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Memories

History of the Schiefer & Sons Building

Submitted by William E. Schiefer D.D.S. (retired), Yuma, AZ as a Letter to the Editor

Sometime near 1910 my grandfather, Frank Schiefer, Sr. built a three story brick building on the southeast corner of 8th Avenue and J Street to house Schiefer and Sons Store Fixture and Furniture Company. Frank Sr. was the "Schiefer" and the "Sons" were Frank Jr., Arthur, Paul, Ernest, and Carl, in that order. The building was just north of the Showley Candy Company and a half block east of Western Metal Supply Company. Both of these buildings are apparently being restored for their historical value.

Schiefer & Sons built fixtures and interiors for Marston's, Hamilton's, Walker's, Jessops Jewelers, Lyon Clothing Company, Grant Hotel, San Diego Trust and Savings Bank, First National Bank, Whitney's Department Store and many smaller downtown businesses. The El Cortez Hotel was entirely furnished by Schiefer & Sons including room furnishings, offices, counters, Lounges and restaurants and the elegant Skyroom with supper lounge and a spectacular view of downtown San Diego and the harbor with Coronado, Point Loma and the Pacific Ocean in the background. Schiefer & Sons also installed complete Piggly Wiggly grocery stores, and Safeway stores as far north as Fresno, California.

About the time that the U.S. entered World War One a French Pilot/engineer with the unlikely name of Robinson brought his design and working drawings for a fighter aircraft to Schiefer & Sons and my grandfather approved an arrangement to build the plane at the 8th and J factory. Robinson supervised the project and the plane was constructed in its entirety by Schiefer & Sons with the single exception of the Le Rhone engine which was imported from France. The 9 cylinder rotary Le Rhone engine was unique in that the crankshaft was stationary and the cylinders rotated around the crankshaft. Frank Sr. was a pioneer in bonding various woods for construction purposes. He developed techniques for wood laminates for both structural and appearance applications. This was quite probably the reason that Schiefer & Sons was selected by the French engineer/pilot Robinson to construct his fighter airplane design using light and strong wood laminates in the planes structural components, especially the propeller. The aircraft was completed in 1918 and was delivered to the US Army at Hickam Field in Coronado. It was first test flown by Robinson, then it was tested and flown by several army pilots. It was reported that the performance was superior to any fighter aircraft under production at that time.

My Dad, Ernest Schiefer worked on the entire project and was particularly involved with the design and construction of the wooden propeller. This was so successful that an unknown number of propellers were ordered and were constructed and sold for other aircraft until the end of the war also ended the production of aircraft for several years.

Paul Schiefer went to Washington D.C. in an unsuccessful attempt to get a contract to build the Schiefer/Robinson fighter for the US Army. He was told that aircraft would never be built on the West Coast because it was too far from US industrial centers and from European suppliers.

At about this same time a totally unexpected setback was experienced when pilot/engineer Robinson died suddenly in the influenza epidemic of 1918/19!

The World War I armistice ended any thought of building more fighter aircraft for the US Army!

The Schiefer/Robinson fighter was stored for several years at Rheem Field near the Tijuana River outlet when in the early 20's a dying Pacific hurricane came ashore there. The plane was destroyed with many other aircraft and army supplies that were stored in the hangers.

My Dad handed down to me all the remaining plans, details, production information and newspaper clippings and I decided to donate it all to the New San Diego Museum of Flight where it was stored for safekeeping. It was all lost in the fire in the El Prado building when many of the new exhibits were also lost.

Schiefer & Sons continued its success and in the early 30's it was decided to build a state-of-the-art single floor production facility on a site that was purchased on the salt flats between National City and San Diego. A railroad spur was built to bring in raw materials and a "U" shaped manufacturing facility followed. Materials were brought in at the end of one leg of the "U" and jobs went through the various departments around the "U" with the finished product emerging for shipment from the other leg of the "U".

The US Navy ended this arrangement by annexing the land and the factory and adding it to what is today the 32nd Street Naval Repair Base.

After losing its factory Schiefer & Sons set up a small facility in the North Park district to honor their contract to build wood parts for the B-24 bomber program and continued to meet production schedules until the end of World War II. After that armistice Schiefer & Sons disbanded and the brothers retired.

An unsuccessful trip to Washington DC, the untimely death of the engineer-designer, the World War I armistice, and a dying Pacific hurricane added together to end an entrepreneurial effort to build military aircraft in San Diego. Two decades later Consolidated Aircraft made San Diego the largest producer of military aircraft in the world. My questionable memory and a few articles and pictures in your archives are the only history of Schiefer & Sons and the Schiefer/Robinson Fighter.

Without the above information culled from my memory, I doubt that a casual reader of your archives on this subject would germinate any more interest than was displayed at the remodeling of the old Schiefer & Sons building at 8th Avenue and J Street.

2007 - Volume 38, Issue 3/4

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