Friday, March 27, 2009

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A Visalia Mystery Spot – How Observant Are You?
Historic Happenings is full of mysteries, but I thought it might be kinda fun to add another—but with a new wrinkle: we will know the answer to this one. We will give you a chance to solve it with some clues. So here is the first “Mystery Spot” in Visalia. It is a weathervane on a building. Which building is it on? Here are some clues:

1. The weathervane is on top of a building that was built the same year the Baseball Hall of Fame was founded in Cooperstown, New York.
2. The weathervane is surrounded by original Gladding, McBean roofing material.

3. The building is situated between 3 signs, each of which identifies 3 varieties of trees.
4. The building is a stone’s throw away from a church that was built in the year the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles.

Okay, enough hints. What is the building on which this weathervane sets? The first person to email me or call me with the correct answer will be acknowledged in the next HH. I know, not much of an incentive here, but maybe down the road we can offer a prize. I will offer a new “Mystery Spot” from time to time. In the next posting of HH the building with the weathervane will also be identified.

Visalian Needs Ride Back Home
For the last couple of years, Helen, a lady living in Southern California, has been trying to donate a miniature/doll house named “The Visalian.” I had never heard of it, but I have found out with the help of Judy Lewin, who owns Mill Creek Miniatures, that a miniature house kit named “The Visalian “ was created some 30 years ago by a man named Howard Hill, who owned the One-of-a-Kind Woodshop. In his kit he replicated the beautiful Hilliard home that was located east of Visalia adjacent to Highway 198 on the south side of the road. It was a beautiful Victorian house built in 1902 and stood there until 1983 when it burned to the ground.

Now, this assembled miniature, “The Visalian,” measuring about 4 feet x 4 feet, is setting in Temecula waiting for a ride back to Visalia, its new home. The City of Visalia apparently has found a home for it, but the city is looking for a way to get it back here. If you can provide any help in getting the miniature back to Visalia, please contact Jaye Tee with the City of Visalia at (559) 713-4314.

Marble Tombstone Unearthed
A couple of weeks ago a man was digging in his garden on Road 148 just outside of Visalia when he hit a block of marble. He dug it up and discovered it was the double headstone for Mary McKowen (born June 19, 1841 in Hartley Pool, England and died July 13, 1884) and her husband Phillip (born August 3, 1839 and died July 9, 1910). It stands about 37” high and has a carving of a man’s head on top, which to me, is very unusual. The finder of the headstone called the Visalia Cemetery and it was picked up. According to Visalia Cemetery personnel, the headstone is not from cemeteries in Exeter, Farmersville, Woodlake or Visalia, and the name McKowen is so far nowhere to be found in the records. Who were the McKowen’s and how did the headstone get in the area?

Civil War Burial Survey – Yankees and Rebels Identified
In the fall of 2002, Bill Melton (on the left) of Porterville, working with the Sons of the Union Veterans began a project to identify and make sure all of Civil War Veteran burial sites were marked in Tulare County cemeteries. Since he started, Bill has recorded at least 216 Confederate and Union soldiers buried in Visalia, Three Rivers, Exeter, Farmersville, Porterville, Lindsay and Strathmore. Bill works with other Civil War groups and individuals like Jim Chance (on the right), a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Bill and his friends are continuing their research and adding to what we know about these soldiers. They share their material with the appropriate cemeteries including the Visalia Cemetery. The material they have gathered fills several large binders and thanks to Bill and his friends we know a lot more about the Civil War veterans buried in our cemeteries. What a great project! Thanks Bill and friends.

{{}} New photographs keep surfacing. Peter Cowper and Marian Cote discovered some Main Street parade photos showing buildings from vantage points that I’ve never seen before. Great detail too! Thanks guys for sharing.

{{}} Charles Loffland found a photo of Mearle’s Drive-In restaurant in a book called America A to Z – People, Places, Customs and Culture – a Reader’s Digest publication from 1997. It’s amazing how often Mearle’s comes up as an historical icon.

{{}} The Robin Fountain is almost complete so stay turned for the announcement of the Rededication.

{{}} After the last HH, Jim and Shirie Drath, former Visalians now living in Alaska, read the story of the Visalia Olive Oil Company and went to their cupboard and found a container marked: Visalia Pride Pure Olive Oil. Jim speculates that Shirie must have bought it at a garage sale years ago when they lived here. Sure seems like olive oil in Visalia was a hot item back in the earlier days.

{{}} On March 12th about 25 lovers of good food experienced the Historic Progressive Dinner organized by Erin Capuchino of the Visalia Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. All that took part ate well and had fun, all in great historical settings.

{{}} Regarding the tunnels at Redwood High, Jim Drath, former Redwood High School graduate and now Alaska resident, said, “When I was at Redwood High School, 1957-1961, those tunnels were in the auditorium. As curious kids, the only time I was involved in opening the doors, was swiftly met with a stern direction from a teacher to shut that door, it’s dangerous in there. At that time, you could not get into the passageway due to debris and dirt. After that one time, I never tried to look in there again.”

“The street sweeper, which this city has on trial was given its first trial early Saturday morning. It seemed to clean the street alright but the dust it raised was stifling, the entire business portion of town having an appearance of being enveloped in a dense fog. All of the buildings were covered with a coat of gray, and wherever there happened to be an open window, the room was given a thorough covering of dust.”
Excerpt from an article in the Visalia Morning Courier, July 7, 1907.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

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Available Now! Visalia Pictorial History Book

Well, the Visalia Then & Now history book that I have been working on for the past year or so is now available. I will be at the Visalia Costco on Saturday, March 14th from 11:00am to 3:00pm for book signing.

