Tuesday, October 20, 2009

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Thanks for visiting Historic Happenings! If you are not on the email list yet, and would like to be notified via email when a new posting of this newsletter is made, please email Terry Ommen at mailto:histerry@comcast.net. I will add you to the list. I will not share your email address with anyone without your permission.

Congratulations go to Aaron Collins who was the first to identify the Mystery Spot as the Ice House Theatre. He got it within a few short minutes, and over 25 of you followed with the correct answer. Congratulations to Aaron, and to all of you.

Okay, What About This New Mystery Spot?
This feature is on a building in Visalia. Here are your clues:
1) The building is known for its ornate interior.
2) Many people go here to stay in touch.
3) The building had its cornerstone ceremony held in December 1933.
4) At one time it was next door to the Yellow Cab Co.
What building? Good luck!

Visalia is Not the Oldest Town in the Valley Between Stockton and Los Angeles
Not too long ago I was in a meeting with a reporter named Marc Lutz who in Visalia representing “The Business Journal.” He was headquartered in Fresno so I was going to give him the normal historical summary about the history of Visalia. I proudly told him about Visalia being the oldest San Joaquin Valley town between Stockton and Los Angeles, by the way, something I’ve said probably hundreds of times. After my two minute speech, Marc asked if I knew about the town of French Camp, a small community just south of Stockton in San Joaquin County. I told him I’d heard of it but that was about it. He politely suggested that I check into its history as he had lived up there and believed it to be older than 1852, the founding year of Visalia. Wow, talk about knocking the wind out of you! But I checked it out and even made a trip up there. I talked with a San Joaquin County historian, consulted San Joaquin County history books, and sure enough, French Camp was an active community before Visalia even existed. In Thompson’s 1879 History of San Joaquin County book he says, “In the winters of 1851, 1852 and 1853 French Camp was a lively place. There were two hotels…four wholesale stores, two hay yards, and five restaurants.” French Camp is still a recognizable community and clearly predates Visalia. For the past 100 years or so, many Tulare County sources have claimed Visalia as the oldest town in the valley between Stockton and Los Angeles. I never challenged it; I took it at face value and was clearly wrong in doing so. Now when I summarize Visalia history, I say Visalia appears to be the oldest San Joaquin Valley town between Los Angeles and French Camp. Who knows if there many be another French Camp out there. This incident points out that new historical information is lurking out there everywhere and its revelation can change everything. Thanks Mark, for making us smarter.

Rawhide Baseball Broadcaster Hits a Homerun
Donny Baarns, Director of Broadcasting and the radio voice of Visalia Rawhide Baseball, has taken a big leap and the community has reaped the benefits. Donny has had an interest in baseball for a long time and he has really got hooked on Visalia’s wonderful baseball past. Now he has started to pen some of his baseball stories using a blog-type format to get them out to readers. I can sure see the makings of a Visalia baseball book. Check out his blog at__http://visaliabaseball.blogspot.com/2009/10/irish-eyes-and-two-orphans-how-baseball.htmll Need a service club speaker? I think he’d be interested and I know the audience would enjoy him. (Shown on the left is Tom Fowler of Mineral King fame who according to Donny was a big booster of local baseball.)

The Block Has Now Become the Focus
The north section of the 400 block of E. Main Street is now officially being discussed and preliminary development plans have been submitted to the city. The Mangano Co. of Visalia is the owner of the property and they call their new project “Main Street Promenade.” Stephen Peck, Vice President of the company, gave me a tour of all the buildings that make up that block. They are showing signs of structural problems, but I did find the old brick hotel building the best of the lot. But keep in mind, my assessment is not coming from someone with a construction background.

The main brick hotel building was early on the Ramona Hotel dating back at least to the early 1920s. Later it became the Nelson Hotel and then the Larsen.
The Santa Fe Liquor Store, was on the ground floor of that building for many years, at least from 1934, until a devastating fire of a few years ago forced it to close. The liquor establishment was operated by the well known Oliver Hinkle who operated it for many years. Stephen Peck tells me plan is remove all the buildings but to keep the facade of the old hotel preserved, or more likely the plan is to replicate the fa├žade with new material.

The block in question is part of the original Visalia town site and it is my hope that whatever can be saved, will be. Visalia has some great examples of what can be done to preserve old historic structures and the Mangano Co. has been part of that. The old Ford building is a good example. Preserving our history and historic buildings are important goals and oftentimes, in these situations, if there’s a will there’s a way.

Watson Street
Wiley Watson was a well-respected, well-known man in early Visalia history. He was involved in many civic activities including serving as one of the first members of the Visalia School District Board in the early 1850s. He lived near what is now West Street and Mineral King. When the city extended West Street south from Mineral King, the name on that extension was called Watson in his honor.

Local Masonic Certificate Surfaces
Recently, HH subscriber George Pope told me about a great old local Masonic find. It seems Steve Parker, incoming Master of the Visalia, Mineral King Lodge #128, had acquired an 1879 Masonic certificate for a relative of his named George W. Smith. The framed certificate will now adorn the wall of the Masonic Temple in Visalia. Smith was a prominent pioneer in this area and served in several county positions in the 1800s. Thanks, George, for the heads up on this great old find, and thank you Steve for keeping this old certificate and now displaying it for others to enjoy.

Renewed Interest in the Old Courthouse Annex
According to reports in the Valley Voice, The County of Tulare is studying the feasibility of reoccupying the old courthouse annex building again with county workers. At the same time the study was being done, Miles Shuper, senior reporter for the Valley Voice received a letter from Joel Bertet, a self-identified real estate developer out of Los Angeles, who indicated an interest in the old building. He was given a personal tour of the landmark building by county officials. Bertet called the building an “historic gem” and inquired about a possible purchase. Evidently, he didn’t get a positive signal on his inquiry.

The old art deco annex was approved for construction in 1934 by the County of Tulare Whether the building is maintained by the county or whether it is sold to another developer, the building deserves a fair shake and a bright future. Let’s see what the study indicates.

** There are two people that deserve special thanks from me for consistently sharing historical tidbits. Peter Cowper and Art Browning both on a regular basis add to my knowledge of local history. Thanks to both of you for that extra effort.

** Jay Belt continues to work on the buggy step restoration project and is getting bids on the restoration of the damaged step. He received some good news in that the City of Visalia will waive any encroachment fees for the work on the buggy step. Thanks to the city for doing that.

** Congratulations to Annie and Doug Silveria for hosting the 50th anniversary party for Surplus City. They bought the business from Eddie and Geraldine Lopes a number of years ago and they had a great party celebrating the 50th anniversary of this landmark business in Visalia on October 3rd.
“There was something doing at the Santa Fe depot this morning. The agent, the warehouse man, all of the telegraph operators, and even the baggage man, were jumping around and ejecting excited and incoherent sentences in a manner that would make the wooden actors in a puppet show ashamed of themselves. All the excitement was caused by the unexpected discovery of a young alligator in a refrigerator car.” Visalia’s Tulare County Times, April 18, 1912

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