Monday, November 23, 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 I will add you to the list. I will not share your email address with anyone without your permission.

Well the latest Mystery Spot turned out to be a really tough one. Only 5 of you got it and Art Browning was the first. He identified the site marker for the S. C. Brown house within 21 minutes of the HH release. Eleanor Bergthold was second, just minutes after Art. The site is on the west side of Court Street between Center and Oak. The Safeway market was adjacent to the marker and the Safeway building still stands. By the way, there were 7 of these “site” markers placed throughout downtown by the Visalia Chamber of Commerce in 1952 as part of the city’s centennial celebration.

Try This One
The US Mail Letter Box is located in what Visalia building? Here are the clues:
1) The box has high flying neighbors
2) The building has a basement
3) The letter box was designed to receive “air mail”
4) The building is 82’ x 124’ in size

Where is the building in which this letter box is located? Good luck.

Treasure Hunt Is Coming!
I hope you’re ready to go on our historical treasure hunt. It won’t require a Sherlock Holmes to follow the clues and land the prize, but a logical mind with a little knowledge of Visalia history will definitely give you an edge. Only those on the HH subscription list will be able to participate, so if you’re not on the list, contact me at and request to be put on. Remember it’s free and your email address and name will be respected. The treasurer hunting game will be launched around the first of January 2010 and the prize is sure to make you happy.

So with that in mind,
Stay on your toes,
It won’t be long
Before the secrecy goes.

Ralph Moore’s Treasured Photographs
Eleanor Bergthold, the daughter of the late Ralph Moore, and her husband, Roland, came across some fairly rare photographs that were part of her father’s personal belongings. She recognized them as special and is sharing them with us. Here are just a few them. Many are views I have never seen before. Starting at the top left and going clockwise is the original End of the Trail at Mooney Grove Park, the End of the Trail being crated after the agreement to turn it over to the Cowboy Hall of Fame, Courthouse Annex building with the Safeway market barely seen on the far right, and a parade passing in front of Estrada’s Spanish Kitchen restaurant on W. Main Street. Thanks Eleanor for finding and preserving these great old photos and a special thanks for sharing them with us. Just one more reason why your father was a special person.

Bridge Street
According to Miss Annie R. Mitchell, long time Visalia historian, Bridge Street was one of the first named streets in Visalia. In the 1850s when the first settlers living in and near Fort Visalia (on the northeast corner of Garden and Oak streets), needed to cross Mill Creek, they needed a bridge. They built one of wood, spanning the creek which flowed from East to West through what is now the intersection of Bridge and Main streets. The street became Bridge Street.

Visalia’s 150 Years of Catholic History
St. Mary’s Catholic Church is getting ready to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2011. Actually, they’re beginning their anniversary activities even now. Founded in 1861, the church was the “mother church” for many parishes in the So. San Joaquin Valley. As part of the celebration, the classic 1947 book “Apostle of the Valley” has been reprinted and is available now. It is more than a biography of the pioneer Visalia priest Daniel Dade. The hardcover book is really a Visalia and southern San Joaquin Valley history book. It’s a nice one to have in your library, and only 500 have been reprinted. The first edition has been long out of print, so this reprint will be a hot item. You can get your reprint copy for $20.00 (which includes tax) at St. Mary’s Church at 506 No. Garden, Visalia. You can also have the book mailed to you by calling the church at (559) 627-6726. One more thing. Also, as part of its sesquicentennial celebration, the church has created a Christmas card collection depicting the beautiful stained glass windows in the current church that came from the original 1909 church building. The photos of these stained glass windows grace the covers of these Christmas cards and local professional photographer, Larry Lewis, took the photographs. The cards are non-denominational and undated. The pack of 20 Christmas cards and envelopes sell for $20.00 (tax included) and each pack has 5 different stained glass scenes. If you need more detail, call St. Mary’s at (559) 627-6726.

