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.
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“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

Sunday, October 4, 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 histerry@comcast.net. I will add you to the list. I will not share your email address with anyone without your permission.

Congratulations to Virginia Strawser who got the Mystery Spot location about 45 minutes after the last HH was posted. She was the first, and then over 30 people correctly identified the Odell-Mor apartment building, located directly across from Taylor’s Hot Dog stand on Encina. The Odell-Mor was built in 1914. No one seems to know how it got its name. Some say Mrs. Mamie Roach built it and other documentation shows at least she managed it, so it’s possible she was owner and manager. Jane Higgins Nash told me her parents, Decatur “Dick” and Mabel Higgins were the first occupants of the apartments. It was considered the “nicest place in Visalia” when it opened.

A New One For You
The photo that you see here is an old door in an old building. Where is the building? Here are the clues:
1) The building was designed to keep cold in and hot out.
2) The restoration plans for this old Visalia landmark building were a collaborative volunteer effort by architects Jay Moring, Rick Mangini and Mike Kreps.
3) The old structure was restored in 1976 and “hams” can often be found there.
4) William Shakespeare had a famous quote that went like this:
“All the world is a __________?”
Where is this building?

Become Part of the Historic 2010 Calendar and Win!
It’s that time of year again. The Visalia Community Bank, through the efforts of Kay Connley, is preparing for their 2010 historic photograph calendar. The new calendar will be released on December 8, 2009. As in the past, the bank wants to see your photographs and give you a chance to win a spot in next year’s calendar. Anyone interested can submit photos for consideration. What an honor it would be to have your photograph chosen! Not only is the historic photograph calendar useable, it is a good way to add to your local old photo collection. Any questions, call Kay at 625-8733 or email her at kconnley@vcb.com


A Birder’s Unexpected Stop in Visalia in 1906---Interesting Description of Visalia
Rob Hansen recently shared a great historic quote describing Visalia. He found it in a publication from a man named Mr. Ray who was traveling south from Northern California by auto in 1906 and had a mechanical breakdown at Goshen. He stayed in Visalia from May 14-21, and wrote about what he saw while here. Keep in mind he was a “birdwatcher” and spent much of his time around Mill Creek and the St. Johns River. This excerpted quote gives a wonderful description of Visalia: “Visalia lies in a open forest of oaks through which glides the broad St. Johns River besides a host of minor streams. While the banks of the river and some of streams were heavily wooded, others were only fringed with a low growth of willows overhung with blackberry vines. Almost everywhere the air rang with birdsong and the longer we remain, the less we regretted our enforced stay. At 7:00 one morning, I noticed a pair of [blue grosbeaks] which were carrying the initial stems to a weed clump along Mill Creek. My favorite grounds were in the cool shades along the St. Johns River for the thermometer has an awkward habit here of running up as high 114 degrees on summer days which we found very destructive to ambition. One morning by the river I was agreeably surprised to see eyeing me over the edge of a twig structure about 40 feet up in an oak, a majestic female red-tailed hawk.” Thanks Rob for sharing this great account. If you’d like the entire quote, I’d be happy to provide it to you and give you the citation. The accompanying photo is an early photo of Mill Creek but has nothing to do with Mr. Ray’s visit here.

Steam Tractor to be Displayed
Well, the Tulare County Museum of Farm Labor and Agriculture has received a wonderful exhibit piece. The Bragg family, J. M. (left) and Peggy (not shown) along with their 2 son Mike (middle) and Greg (right) has offered, on a long-term loan basis, an antique Gaar-Scott steam tractor. This century old workhorse was delivered to the museum on September 24, 2009 and it is shown here with part of the Bragg family in front of it. The tractor is scheduled to be displayed in the main exhibit area of the new building. What a thoughtful gesture on the part of the Braggs of Visalia. I guess this gives them “Bragging” rights. OK I’ll stop now!


