Tile Mosaic Reveals Catto Family’s Lost Marble Empire on Mission Street


Somewhat by accident, Bernal neighbor Michael Nolan has been doing a bit of historical sleuthing about our stretch of Mission Street near 29th Street. Here are some results from his recent geekery:

I’ve long been fascinated by the social spaces in our neighborhood – where folks used to gather for fun or faith, politics or performance. I was researching the history of Dance Mission Theater at 3316 24th & Mission and mistakenly found myself at 3316 Mission Street, which I discovered was Columbus Hall a century ago.

Here’s how the building looks today; Columbus Hall was the space above the current Cole Hardware:


Meetings of the South of Army Street Improvement Club were held here. Mayor Rolph and City Engineer O’Shaughnessy came to speak on various issues.

But before that, it was the office of John Catto and his granite & marble business, where he made tombstones and church altars in the yard behind the building.

In 1900, John Catto owned lots 2 and 25 in Block 6635, where Cole Hardware and the apartments above now stand, and where his office was at 3316 Mission:


John Catto’s Granite & Marble Monumental Works was around the corner on 29th Street (where the cinder-block plumbing supply building is currently located, and probably including the up-ramp to Safeway).

Here’s how his facility looked in 1904, on 29th Street looking east toward Mission Street and Bernal Hill:


Zoom and enhance:


Peek inside 3316 Mission today, and you can see “Catto’s” spelled out in the marble inlay of the entrance.

In 1900, John and Elvira Catto were living at 351 California Ave. (now Coleridge), just a block from Catto’s office and marble works. Here’s John & Elvira Catto in 1920, after they’d moved to San Mateo:


Some genealogical research led me to John Catto’s great-grandchildren. Earlier this month, they dropped by to see their family name memorialized.

This is Marc Catto, great-grandson of John Catto, and his daughter, Erin Colbert, great-great granddaughter, standing in the lobby of 3316 Mission St. Marc now lives in Santa Cruz County, and Erin lives in San Francisco:

Neighbor Michael says they were surprised to see the mosaic. Yet there it was: Their name, a permanent fixture on Bernal’s portion of Mission Street.

PHOTOS: via Michael Nolan. Cotto Marble Works enhanced detail, via SFMTA photo archive

15 thoughts on “Tile Mosaic Reveals Catto Family’s Lost Marble Empire on Mission Street

  1. A fascinating story. How this neighborhood developed is always interesting. When I did the research on my building, at 65-67 Coleridge, I found that it was built in 1896 by John B. Divine, where he lived before and after, who his children were, and their occupations, etc. Unfortunately, there were no historic photos, and I finally gave up trying to find descendants after calling many of the Divines in the phone book with no results.

  2. I’m always happy to read stories with “Coleridge Street” in them! I lived in three separate flats on Coleridge between 1975 and 2011, all within 6 houses of one another, 85, 87 and 132 I believe.

  3. Thank you Michael Nolan for a trip down memory lane. Seeing my Great grandfathers photo and business location brings back some lost memories, like sitting on his lap as a child of 4 or 5 and having him tell me that I did not look Italian to him. I was to pull on my nose each night after my prayers, I suppose to extend my nose and look Italian. He was a proud Italian having worked his way up from nothing to owning a marble quarry in Italy and a business here in San Francisco. He did not forget his roots either and gave extensively to his home town of Brenno Useria.
    I look forward to meeting you and seeing this location on my next trip to SF.
    Noel B. Catto

    • Cousin Noel, What a great story…I was only two when Great grandpa John passed. If I met him I surely don’t remember,

  4. Great story Michael! Thanks for reaching out and helping us find this piece of our family history.

      • I would like to contact Marc, if possible. I worked with him years ago at San Jose State and have lost contact with him. In an attempt to track him down I found this story and hope you will be able to help me.

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