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Lathrop’s iconic landmark bites the dust
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Down goes the old Libbey-Owens-Ford’s red-and-white tower on Friday. The tower was completed in 1965. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO/Bulletin Correspondent

When Jack Snyder came to work at the Libbey-Owens-Ford glass plant in Lathrop, the iconic red-and-white tower was not even built yet. But it was in the process of being erected.

That was more than half a century ago —1962 to be exact. That year, Manteca’s former mayor joined the exodus of employees from the plant’s Ohio facility to go west to California and work at the newly opened company branch in Lathrop.

“There was no tower then. It was not finished until 1965,” recalled Snyder who worked three decades for LOF — four years in Ohio, where he started out sweeping floors, and 26 years in Lathrop working as industrial relations manager.

On Friday, a tall crane with gigantic grapple claw began knocking down the tower to the ground, removing a 300 feet or so bump that dominated Lathrop’s horizon for nearly six decades.

“It’s kind of sad to see what was a landmark disappear, but sometimes this is an example of something giving way to growth. It’s time for it to come down,” said Snyder who used to drive “by there frequently” just to get a nostalgic glimpse of the red-and-white structure. The last time he did that was a week ago.

Why a red-and-white tower?

There’s actually a reason for the tower’s two distinct colors.

“That was the symbol for years for the glass plant because of the colors. They stood for something,” Snyder explained.

The red color was for blood, the white for bandages. “In the old days, all the glass was handled” by workers, he said. They were about 12 feet high or longer in width. “That was all man-handled by people so there was a lot of injuries.”

The eye-catching tower was not just a symbol. Snyder said “that was a practical part of the (glass) operation.”

It was located at the end of what was called the tank where glass was actually made, and where the temperature was high to melt the sand and other ingredients used in the making of the glass.

Outside, on the side of the tower was a ladder, used by an employee authorized to climb the tower so as to check the warning lights at the top for aircraft. The warning lights were required by law.

Employees who climbed up the tower had to wear a safety belt as a safety measure so that if they fell, they could only drop a couple of feet.

Since safety was part of his duties, “I had occasion, rarely, to test the equipment. But I didn’t climb all the way (to the top), I tell you. No way,” the 92-year-old Snyder recalled with a laugh.

As part of his job, “we had to make sure that the equipment was tested,” he said.

Former Lathrop mayor Bennie Gatto, who was born and grew up in Lathrop, shared Snyder’s sad sentiments about the iconic LOF tower.

“It’s kind of sad to see it go. I’ll miss it. Like they say, it was a landmark. You knew, when you saw it, that you were in Lathrop,” he said.

Seeing it being knocked down to the ground was not totally unexpected, said Gatto who lives just three blocks from the old LOF.

Once the furnace, which was part of the structure, was torn down, he said the tower “became a hazard. I don’t know why, but maybe the furnace part had stability to it or something.”

Gatto’s wife Joyce mirrored her husband’s reaction to the tower in the process of being erased from the city’s horizon.

“You hate to see something that big go down. I’m kind of sad,” she said.

History of LOF; the new owners

In 1928, Libbey-Owens became the first company to produce automotive laminated safety glass, winning a contract to supply the Ford Motor Company with windshields for the Model A. In 1930, Libbey-Owens merged with the Edward Ford Plate Glass Company to form Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Company.

LOF sold its glass business and name to the Pilkington Group in April of 1986. Pilkington is a multinational glass manufacturer headquartered in the United Kingdom, according to Wikipedia. The company’s tree remaining business units — Aeroquip, Vickers, and Sterling were retained and the holding company was renamed TRINOVA Corporation. Sterling was later sold; in the 1990s, the company adopted its two business unit names to become the Aeroquip-Vickers, Inc, until it was absorbed by Eaton Corporation in 199. The company retained the LOF name as part of the Pilkington Group. In 2006, Pilkington was acquired by Nippon Sheet Glass, abandoning the LOF name to globally rebrand under the Pilkington name.

LOF, at one time, produced auto glass for Toyotas and GM vehicles manufactured at the former NUMNI plant in Fremont that Tesla now operates.

In August 2015, two years after it was shuttered, Reynolds and Brown and Jones Development Company acquired the one-million-square-foot Pilkington building and grounds for $11.75 million. The new owners later announced that Kraft Heinz would be leasing 723,000 square feet of the facility to be used as a distribution center for its tomato processing facilities in the area.

Tesla stores vehicles prior to be shipped to buyers at the former glass plant site where they are also planning to lease a large building yet to be constructed to serve for part of their car manufacturing operations.