Wednesday, January 27, 2010

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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.

James Hitchcock was the first to correctly identify the Mystery Spot tile pattern as being on the old 1928 Biswell and Mahoney Building on the southeast corner of Garden and Center streets. This was the brick building the Ford dealership built after they sold the W. Main Street property to the William Fox organization for the Fox Theatre. It is now occupied by Provost & Pritchard. Good job James on quickly identifying the location and congratulations to all of you who were able to get it right.

Another Mystery Spot—Are You Ready?
This bronze plaque is mounted on an old tile water feature in Visalia. Where is the water feature? Here are your clues:
1) The water feature is visible from Main Street
2) The water feature has an Italian neighbor
3) The water feature resides in a grassy area between a creek and military veterans
4) The wooded area is named after Visalia’s highest ranking elected official.
OK so where is the plaque? Good Luck!

Smokey Yunick—Not Just Another Sequoia Field Cadet
As you may recall, I mentioned in the last HH that I was given a challenge by David Beatie who asked if I knew of a man named Smokey Yunick in Visalia’s history. I didn’t, so I put the question out to HH readers. Several of you indicated you knew the name and knew of his connection to auto racing, but did not know any connection to Visalia. But one of the responses I received was quite a surprise. The email came from Daytona Beach, Florida, and it was from Trish Yunick, Smokey’s daughter. She told me that Henry “Smokey” Yunick, her father, had trained at Sequoia Field as a pilot during World War II. I called her by telephone to ask more about him and she explained her dad had discribed his Visalia experiences in his autobiography called Best Damn Garage in Town. She indicated she had a website, so if you’d like to check out the book, you can see it at Thanks Trish, for your help in solving the Smokey Yunick mystery. Sounds like he was a very special guy and he really was part of our history! David, how’s that for solving the challenge? Do you have any more information to add to the story of Smokey? Both of these photographs are of Smokey. One of them shows him standing at the Visalia Gateway sign ( anyone know where this sign was? ) and the other is his class photo which appeared in the 1944 Sequoia Field Propwash 44B Class Book. Trish, if you do not have a Propwash photo of your dad let me know and I will make you one.

Apple Orchards in Visalia? You Betcha!
Marian Shippey Cote was one of the winners of the ROVER (Rootin’ Out Visalia’s Exciting Record) challenge and she won the old Visalia apple crate label. The label was somewhat mysterious to me and I believed it to be rare. Who would have ever connected Visalia with apple orchards? The nice old label advertised “Fancy White Astrachan Apples, Grown by James L. Parks of Visalia.” Once Marian received the label, she did her normal amazing investigative work, and come to find out, she even knew Virginia, the daughter of James L. Parks. Here is part of what Marian found out:
“I talked to Virginia Parks at length yesterday and got all the information. Her father, James Luther Parks, did have some apples here that were really big which he had planted and then grafted. He decided to sell them down south sometime in the 40’s so that is when the labels were produced. Virginia said that it turned out that the apples bruised and did not ship well and he had to abandon that. He ended up selling them on the street and they had many happy customers as they were great for cooking.

As always, Marian, I appreciate your skills at ferreting out our history.

A Piece of Visalia’s Horse & Buggy Days is Back
Well, the restoration of the buggy step is complete. David Arreola, who works for the Dennis Goebel Concrete Co., finished the restoration work on January 22, 2010. The plaque and dedication ceremony remain to be done and will probably take place some time in the spring 2010. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks to the following organizations and individuals who have made this restoration possible: Kaweah Kollectors, City of Visalia, Lynne Brumit, Sandy Newman, Steve Salomon, and James and Shirie Drath. This relic of Visalia’s horse and buggy days will now be around for many years as a reminder of Visalia’s interesting history.
The video shows David preparing the buggy step for concrete.

Mearle’s College Drive-In – For 70 Years An Icon
Mearle’s continues to be on the minds of people, with the graffiti being the latest event attracting attention to the old landmark. Brian Stone, an HH subscriber, commented that he was not happy about the vandalism there. He said “The picture of the Mearle’s building all graffitied up … was truly upsetting.” Others are expressing the same frustration. Many are asking when the owners of the building are going to be held accountable. The graffiti by the way has been painted over.