Gist Ave
Gist Avenue is a very short street parallel with and just south of State Route 198. It is one block long and runs between Linda Vista and Verde Vista. It is in a subdivision called College Acres which was created in 1946. The property was owned by Lloyd R. Gist. Early maps called the street Gist Drive.
In 1946, the 34-acre College Acres subdivision was started and included 82 lots with the smallest being 80’ by 165’. This development fronted Mineral King and extended east to the west boundary of Visalia Jr. College. The property was at the time in the city limits of Visalia and was owned by Lloyd R. Gist. J. J. (Phil) Philippe was the real estate agent handling the sales. Before the development, the area I believe, was mostly open ground as can be seen in this Cowper photograph. Thanks Peter for the photo, and to you too Jason, for asking the question.
Help Needed: If you know the origin of a street name in Visalia, I would very much like to include it in a future edition of HH. Please call or email me if you have one.

A Reader Wants To Know!
Jason Ford, a new subscriber to HH, asked about the housing development to the west of the College of Sequoias campus. He was wondering what the area looked like before the current homes were built. Peter Cowper, had a photo/slide taken, he believes, from the 2100 block of West Tulare Ave looking in a northwesterly direction around that period of time and here is his photo.
In 1946, the 34-acre College Acres subdivision was started and included 82 lots with the smallest being 80’ by 165’. This development fronted Mineral King and extended east to the west boundary of Visalia Jr. College. The property was at the time in the city limits of Visalia and was owned by Lloyd R. Gist. J. J. (Phil) Philippe was the real estate agent handling the sales. Before the development, the area I believe, was mostly open ground as can be seen in this Cowper photograph. Thanks Peter for the photo, and to you too Jason, for asking the question.


**J. C. Hickman, a reporter and later managing editor for the Visalia Times Delta in the 1960s and 1970s and now living in Washington, had a mint copy of the 1974 Visalia Times Delta Centennial Edition and wanted it back home. He also had a very complete file full of documents on the End of the Trail statue and those documents are now in Tulare County as well. J.C., we appreciate your willingness to share this material from your Visalia days.

**Regarding Taylor’s Hot Dog Stand, John Slaven told me that in the early 1980s he was employed as the only architect for Quad Consultants and one of his jobs as architect was to create the new Taylor’s Hot Dog Stand. When asked the architectural style of the new stand, he indicated he didn’t think there was a name for it. He said his goal was to be “true” to the old stand.

**I will be going to French Camp in the next few days to scout it out. I need to see the community that very well may be older than Visalia, and I will report more on this hopefully in the next HH.

**Jay Belt is moving forward on the restoration of the last known buggy step in Visalia. He has talked to city officials and will be working with the city (it is on city right-of-way) to restore it back to its original glory. A presentation was made before the Visalia Historic Preservation Committee and this has all the makings of a very nice historical project for Visalia. What a great way to promote and educate all of us to our wonderful local history. Thanks again Jay for tackling this one!

**Helen Jones, the HH subscriber, who owns “The Visalian” dollhouse that was reported back in March 2009, has indicated she is still trying to get the miniature house back to Visalia. It is about 4’x4’x4’ and is somewhat fragile so we are still looking for a way to get it from Temecula to Visalia. Any ideas? We’d love to hear from you.

**Last chance to get items into the Santa Fe overcrossing time capsule. What an opportunity to show people 50 to 100 years from now, what life was like in Visalia in 2009. If you have any items, please call Nancy Loliva asap at the City of Visalia 713-4535 or email her at nloliva@ci.visalia.ca.us

**Don’t forget the big Mooney Grove Park birthday celebration on Saturday, October 17th. The park is 100 years old and to help celebrate there is free admission to the park and lots of activities planned for the entire family. It is going to be a big event. Any questions, call Mila at 624-7222.


"Officer DeVall wishes it stated that the young boys who for some time past have been carrying twenty-two rifles and shooting people’s chickens, living in the outskirts of the city, will be tolerated no longer. 'This mischief has got to be stopped,' said officer DeVall, 'and any young boys caught carrying a rifle from this [time] on will be dealt with as the marshal sees fit.'” Daily Visalia Delta, January 7, 1906.