An Illustrated History of Bradbury & Bradbury Part 7

Posted on | November 7, 2008 | No Comments

Time had passed, and having exhausted the $10,000 his family had loaned him to start up the business, Bruce was now broke, hungry and desperately in search of a job. He tried what he thought might be the best local option for earning a decent paycheck – he went to apply with the Teamsters down at the port of Benicia. Entering their office, he nervously inquired about any open positions but he was told, rather abruptly, that there was nothing available. Already being in a depressed state, Bruce broke down and sobbed. Naturally taken aback by his reaction, the receptionist did her best to console him by asking for his name and number in the event that something did become available.

To his surprise, they called the next day to offer him a job driving newly delivered cars off the cargo ships from Japan. He now had gainful employment and time to build up some cash reserves. He also felt hopeful again, as interest in his wallpapers slowly began to emerge.

Now while Bruce was parking new Toyotas on the lots around the port, he couldn’t help but admire some neglected Victorian-era factory buildings up on the bluffs and think, “Wow, wouldn’t it be great to have the company in one of those buildings someday!” Well not long after, he was told of plans being made to divide up the interiors of the century old U.S. Army workshops for artist’s studios. Bruce thought he was dreaming!

He contacted the owner to ask about the space available. Then, after securing another loan, this time from his old employer Wayne Carlson, he negotiated a lease and began setting up shop in one of the large upstairs studios. For the next several weeks he and a carpenter began to build what would be his first four printing tables, each over ninety feet long. He also set up the front office and with some help from a friend, (who had just purchased one of the first computers made by another northern California start-up called “Apple”) created his first brochure featuring his 12 new wallpapers.

At first it all seemed to be going according to his plan. However that first full year in the factory (1982) proved to be a very slow one for the fledgling business. Bruce had newly hired John Burrows, an architectural historian (who later launched his own successful company), two part-time printers, an artist (yours truly) and a secretary. If it weren’t for Burrow’s generously meeting one month’s payroll out of his own pocket things may have begun to unravel. Another obstacle: Bruce had hoped to draw his first major clients from San Francisco. Being located in Benicia, however, a small town with a small population, surrounded by refineries and having little in common with the larger and more cosmopolitan “City by the Bay”, Bradbury & Bradbury had a real image deficit.

But that was soon to change. Bruce’s friend and ardent supporter, Clem Labine, founder and then editor of the The Old House Journal, was asked by the New York Times if he knew of any interesting stories related to the growing interest in restoration. Labine told them of Bruce’s story and his struggle to get Bradbury & Bradbury off the ground. They loved the story, published an article, and soon the small company had the cachet it needed to bring more of San Francisco’s Victorian homeowners to Bruce’s humble doorstep. ¬†As more of the press came calling Bruce’s reputation as a craftsman, along with his dream of starting an art wallpaper company, became established.


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