Speaking of Mearle’s, the building turns 70 years old in September of this year. Over the years, the old drive-in building has become an icon and there has never been a doubt as to the old drive-in’s status as a local and national landmark. In the last few days while watching national news on television, I saw a commercial that attracted my attention. It was a Cargill commercial explaining their new healthier cooking oil designed especially for cooking french fries, The theme of the commercial was old drive-ins and nostalgia and throughout the 30 second commercial, drive-in restaurants were pictured. And guess what? Mearle’s Drive-In was one shown! You have to look quickly, but clearly the famous Visalia restaurant is one of the featured photographs. Take a look at the 30 second commercial at . On the right side you will see a box titled “Television Commercial”. Click on the words “Fitter French Fries” and once the video screen appears, click on the arrow button on the bottom, to play. Watch closely and within a few seconds you will see a picture of Mearle’s Drive-In on the left side of the commercial. Another example of Mearle’s status as a landmark! Something needs to be done to see that this famous Visalia icon is brought back to its glory years. We need at big 70th birthday bash for the old timer! Thanks to Lucinda Lewis for her gorgeous photo of Mearle's at its best!

Mobil Station ------ What a Grand Opening in 1949
Dana Lubich, grandson of R. L. “Bob” Morris, shared with me the very interesting story of his grandfather’s Mobil Gas Station on the Northeast corner of Mineral King and Mooney Blvd. On the site now is Marie Callender’s restaurant. The Mobil Gas Station opened on October 27, 1949. The opening was big news and radio station KKIN 1400 on the dial was there with local radio personality Lyman Treaster. Lyman was “on the air” at the grand opening and interviewed a number of customers as they arrived at the service station. The on-scene radio broadcast lasted about 29 minutes and a recording of that radio event was preserved by Dana. It is scratchy, but understandable and I hope to have a portion of the recording in the next HH for you to enjoy. The recording includes interviews with various local people like Bob Morris, Reg Durham, Harold Barnhardt, Dick Ball, Lawrence Romanazzi, Ed Sullivan and Chuck Erhorn. Dana would be interested in hearing from you and if you have any stories about the Mobil Station or the General Petroleum Plant that was located on Highway 198. Email me at and I’ll pass any information on to Dana. Thanks Dana for preserving the old recording

**Duane Copley said that the morning of the Elks building fire, he was gong to work with his dad, John. They stopped to watch the fire for a time and the next day realized that a wall to the building had collapsed onto the area that they had been standing. Quite a close call!

**A number of you responded with comments about Harold Fox, the brother of murder victim Bonnie Clutter in the book “In Cold Blood.” Harold Fox, I find out has touched so many people’s lives over the years. What an amazing man with a huge following!

**Nancy Barnes is a new HH member and I can tell based on contact so far lots of interesting local history will be coming our way from her.

“Stockton has a preacher who describes hell so realistically that his hearers can hardly be restrained from turning in a fire alarm.” Visalia Daily Morning Delta, September 29, 1893

Sunday, January 10, 2010

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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.

Tiles, Tiles & More Tiles
This beautiful set of tiles adorns a nice old building in Visalia. Where is it? Here are the clues:
1) The building opened for the first time in 1929.
2) “Quality Is Job 1” was a slogan connected to the business that operated in this building.
3) A man named William Fox had something to do with its construction
4) When built it had more “floor space” than any other building of its type in the county.
Where is this building? Good luck.

There are at least three of these iron couplers or curb clamps in Visalia. These 3 are near each other on the east curb line of Court Street between Main and Center streets. Have you seen them? Have you seen any more in Visalia? They are very interesting. It appears as if when the separate blocks of granite curbs were placed on the street, these iron couplers or clamps were used to keep the adjacent granite curb blocks in alignment. The clamps were probably forged in a Visalia blacksmith shop in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

Mearles Gets Tagged ! – Talk About Getting Hit When You’re Down!
Today I was told that Mearle’s got tagged. In the last day or two taggers got on the roof of the classic old drive-in and spray painted much of the upper portion. How much more can this old building take? The no trespassing cable surrounding the property is gone, glass panels on the front door have been smashed and now graffiti. This old Visalia landmark is crying out for attention. Is anyone listening?

“In Cold Blood” – A Visalia Connection
Recently, Kathy Miller, an HH subscriber asked a question that I found very interesting. Here is her email: “A friend of mine was reading a book by Truman Capote, “In Cold Blood”…it’s about a Kansas family brutally killed in cold blood and the search for the killers. The story takes place around 1959. Well, the mother that was killed had a brother who lived in Visalia, CA, his name is Harold Fox. Supposedly the story is true. The wife’s maiden name is Fox, and she married Herb Clutter. So my friend was wondering if the Fox family is still in Visalia.”

