Sunday, December 27, 2009

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Thanks for visiting Historic Happenings! Happy New Year and wish everyone the best in 2010! 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.

This issue is an abbreviated one because of the introduction of Rover, the new treasure hunt challenge. Read more about Rover below. Historic Happenings will be back to its usual features shortly.

Congratulations go out to Virginia Strawser who was the first to identify the Mystery Spot location of the Fred Uhl building. It was a tough one and less than 10 of you got it right. It’s not surprising as this marking is high on the north building face, camouflaged among the trees. The Fred Uhl building can be found on the southeast corner of Church and Main streets, the site of the Gray Horse Harness Shop for many many years

No new Mystery Spot this issue.

Rover has arrived! Get on the Trail For a Great Treasure Challenge
Well, you’ve all been very patient and now its time to introduce to you Rover, the bloodhound. Rover is the mascot for the new Visalia history treasure hunt challenge, more specifically called Rootin’ Out Visalia’s Exciting Record or Rover for short. It’s the treasurer hunt I’ve been preparing you for. Bloodhounds, as you know, are recognized for their tracking abilities—just let them sniff the clues and get out of their way and they will find their target.

Shortly, you will be given an opportunity to be like Rover—sniffing out the clues and going after the prize. Of course, if you choose not to participate that is okay too. Regardless, you will continue to receive the regular Historic Happenings newsletters. But if you decide to take part in Rover, you will find it fun, challenging and rewarding! When will Rover begin? See Matthew 24:36 in the Christian Bible for the answer to that. To be eligible to participate and win, you must be on the Historic Happenings list before January 1, 2010. So, if you know someone who you think would like to be part of Rover, they must email or contact me requesting to be put on the free HH list.

Rover rules will be included in the release of the first clue, that will begin the challenge. The rules and clue will be the next posting you receive from me. There are a few of you who get HH by USPS First Class mail, so you’ll get your Rover rules and first clue by mail. The rest will get the clue via this website. For those of you not on the computer, it will be essential that you have access to someone who can check the Historic Happenings website at Maybe a friend or family member could help with this. Now is the time to find someone. Throughout the Rover challenge, I may need to provide updates and announcements, and the internet is the only way to do that to large numbers in a timely manner. An example of such an announcement might be when someone solves the challenge—I will announce on the HH website that there is a winner and Rover is over. Once a winner is announced, there is no need to continue. So it is important to stay in touch with the HH website. Those getting Rover over the internet should check the HH website often at

A number of you HH subscribers are former Visalians but now live away from our city. It is essential for you to have contact with a friend or relative that lives in or near Visalia. Rover will require a human visit to certain locations within Visalia to retrieve the next clue. Again for you ex-patriots, having a contact in or close to Visalia is essential.

Clues will require some historical knowledge or research capability. Knowledge of Visalia history will be a big part of solving clues and certain general research tools will be helpful.

Books you might consider consulting:
1) The Way It Was by Annie R. Mitchell
2) Visalia, Her First 50 Years by Annie R. Mitchell
3) Visalia – A Pictorial History by Visalia Heritage
4) Visalia, Then & Now by Terry L. Ommen
Other resources:
1) Internet
2) Tulare County Library
3) Tulare County Library History Room

Now for the Prize
The lucky winner of Rover will receive an original vintage City of Visalia Fire Alarm Box. The box marked #49 had been mounted at the corner of Clark and Main streets for many years, this being the eastern most alarm on Main Street. It was manufactured by the Gamewell Fire Alarm and Telegraph Company out of New York and on the front in large raised letters it says Fire Alarm Telegraph Station. In large numbers it is marked 49. The cast iron box measures about 19” high, about 13” wide and about 8” deep. It weighs about 65 lbs. It has seen some use as there is a repair crack across the entire front door, although the door is solid an intact now. The inner mechanism appears to be complete and the mechanism goes thru its motions when the lever is pulled. The key is in the front door so you can access the inner workings. I honestly believe, with the right electronics person, it could be made to work. It’s a beauty now but with some cleaning and restoration it would be even better-----a great conversation piece and just think, a really nice relic from Visalia’s past.

This box was removed from Visalia streets in 1959 I believe, and was part of an electric fire alarm system, believed to have been installed in 1910.

When a fire was observed, the reporting party would break the little glass window, turn the key, open the door and pull the lever. That lever would send a telegraph signal to the fire house identifying the box number and location of the box. The fire department would respond to that location. An internal bell inside the box would ring.

