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Keith George Bipes

Published: Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 12:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 12:56 p.m.

Keith George Bipes, a Healdsburg retiree who spent much of his younger life sandblasting at beloved San Francisco landmarks as part of renovations, died Nov. 7 after a couple of years of failing health. He was 83.

WL Bipes, at one time the only union sandblasting shop in San Francisco, worked on a number of famous structures, including Ghirardelli Square and pier buildings along the waterfront.

Bipes' son, Chris of Santa Rosa, said his father and his crews installed the original blue epoxy coating atop the roof of the 50-year-old Marin Civic Center, a National Historic Landmark designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Bipes was proud of his work and worked long hours to support his wife and four children.

“When I was a kid growing up, my father worked all the time,” said his daughter Gigi Mayer of Novato, “He had to work a lot to make sure we were taken care of.”

Bipes was born in St. Paul, Minn., but moved to San Francisco with his parents when he was 5. He attended St. Ignatius High School.

He married his wife, Carolyn, in 1951 and was drafted into the military shortly after that. Bipes served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War as a diesel mechanic. His brother Alan also was a Marine.

After Bipes returned to the United States, he started working with his father, who had begun the sandblasting business while his sons were in Korea.

Alan joined the family business a couple of years later after he got out of the service. The business became successful and there was never a shortage of renovation work in San Francisco.

The company also did a lot of steam cleaning and waterproofing, including jobs on intricate granite work on the bottom half of famous San Francisco hotels.

In 1981, his doctor discovered dark spots on his lungs which Bipes concluded were likely brought on by years of sandblasting. He retired two years later and he and his wife moved to Healdsburg, where he became an active member of the Sons in Retirement.

His hobbies included bowling, fishing the Russian River and restoring classic cars. His favorite was a red 1934 Plymouth with rumble seat.

In addition to his wife, son and daughter, Bipes is survived by his daughters Tami Bipes of Cupertino and Mitzi Martin of Vacaville and by seven grandchildren.

A memorial celebration for Bipes is being planned. Contributions may be made in his name to the National Emphysema Foundation, 128 East Ave., Norwalk, Conn. 06851.

—Martin Espinoza

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