The murder that took place in the book In Cold Blood did take place in 1959. I do not realize it, but it is based on a true story and with this book, Capote introduced the “non-fiction” novel. The book describes how the husband (Herb), wife (Bonnie) and two children were murdered in Holcomb, Kansas. To help me run down the Visalia connection, I asked HH subscriber and super sleuth extraordinaire, Marian Shippey Cote to work the case. She indeed found information that led me to be the answer. Her work led me to Harold Fox, a 92-year old man living in rural Visalia. He in fact, was Bonnie’s brother. When I talked to him about the loss of his sister, he mentioned that in 1959, the year of the murders, he had declined all interviews with the press related to his sister death. Now he was willing to talk and we had a nice chat. He’s a very nice man, and thanks Kathy for the email, and thanks Marian for your investigative talent.

Dotty Dean Fire
A few weeks ago, Jan Morrison, HH subscriber, mentioned to me, what she called, the Dotty Dean fire. At the time it didn’t sound at all familiar to me. However, when she showed me the photograph, I knew exactly the fire she was referring to. I knew it as the Elks Club building fire. On December 1, 1959, mysteriously the old 1917-1918 building caught fire and burned beyond repair. Jan was at the fire with her father, Leo Morrison, who took this picture. The Elks building was in the heart of Visalia on the southwest corner of Main and Locust streets. The fire wiped out a nice classic old Visalia building.

Ralston Purina
Mary Alice Johnson, an HH subscriber and former employee of the Ralston Purina Co. here in Visalia shared some Ralston photos recently. The Ralston Purina Co. bought the milling company on on the southeast corner of Main and Santa Fe streets in about 1946. Here you can see the Ralston building with the Santa Fe Railroad Depot on the far right. The S. F. Depot sat on the southwest corner. Ralston Purina burned to the ground in 1967. Photographs of the Ralston Purina Co. are hard to come by, so thanks Mary Alice for making these available.

**Thanks to all of you who took time out to comment about the Vic Lombardi inquiry. As you recall, he was a former Brooklyn Dodger and several of you knew him or knew of him. Doug Rains also passed along that Al Gionfriddo also lived in Visalia and was on the 1947 Brooklyn Dodger team. Larry Baldassaro said that both Lombardi and Gionfriddo were inducted into the Dodger Hall of Fame in 1993. By the way, I believe Jackie Robinson got his start with the Dodgers in 1947, too.

** Mary Beattie, an HH subscriber, introduced me to her husband, David, the other night and he issued a challenge to me to find out some history on a man known as Smokey Yunick. I have asked around, checked all my resources and no luck. David is this a joke? Anyone know anything about a man who lived in our area named Smokey Yunick? Great name! I really need to know about him!

** The idea of placing historic plaques on old Visalia buildings is coming up again. I certainly hope it actually happens as we have some old time buildings that deserve the recognition.

** More buggy step donations have come in, including one from Steve Salomon, Visalia’s City Manager. His personal donation and the sizeable donation from the Kaweah Kollectors will make it possible to get the step restored this month. Could use more donations for the dedication event though. Thanks to all of you who have donated to this worthy project so far.

“That the practice of dumping trash in the streets, alleys and side walks of the city must cease was the declaration of City Street Superintendent Henry, Saturday.

The equivalent of 1,000 ordinary wagon loads of trash were hauled away by the city, the Street Superintendent said, during the recent cleanup campaign. The cost to the city was about $400.”
Visalia Morning Delta, May 3, 1914

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Rover started his hunt Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at about 11:30am, and today Thursday, January 7, 2010 at about 11:15am it ended with Randy Groom first to find the treasure. Imagine all that detective work in less than 24 hours. Amazing job Randy! After Randy, Dana Switzer came in 2nd at about 12:25pm, Marian Shippey Cote came in third at about 2:25pm. Congratulations to the top 3, you guys were really good!

Thanks to all of you who took part or watched on the sidelines. I know the poetry was brutal on everyone, but I’m thinking with more practice I could really become good! I’m sure you wouldn’t mind if from time to time I included some in HH. New membership to HH could soar! Well, maybe I’ll rethink the poetry thing.

Behind the scenes there were lots of people involved that need to be thanked. My wife, Lari who puts up with my quirky ideas and who is the webmaster for Historic Happenings; J. M. and Peggy Bragg who generously donated the fire alarm box; Bill Dillberg, the gentleman who spent considerable time on the telephone with many of you giving you clues; and my daughter Lyndsay who also puts up with her dad’s quirky ideas. (It was she you saw on her website along with our little granddaughter, Maggie.) And then of course the retail businesses deserve a lot of thanks for letting Rover come into their stores. Specifically, Quality Jewelers owned by Paul Heidenreich, The Pauline Collection owned by Liz McClelland, and Link’s Men’s & Women’s Wear owned by Tom and Bob Link, all were such good sports in the Rover challenge. I appreciate their community spirit. Also, it is my understanding that the Tulare County Elections Office and the Tulare County Library were bombarded with inquiries about clues, and I thank all of the county employees for their work.