In the early 1970s, J. M. Bragg purchased this fire box at a city surplus auction at the Visalia Airport and he has had it ever since. Thanks to J.M. and his wife Peggy, this relic of an earlier Visalia can be yours. These two HH members have generously donated this fire alarm box to the Rover winner.

Important Notice: The winner is responsible for picking up the fire box in Visalia. It is heavy ( 65 lbs ) and can not be shipped. No one connected to any of the clues is eligible to win the prize.

Rover is about to start the hunt
So get ready for a hoot.
The clues will be out in front
To help you find the loot.

Any questions up to this point you can email or call me (559) 901 3227.

“And now we hurry home, stopping for a day at Visalia—we think one of the most beautiful of all the beautiful towns in our beautiful State, a village amid trees and through which runs a river, and on the banks of which the vegetation is semi-tropical; a village of health and beauty, scandalized by jealous neighbors; a village whose streets are thronged in business, and in the suburbs of which are vine-covered trees, embowered cottage homes, and homes of greater pretensions and architectural attractions; a village surrounded by the best and best-improved lands of Tulare County.” Words of Frank M. Pixley, newspaperman and namesake for the town of Pixley, California. Visalia Weekly Delta, August 12, 1886.

Wednesday, December 9, 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.

Congratulations to Peter Cowper who was first to identify the brass box as being the old letterbox in the Bank of Italy building at Church and Main streets. Many others got it right, and congratulations to all, but Peter, you’re the man.

Let the New Mystery Spot Game Begin
This name is embossed on the exterior wall of a building in Visalia. Where is the building? Here are the clues:
1) The building sets on a site that had been a harness shop continuously for 80 years.
2) The building was built in 1941 by Fred Uhl.
3) There are two financial institutions within sight of this building.
4) It is located at an intersection.
Good luck!

Stocking Repair Kit
My good friend Betty Treaster gave me this little advertising item the other day and it took me back to an early time. During World War II, this little sewing kit, that looks like a matchbook included something called a “matchless run arrestors.” The arrestors are shown here with the blue arrow pointing down to them. Got a run in your stockings? Remove one of these arrestors, moisten the tip, and apply it to each end of the run or snag in the stockings and it was suppose to stop the spread of the run. Repairing stockings was commonly done. as it was easier to repair them than it was to get a new pair. There were lots of shortages during the war. This little kit was a giveaway from the Hougham Richfield Service Station at the corner of Mineral King and Court streets in Visalia. Now that we are talking about it, whatever happened to the almost forgotten skill of “darning socks?”

The World is Interested in Visalia History
My daughter recently explained a feature that is available on the Historic Happenings blog that is kind of interesting. You’ll notice under “hit counter” on the left side margin, there is a heading called “Live Traffic Map.” You will also see a world map under the heading with little red dots. These dots represent the locations of visitors who have come to see HH. If you scroll down to the bottom of that section and click on “Watch in Real Time” you will see more information about where specifically the visitors to HH are coming from. Visalia history seems to be popular really throughout the world. One more thing, you can search past issues of HH by topic or name by typing in the topic/name in the “Search this Blog” section. Try it out. In effect it becomes the index to the collection of all HH issues.

Everybody Ready for the Treasure Hunt?
Well, the long awaited Visalia treasure hunt game is only about 3 weeks out. The game name been chosen and the prize has been acquired, and boy is it a good one. But remember, only subscribers to the free Historic Happenings newsletter are eligible to play and win the prize. So get your friends and relatives to join. Have them email or contact me in some way to get on the list. Remember, if they are not on my list, they can’t win. So…..
I know you’re getting anxious
But the time is not quite here
To search for the clues that will
Lead you to a prize so dear.

The prize will make the wait worthwhile,
I can certainly tell you this,
A relic from Visalia’s past
Is something you don’t want to miss.

Both the treasure hunt game name and prize will be announced in the next Historic Happenings.
Medal of Honor Winner Passes
Alejandro Ruiz died November 20, 2009 at the age of 85. This long time Visalian is one of few Americans to receive the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Okinawa in 1945. I had the distinct pleasure of shaking his hand—it’s not often one comes face to face with a real American hero. He lived his last years in Yountville, California and is buried there. You can read about his historic actions during World War II at . Ruiz Park here in Visalia is named in his honor and is near the intersections of Burke and Buena Vista. The photograph shows Mr. Ruiz at the November 11, 2006 dedication of the Greatest Generation Wall on Mooney Blvd. He is shaking hands with an unidentified well-wisher, and singer song/writer Paulette Carlson of the country band Highway 101 is standing nearby.