Looks Like the Larson Hotel Block Will Face Wrecking Ball!
On November 18, 2009, the Visalia Historic Preservation Advisory Committee (HPAC) met to review the request for demolition of the buildings at 406-414 E. Main Street (Larson Hotel) by the Mangano Company. The engineers report on the property, supported by a second professional opinion, raised serious concerns about the old building but in my opinion , more importantly, they raised questions about the soil underneath. Basically, my take on the report was that whatever is done to shore up the structure is going to fail without addressing the unstable soil lying below the surface. Mill Creek which flows under part of that block has had some wall failings and leakage problems which has played a significant role in creating the unsettled soil. After the item was considered, HPAC, according to Paul Scheibel, Planning Services Manager, who is serving as HPAC staff support, said, “The HPAC voted 4 to 1 to allow the demolition permit. We’re waiting for the conclusion of the possible 10-day appeal period for the permit to be finaled.” It looks like the fate of the buildings in this historic block is sealed. That is unfortunate, but under these conditions, understandable. That block is part of the original Visalia townsite and I hope whatever replaces the old structures somehow maintains the historic nature of that block. Any decision to remove our historic buildings should never be taken lightly and we should all be grateful Visalia has HPAC to give our “old timer” buildings a fair hearing. I think it is important for all of us to think about the words of wisdom from Winston Churchill when he said, “We shape our buildings, thereafter our buildings shape us.” In 1996 Sandy Newman took this photo of the Larson Hotel building.

More Historic Photographs Surface
Recently John Bergman shared with me 4 photographs that he personally took in the early 1970s of downtown Visalia from the very top roof of the old Bank of American building. He worked for the bank at the time and had a totally unobstructed view of the city. I can tell you these are some amazing photographs and certainly point out that in almost 40 years, Visalia’s landscape has made some significant changes. Can you find…? Key West Designs, Dirty Harry on the Visalia Theatre marquee, Las Palmas Restaurant, Surplus City, Arnold Wiebe Auto Dealership, Automotive Parts, the snow capped Sierra. Thanks John for your great photography and thoughtfulness in sharing these with us.

Watch for a Horses Head
So many local stories exist about Solon Borglum’s The Pioneer statue that sat at Mooney Grove Park from 1916 to 1980. Why did it collapse? Does the horse’s head still exist? Recently, Peter Cowper gave me a Visalia Times Delta article dated May 27, 1980 and the headline reads, “Quake Shakes Visalia Statue Apart.” According to the article, a passerby noticed the collapsed statue and called county officials. Officials speculate that the earthquake that had jolted Visalia on Sunday, May 25th had weakened the statue’s already defective infrastructure and that the actual collapse came either late Monday evening, May 26th or early Tuesday morning May 27th. Almost 30 years later rumors continue to circulate alleging the largest part of the rubble was the horse’s head which was salvaged and is in private hands. So, if by any chance you happen to see a very large plaster of paris horse head anywhere, please let me know.

** On December 10th from 4:00-8:00pm, Links clothing store downtown (115 E Main) will be celebrating their 68th anniversary, complete with refreshments. We are all invited to help this long-standing family owned business celebrate. It is very possible Links is the longest operating family owned retail business in Visalia. Hope to see you there.

** It’s that time of the year again. The Christmas season is coming upon us fast, which means get-togethers with family and friends. But here in Visalia, it also means the release of the new Visalia Community Bank’s history calendar. This will be their 11th calendar and it will be available at the end of the week of December 7th I am told, so plan on stopping by and picking one up. It is sure to please and as always, we owe much thanks to VCB for their strong support for local history.

** Bill Fuller, subscriber to HH is planning to write a history of the Visalia Furniture Exchange (521 E Main St), a business that his grandfather Carl Jones owed for quite some time. Look forward to reading it Bill.

“The dramatic entertainment given at Centennial Hall this week by a couple of women, claiming to be extensive travelers and possessing superior dramatic talent, proved to be as ‘tame a show’ as one could conveniently imagine. Their talent was so well appreciated the first evening that no persons attended the second.” Visalia’s Tulare Times, June 30, 1877

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