansome streets, San Francisco.
This was founded about 1890 by Sai Yin Chew. Officials and the board of directors were all of Chinese ancestry. After the San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906, the Precita Canning Company moved to Alviso, and reorganized under the name of the Bay Side Canning Company.
The company rented the Alviso Watch Factory building and later bought the premises. Surrounding land was bought to build warehouses, cabins, and boarding houses for the laborers. A two-story building was built to house 100 Chinese American laborers who came from the San Francisco Bay area.
The Bay Side Canning Company plant at Alviso started operations with primitive canning methods and equipment, of which most was hand-made. Steam was supplied by old, donkey-type boilers; open vats were used in processing fruits and vegetables. Hand seamers and hand soldering were used in canning the processed food.
Thomas Foon Chew, son of Sai Yin Chew, began working for his father in 1906. Due to his progressive ideas, the cannery began a period of rapid growth that made it the third largest cannery in the United States at the time. Only Del Monte and Libby were larger. Chew devised a method for washing tomato boxes before their return to the fields, and he bought a tugboat and a barge to transport goods. He also bought land near Yuba City, Sutter County, to grow peaches, and near Dos Palos, Merced County, for rice. When Thomas Foon Chew died in 1931, his funeral attracted 25,000 people and was said to have been the largest in San Francisco's Chinatown.
Raw products were delivered to the cannery by horses and wagons from the Santa Clara Valley. More distant products came by train or boat from the San Joaquin and Sacramento Delta. Commodities canned at the Alviso plant were spinach, asparagus, cherries, apricots, plums, peaches, pears, tomatoes, catsup, tomato sauce, hot sauce, tomato puree, fish sauce, fruits for salad, vegetables for salad, and fruit cocktail.
The Isleton Plant in Sacramento County was built in 1919 for canning spinach and asparagus, and in 1921, Bay Side began canning green, rather than white, asparagus. The Mayfield Plant in Santa Clara County was built around 1924. The Alviso plant was sold in 1936, but some of the innovative ideas developed by employees of Bay Side Canning Company are still used by most modern canneries.