Ben Maddox Way
I believe Ben Maddox Way has the distinction of being the only street in Visalia using an early pioneer’s full name. Born in 1859 in Georgia, Ben Maddox came to Visalia in 1890 via Bodie and other California communities. At that time he purchased the Tulare County Times newspaper and gained a reputation as a good newspaperman, an organizer of the Mt. Whitney Power Company and a key leader of the Visalia Electric Railroad. He died in 1933. Ben Maddox was well known in California and beyond.

Anybody Remember Victor Lombardi?
Larry Baldassaro, Professor Emeritus with the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, is looking for biographical information for a book I believe he is writing on the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers. He is looking for information on Victor Alvin Lombardi who was born on September 20, 1922. Lombardi played for the Dodgers and Pirates. In later life, he moved to Visalia and lived at 121 N. Turner, probably just a few years. While here he married a girl from Tulare whose first name was Margo. They were married sometime between 1958 and 1962. He does not know her maiden name or much about the short marriage, but he would be grateful for any help, especially with her maiden name. If you have any information, please contact me and I will relay it to him. By the way, Victor Lombardi was a golf pro at Sierra View Golf Course and is shown here on an early Pirates baseball card.

** The contractor that will restore the old buggy step has been selected and work will begin after January 1, 2010. The restoration is going to require about $300.00 so we want to encourage those of you who want to participate in this project to donate. The buggy step is believed to be the last one standing in Visalia, so it's an important project. Thanks to Lynne Brumit and Sandy Newman, who have already contributed $40.00 to the restoration fund. Any amount would be appreciated. We won’t start the restoration until we have the money needed to do the job. You can send any donation to Terry L. Ommen, P.O. Box 3864, Visalia, CA 93278. Thanks for your consideration.

** The Visalia Community Bank’s historic calendar for 2010 is available. It was released last night and it really is nice. This is their 11th consecutive year of putting out a historic calendar, and as always we owe them our thanks. Stop by any branch and ask for one. They are free and you will be happy you did.

** After the story of the collapse of the Pioneer statue in the last HH, Bill Allen brought to my attention that in his book Mooney’s Oak Grove, he covered the demise of the Pioneer in some detail and there is a picture of Tom Stillman holding a large piece of the collapse Pioneer. And it is not the horse head.

“We are pleased to note that the large hole at the corner of Court and Acequia streets has been filled up. Many a nocturnal pedestrian has waltzed around on his ear and cussed after unwarly plunging up to the knees in its slush and water. It had been there so long that it had become to be regarded as an institution of Visalia.” Visalia Weekly Delta, November 28, 1879

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

Sunday, November 8, 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.

Congratulations to Miranda Robinson! She was the first to identify the mystery spot in the last HH. It, of course, was a decorative feature on the old downtown Acequia Post Office built in 1933. The architect on that art deco beauty was Wm Coates and the construction Engineer was C. E. Gordon. Miranda identified it within 10 minutes of the HH posting and Susan Mangini came in a close second, identifying it within 25 minutes. Many of you got it correctly and I was impressed. Good job to all of you but a special congrats to Miranda.

Here’s the New One
This plaque is embedded in a Visalia sidewalk. Where is it?. Here are the clues:
1) This plaque identifies the site of the first house built when the first Visalians decided to leave the protection of Fort Visalia.
2) It was mounted and recessed in the sidewalk on a north/south street in the downtown area in 1952.
3) At one time a national chain supermarket was located by the plaque.
4) From this marker you can see the old Southern Pacific Depot building, the old Bank of America building, and the old church building now known as the Christian Faith Fellowship.
Where is this mystery spot?

Doors Swing Open to New Museum at Mooney Grove Park
Well, history was made on November 5, 2009, when the new Museum of Farm Labor and Agriculture opened for the first time to several hundred people. At about 7pm the ribbon cutting took place. The 17,000 square foot building is absolutely beautiful. It is pretty much “displayless” right now, but displays are being created as this is being posted and word has it that the museum will be open to the public perhaps sometime in December. By the way, the Learning Center or theater room which is one of the interior rooms is packed with hi-tech audio visual equipment. It offers many multimedia possibilities. The new museum will include a gift shop and to my knowledge the county museum has never had one. This photograph shows part of the new museum front with signage and a portion of the century old Lower Tule River bridge can be seen on the right side. This old bridge segment spans Cameron Creek connecting the two museum segments. Tulare County is fortunate to have such a nice addition to our pioneer museum grounds, so don’t pass up an opportunity to see it. You will be impressed.

