Carrara – The State of the Art Cement Manufacturing Plant that Never Was

October 16, 2013 at 12:21 pm (Black and White Photography, Landscape Photography, Leah McDaniel Photography, Photography) (, , , , , , , , , )

Carrara Portland Cement Company Ruins with Bare Mountain through the windows.

Carrara Portland Cement Company Ruins with Bare Mountain through the windows.

At first glance, Nevada may seem like it is nothing more than a few sparkling cities separated by thousands of square miles of desolation. If you look closer you will find understated beauty and an astounding and sometimes wild history in its deserts and abandoned places. The precious metals and minerals that the fiercely tough and independent men and women wrenched from the bleak deserts and mountains fed the treasury and industry of America at a time when her explosive growth demanded it.

Mohave and Armagosa breezes whisper stories from days gone by for those who will listen, and sometimes a curious soul will pause long enough to hear them.

Such a place called out to us this past summer. Though it is commonly referred to as Elizalde Cement Plant ruins by the few who know of it, the shell of this abandoned complex was officially called the Carrara Portland Cement Company Plant. Like Coaldale, it excites the imagination of photographers and lovers of abandoned places. There is little information about it on the interwebs, and those that write about it guess about when it came into being, knowing that it died before it had a chance to live, but don’t really know why.

For the curious souls that want to know more, here goes. This post will be another long one, so settle in if you have the time. If not, have a look at the few photos and try to imagine what it was once like.

Carrara Portland Cement Company was incorporated in November of 1940. The articles of incorporation list John Lewis (a collector for the IRS become attorney) as president, Clyde C. Sherwood as secretary and O. J. Gallagher as treasurer, all of whom resided in San Francisco. The original stock was one million shares at a par value of one dollar each. Albert Hall was listed as the general manager, Arthur O. Perkins (of Colorado Springs) as vice president and director, J. M. Church Walker (cement specialist formerly with the Pacific Portland Cement Company) was construction engineer, and Harry E. Mick (a marble expert from the large quarries in Pennsylvania and former manager of Calneva Portland Cement Company) was superintendent of production.

Carrara Portland Cement Company Ruins looking toward the Mohave

Carrara Portland Cement Company Ruins looking toward the Mohave

The name Elizalde became attached to the plant as Angel M. Elizalde (president of Elizalde & Co., Ltd.) was listed as director. His prominent family name preceded him and he was the most famous of the group and Carrara’s largest investor.

By May 1941, Angel Elizalde had been elected as president and manager of Carrara Portland Cement Company, O. J. Gallagher secretary; M. Nolan, treasurer and A. Carlson, assistant secretary-treasurer. Lewis Beedy, Clyde Sherwood and John L. Lewis, prominent attorneys in San Francisco, constituted the board of directors. Emerson J. Wilson of Reno was the attorney for the corporation.

With Elizalde at the helm, Carrara had grand plans. Within a month of incorporation ten cement houses were to be built for housing of the working crew with thirty more to follow shortly. By April, 1941, excavations for the plant with a crew of forty-five men laying the foundations and pillars for the installation of heavy machinery was taking place.

Touted at the time as one of the most advanced in design of four in the country, Carrara was slated to produce two grades of cement: a standard commercial gray construction cement, and a special high quality white cement with the crushed white marble and white clay of its namesake from the Carrara quarry about a mile away.

The marble would be crushed and fluxed at the quarry before entering a 150 foot long by 10 foot in diameter revolving rotary kiln to be heated and calcined, from where it would be taken to a rotary cooling cylinder. From there it was off to a grinding mill to be made into the finished product for shipment. The plant would be powered by a 1100 horsepower steam engine using Diesel oil for fuel. They estimated production of 1000 barrels, or 4000 sacks daily (80 tons). Construction costs were quoted at a half-million dollars. There was a celebration “fiesta” slated to be held for all of southern Nevada residents upon the plant completion estimated sometime in August, 1941.

Nearby to the cement plant, The Interlocking Cement Block Co. installed a pilot plant to manufacture building blocks under the management of Arthur Perkins (remember him as vice president and director of Carrara) to produce blocks to be used in construction of the employees homes on site.

