.Sign Language: An Abandoned Brick Warehouse Speaks Volumes

Ghosts of sign painters, cannery workers and brickmakers will forever haunt the corner of Third and Keyes.

Quite possibly everyone’s favorite abandoned brick warehouse, the former Herbert Packing Company building still stands along the southern side of Keyes between Third and what used to be Fourth Street. There is no way for a local explorer to avoid tumbling down various rabbit holes of history as he pieces together the bricks of yesteryear.

The celebrated crossroads in question is most often traced back to George N. Herbert, who operated a substantial packing company, previously at a few locations on Lincoln, before he acquired the George Frank Canning operation and made this gargantuan brick complex his command center starting in 1919. It looked a little different in those days. The brick buildings were still present, but a small wooden two-story tankhouse structure stood right on the corner.

Less than eight years later, the building became property of the Pacific Coast Canning Company. If you look on the east side of the building, you can still see what looks like multiple layers of ghost signs left over from both Pacific and something before it. They remain some of the most killer ghost signs in San Jose. That’s an actual term. Ghost sign. I didn’t make that up.

But we can go back even further.

On Sept. 30, 1897, a builder’s contract was filed to construct a two-story frame dwelling for Henry Dreischmeyer at the southeast corner of Third and Keyes for $1,348. Dreischmeyer was Santa Clara County’s most established brickmaker of his day, a pioneer in his profession, at least locally. He lived in the house, at 1100 S. Third, until his death in May of 1916. According to a report in the San Jose Mercury Herald, Dreischmeyer’s remains were laid to rest at Oak Hill—then essentially the southern fringe of town—and a rousing reception unfolded at the Third and Keyes house, where floral bouquets filled the rooms, a great number of friends attended, and where “gentlemen of the Masonic quartet sang the songs with great feeling and sympathy.”

A pillar of the community, Dreischmeyer built one of the first major brickmaking kiln operations in San Jose, which was then located across the street, north of Keyes and east of Third. On that same block nowadays, one finds a residential complex called the Brickyard Condos, pretty close to where the old kiln operation once was.

Sadly, Henry’s widow died later the same year, also in the corner residence at Third and Keyes. Both originally immigrants from Germany, the Dreischmeyers were married for 53 years and produced several offspring, including a son who became a prominent local detective in the DA’s office for many years. Their ghosts are probably stalking the landscape as I write this.

WRITING ON THE WALL Treasured sign painter Rey Giese is behind the signs advertising one of the building’s tenants. Photo by Gary Singh

It doesn’t stop there. Most local history nerds and writer-vagabonds will probably identify this giant still-existent brick warehouse by the hand-painted green and white signage added much later, which says: JTR & Co. Area Distributors. If one knows the legacy of treasured San Jose sign painter Rey Giese, his signature style is obvious, although you may have to shuffle by on foot to see it. His name is right there underneath the JTR logo at Third and Keyes. Everything else left over from that business—the office and parking signs, plus the numbers above the receiving docks on all sides—are the work of Giese. The words and numbers have faded over the decades, but they clearly belong to him.

When Giese passed away in 2013 at the age of 93, he had been one of San Jose’s master signmakers nearly all his life. Giese’s work still remains all over town. He inspired generations of not just signmakers but also painters and tattoo artists.

At Third and Keyes, it really seems like the ghost of Giese is among those watching over this ancient crossroads, where Jim Salata of Garden City Construction is now currently using the old warehouse for storage. I can’t think of a better steward.

One can tumble down any number of rabbit holes on this one. I have revealed only a smidgeon of the history. The rest is up to you, my fellow explorers. If you need help, just listen to the ghosts.

Gary Singh
Gary Singhhttps://www.garysingh.info/
Gary Singh’s byline has appeared over 1500 times, including newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. An anthology of his Metro columns, Silicon Alleys, was published in 2020.


  1. Nice article giving information on this building always seen since I a kid … thank you

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