Have you ever noticed how some of the curbs in downtown Visalia have a rather worn or weathered look? They look like the concrete when poured, had not been smoothed out. Well, what you’re looking at is probably not a concrete curbing at all, but a section of quarried granite. These very heavy blocks were cut out of the granite hillside quarry on Rocky Hill just outside of Exeter. In the late 1880s and early 1890s, the Rocky Point Granite Works, operated the quarry and much of Visalia’s granite curbing and granite building decorations were quarried from that site. Many of these granite curbs were set in downtown Visalia in the 1890s before concrete became widely used. You can see the texture difference in the granite curb and concrete sidewalk in this photograph. We still have a considerable amount of granite curbing downtown, so take a look and see if you can find some of it.

Do You Know Any Masonry or Concrete Craftsman?
Jay Belt, the restoration project manager for the Buggy Step, wants a couple more quotes on the restoration of the buggy step. He is looking for someone who knows concrete and is willing to look at the damaged buggy step and give a quote. If you know of anyone willing to provide a cost estimate, please contact me and I will forward the information to Jay. In case you haven’t seen the buggy step yet, drive out and take a look at it on the curb line adjacent to the Deveraux Law Firm near the intersection of Court and NW First Street. It is a great symbol for all of us representing the days when horses and buggies were king.

West Street
When the first Visalia town site was laid out in the 1850s, the boundary streets were given practical names. The street on the “west” side of the town site became West Street. South Street eventually became Mineral King, East Street became Santa Fe and North Street became Murray.

He Flew for England’s Royal Air Force
The Tulare County Museum recently received an important donation from Judy Logan Fleeman. Her father, David Logan, of Visalia was a pilot when he and three of his friends volunteered for England’s Royal Air Force in mid 1941. The foursome became known as the Four Horsemen. David Logan, seen on the far right in this photograph was killed over England in a tragic mid-air collision on March 14, 1942. Judy wanted her father’s personal effects in safe hands, so she donated them to the Tulare County Museum. The collection includes, photographs, letters, flight log and so much more. Judy, is shown here with her dad a short time before his fatal accident. Thanks Judy for making sure your dad’s memory will always be with us.

** You’ve probably heard of geocaching and I know you’ve heard of treasure hunting, well in a month or so, HH subscribers are going to be given the chance to follow clues that will lead to a real “treasure.” It will be challenging, fun and rewarding for the person who can best decipher the treasure map and clues. But to win, you must be on the HH list, so get the word out and encourage those friends and family who have not signed up yet, to get on board. The clues will be Visalia history connected, so dust off your old Annie Mitchell books and be ready. I’m still working on a name for this Indiana Jones type adventure so for now I’m just calling it a Treasure Hunt. That name will change. The clues will take many forms, some cryptic, others may be riddles.

For those of you who love a good riddle,
Stay tuned and you’ll be right in the middle
Of a treasure hunt with a prize that’s great.
But you must be signed up, so please don’t wait.

** Remember the painted sign with the name L. Guggenhime on the side of the East wall of the brick building located at Johnson and School streets? I recently discovered, accidentally, that L. Guggenhime, was very likely a Visalia resident and owned the Pioneer Warehouse, which is the building on which the sign can be seen now. In 1876, the Visalia Weekly Delta reported, “We are pleased to notice that Mr. Guggenhime of the Pioneer Warehouse has just returned from San Francisco…” So the old painted sign appears to reflect his ownership and the fact that he was a Visalian. Up to this point, it was unclear whether L. Guggenhime really lived here or not. It is nice to discover these little tidbits of Visalia history. Take another look at the weather–worn sign on the building. You are looking back on old Visalia from over 100 years ago.

** According to an announcement in the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee agenda for Wednesday, October 28th, there will be a special meeting Wednesday, November 18, 2009 for review of the “Larson Hotel Demolition Permit” located at 404 and 416 E. Main Street. I assume, as with generally the Preservation Advisory Committee meetings, that “public requests” or public comments will be permitted. The meeting will be at 315 E. Acequia St in the front conference room. Any questions, you can contact Fred Brusuelas with the City of Visalia Community Development Dept. He can be reached at 713-4364.
“Two men, by the name of Gibbs and Harp, at a saloon up town, were engaged in a careless, playful scuffle over the possession of a pistol when it accidentally discharged, carrying away one of Mr. Gibbs’ fingers.” Visalia Delta, February 18, 1875

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 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__ 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