Arcadia, the publisher of the book, used a unique format that displays an old Visalia photograph and then a contemporary one from the same vantage point next to it. This allows readers to easily compare the old with the recent and go to the photograph site, which is a really nice way to make history relevant for today. All of my proceeds from the sale of this book will go to the Tulare County Historical Society. Hope to see you at Costco this Saturday. Not a member of Costco? Contact me at (559) 901-3227 or email me at If you are a member of a club or organization and would like to schedule a book signing, please let me know.

Mearles – The old icon is getting a makeover —well, maybe just a tummy tuck right now.

On Thursday, March 5, 2009, I was driving past Mearles and saw workers on the roof tearing off old roofing material. In the parking lot I also saw Sonny and Michael Kazarian, the father and son owners of the famous Visalia landmark. (Click on photo to see them. From L-R: Michael Kazarian, Skip Kachadoorian, a family friend, and Sonny Kazarian.) I stopped and had a talk with them about a number of things relating to the old drive-in including the quality of the building construction, and their desire to get a restaurant operator to take over. We also talked about restoration and I was impressed and pleased with their comments about restoring the building to its original appearance. They asked about the original awnings that circled the front area of the restaurant and they also asked about the original color of the exterior. In addition, while I was there, they were talking to a neon lighting company representative about replacing the neon lights as part of the restoration.

All in all it was a nice visit and I came away with renewed hope that the declining appearance of Mearles is coming to a halt. Now the old restaurant needs an operator that will flip burgers like Mearle used to and continue the Mearles tradition. By the way, Tads opened in September, 1940. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a September birthday party with a fully restored Mearles? OK, what about September 2010. Mearles 70th birthday has a nice sound to it!

Visalia Olive Oil Company—Processing Plant Building Found!

About a week ago Mary Alice Johnson contacted me and offered to give me a few sheets of old Visalia letterhead stationery with the name Visalia Olive Oil Company on them. The old stationery had been given to her by Catherine Schomer who had given them to Jean Kirkbride as scrap paper for her grandchildren. Anyway, the vintage sheets of paper traveled through many hands, but were saved. None of the ladies knew anything about the Visalia Olive Oil Company, but I was referred to Frances Cutler, a long time Visalian, now living in Portland, Oregon, who was the original owner of the letterhead. Frances, who is 91 years old, told me her husband Frank Cutler had worked for his brother-in-law, Angelo Turano at the company in the 1940s. The stationery gave the address as 421 E. Willow, and guess what? The building is still being used today. Not as an olive oil processing plant, but an auto repair shop. I talked with Angelo’s son, Tony, who lives in Fresno, and he provided history on the old building including the construction date of 1939. Also the letterhead as you can see shows an image of an olive oil can labeled “Perfetto,” which in Italian means “perfect” or “perfection.” Thanks to all involved in this long successful historical journey. Is this what they mean when they say “follow the paper trail?” If it is, it was “perfetto.”

Mystery Marker at Oval Identified

Mary Beatie, Vice President and Senior Planner for TPG Consulting here in Visalia, is working on the current plan with the community to revitalize the Lincoln Oval area, and has asked about a granite marker that was placed near the Service Center building. The marker identifies 6 memorial trees planted in honor of 6 historical figures—national (Abraham Lincoln ) and local. The marker contains the years each tree was planted and the general location of the planting within the park. The marker says it was placed there in honor of Annie R. Mitchell, but does not credit any individual or organization for placing the marker there or give the date the marker was placed. Mary recently discovered that it was placed there by Pat Finger, long time Oval advocate and Doug Copley, former owner of Copley’s Bakery. Thanks for solving that mystery. It has also been said that the Abraham Lincoln tree located in the Oval, that is decorated every Christmas, has been recognized as the tallest tree of that type to be used as a Christmas tree. We will try and verify that and also the year the marker was placed in the Oval.


{{}} In 1952 as part of the Visalia Centennial Celebration, the Visalia Times Delta published the entire collection of Annie R. Mitchell’s Golden Memories she had written throughout the year. The Delta put them all together in a publication called “Golden Memories” and it includes 52 stories of early Visalia pioneers. Thanks to my good friend and valuable historian, Alan George, who provided me with a copy of this very useful publication.

{{}} Recently, Donna Klein sent me a history of the Visalia Garden Clubs written by Annie R. Mitchell in 1998. It is very complete and is packed with documented history of many local garden club activities including various tree and garden plantings in Visalia. Thanks Donna for maintaining and sharing this special history.

{{}} It was sure nice to hear that the beautiful Fox Theatre has received a $500,000 donation from the Lyles-Porter family. I hear this is the family of Tom Porter, former mayor of Visalia (1973-1977), who also authored a book called The Silver Rush at Mineral King published in 1965. If anyone who can confirm this family connection to the donation, it would be nice to hear from you.

{{}} One Historic Happenings subscriber sent me this link. By clicking on it, you can see some old “penny postcards” of Visalia and Tulare County. Just follow the prompts. In fact, there are postcards from all over the country, so you can historically explore other states and cities via old postcards. Some nice old images here.

“The land in this vicinity generally contains a growth of oak timber, and has to be cleared before it can be devoted to orchards. The acreage would have been much larger this season had it not have been for this fact. Wood choppers have been hard to find, and several gentlemen who had intended to put out orchards failed to do so because they could not get their land cleared.” This excerpt was taken from the April 30, 1891 Tulare County Times (It helps us understand why many Valley Oak trees in and around Visalia have disappeared).