All of their grand plans fell to ash when a fire in July 1941, one month before production was slated to begin, swept through the complex. It completely destroyed the machine shop, storehouse, blacksmith shop and one of the field offices with a loss of $30,000.00. On August 27, 1941 the Reno Evening Gazette reported that the Carrara Portland Cement Company at Carrara closed down. They were having trouble procuring replacement parts for those destroyed in the fire. There was also some speculation that there was a “possible change in carrying on the work”.

The plant shutdown didn’t stop the company from re-electing officers in their annual meeting in September 1941. Angel M. Elizalde remained president; O. J. Gallagher, vice president; Clyde C. Sherwood, secretary; Charles A. Carlson, assistant secretary-treasurer and assistant secretary. John B. Lewis, Marcella Nolan, Thomas Beedy and Emerson J. Wilson comprised the board of directors. This seems to indicate that they planned to soldier on and rebuild. In fact, the Nevada State Journal reported on September 15, 1941 that “…the construction, with expansion of capacity over that originally planned will be completed under contract, it was indicated by company officers.”

By February 1942, Carrara Portland Cement Company (which had become a subsidiary of Elizalde, Ltd.) purchased 360 acres of land lying close to and north of the quarry to protect the corporation’s water rights.

In May, 1942, the cement company was surveying their mining claims and water rights. It was not operating its marble quarries but said to have been experimenting for treatment strategies other than marble, leaving that available for cement manufacture.

Bullet riddled walls of Carrara Portland Cement Ruins

Bullet riddled walls of Carrara Portland Cement Ruins

Angel Elizalde, as well as being heavily invested in the Carrara Portland Cement Company, was also invested in Nevada with other interests.

Angel was a member of an extremely wealthy and powerful Spanish family in the Philippines. Angel was one of six sons of Jose Joaquin Elizalde and Carmen Diaz Monreau (Joaquin Miguel [Mike], Federico, Manuel [Manolo], Juan Miguel, Carmench and Angel).

Their history is long and fascinating, but I will only touch on some of the highlights. The Elizalde family enterprises were involved in La Carlotta and Pilar Sugar mills, The Manila Steamsip Company, The Metropolitan Insurance Company, Samar Mining Company, Inc, The Elizalde Rope Factory, Inc. (from which they cornered the rope market, Elizalde Paint & Oil Factory, Inc., Tanduay Distillery (yes, the rum you know and love), Great Ridge Development Company, Central Azucarere del Norte and Elca, Inc., National Development Company, Cebu Portland Cement, and the founding of the first radio station in the Philippines – KZRH, among other interests such as gold mining. The brothers were also world class polo players.

Angel seems to have made plans to make Nevada his home. Though he divorced his wife, Marie (a wealthy socialite in her own right), in Reno in 1940, he purchased the Reno and Porter ranches (including the warm springs) about eight miles north of Beatty, Nevada. He was building what was described at a “magnificent residence, having decided to take up permanent residence in the state and to engage in other large operations within the borders of Nevada”. {Reno Evening Gazette May 10, 1941}

One of the other “large operations within the borders” was gold mining, as he purchased the Nevada Eagles Mine at the foot of Montezuma Hills, four miles west of Goldfield, in June, 1941. He had plans to open up sufficient tonnage of ore to justify the erection of a mill, as well. The mine was known for producing silver, gold and lead.

In addition, Angel purchased another Goldfield property: the Sundog avenue residence formerly owned by Miss McGinn which was originally built by R. L. Dick, a pioneer during Goldfield’s boom days. What he planned to do with the historic property is left up to speculation.

Despite all of the time, money and effort invested, the cement plant was never put into operation. The investment was abandoned, and the ruins stand on BLM land, tattooed with graffiti and pocked with bullet wounds.

So what happened?

Elizalde's dreams

Elizalde’s dreams

War happened. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii December 7, 1941 at about 7:55 AM. The US issued a declaration of war on December 8, 1941.
Fuel rationing began in May 1942. For a company that depended on Diesel fuel to operate, that would have been the final death rattle.

The Elizalde family was instrumental in the war effort in the Pacific theatre. The radio station that the family founded became a vital communication link. Two of the brothers were captured and imprisoned because of anti-Japanese activities. During their incarceration in Fort Santiago, Juan Elizalde was beheaded as a prisoner of war.

The timing was wrong for the Carrara Portland Cement Company. Though it came into being with a boisterous fanfare, it died with a whisper on its lips.

If you chance to visit, listen to the breezes.

It whispers still.

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