So the first Rover Challenge is over. Should there be a Rover challenge II? If so, what changes or new ideas do you have? Please let me know. One more thing, if you are dying to know the answer to one or more of the clues in Rover, let me know and I’ll be happy to fill you in.

We Have A Winner !
BUT Wait…

Rover Is Not Over!
There will be a prize award for the 2nd and 3rd place winners. It was actually my wife’s idea. She wanted others who worked hard to get something too.

The Grand Prize (fire alarm box) has just been won, but two more prizes are going to be given away. So the Rover player who finishes 2nd will get the choice of:

**3 original and complete Visalia Morning Delta newspapers. Each is 8 pages in length so you get 24 pages of news from November and December 1927. World news, US news, and local news including local classified ads and business advertisements, all packed in these old newspapers. They are fun to read and a great way to learn history. Each sheet measures about 18” x 22” and suitable for framing. Great collection here, and these 83-year old newspapers make wonderful textbooks to expose children to history. The 3 Visalia Morning Delta newspapers include the following dates:

1) November, 13, 1927

2) December 8, 1927

3) December 9, 1927


**You can choose a beautiful old original Visalia fruit crate label for fancy apples, grown and packed by James L. Parks, Visalia, California. It is in color and measures about 10 ½” x 9”; it’s a beauty. It shows a dog, not Rover unfortunately, but a hunting dog. I don’t know much about the label, but it would make a nice research project. I guess it to be from the 1940s. Very suitable for framing.

Again, the second place finisher gets choice of either the newspaper collection or the apple box crate label. Third place winner gets the remaining prize.

Thanks to all of you who played Rover and the plan is to do another Rover challenge in a few months. Suggestions for the next one are always welcome. Prizes, ideas, clues and clue locations are especially welcome.

Once the 2nd & 3rd place winners are identified, I will announce all of the winners of the first Rover Challenge.

P.S. I am thinking about Rover T-shirts! What do you think?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Rover Is Unleashed

The Challenge Has Begun!

Good Hunting!

What is Rover?
Rover means Rootin’ Out Visalia’s Exciting Record. It is a treasure hunt challenge designed to lead you from one clue to another. The first person to successfully go through all the clues will win the prize. Rover is first of all, about you having fun. It is designed to let you feel the excitement of the hunt. Secondly, in the course of “Rootin’ Out”, you will undoubtedly learn something about Tulare County and Visalia history. Fun and learning local history go together.

Object of Rover:
The object of Rover is to be the first one to get the clues, decipher them correctly, and follow them to the treasure.

Rover Etiquette:
Rover is suppose to be fun, and in the course of the hunt you will come in contact with people involved in the challenge, so an appropriate please, thank you, excuse me or I’m sorry will always be appreciated. Rover will also take you to places of business with customers, so please be considerate to those that allowed us to use their business location.

Rover Eligibility:
Only those on the Historic Happenings subscription list are eligible to participate and win the treasure.

Rover Rules:
**Pretty simple. Follow the clues. Use whatever resources you can muster. Remember the first HH subscriber to reach the prize wins.
**No one connected with any of the clue locations is eligible to participate.
**If you have questions about the Rover rules or anything about the challenge you can email me at or call me at (559) 901-3227.

Rover Treasure:
Obsolete and original Visalia Fire Alarm Box

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!
Here is your first set of clues. The clues that follow will identify the telephone number of a well-known gentleman who is anxious to help you move to the next clue. He’ll only help you if you follow these instructions exactly (more about that later.) But before you talk to him, you need to decipher his 10-digit telephone number:

**The first 3 digits of his telephone number is the area code. His area code number is assigned to a portion of the San Joaquin Valley. If you add the individual numbers together, it adds up to a total of 19.

**The next digit in the telephone number is the number of election precincts the Tulare County Court of Sessions established for the county in 1852.

**The 5th digit is the number of comedians that made up the famous comedy team in the classic 1930 film called Soup to Nuts.

**The 6th is the number used by early travelers to our area in and around Visalia which describes the number of creeks. This area was known as _________ Creeks.

**The 7th and 8th digits are the two numbers used in the 1920s and 1930s to describe a patron at a bar who was not to be served any more alcohol or a patron who was asked to leave the bar. Some still use this 2-digit term today.

**The last two digits are the year in the 1800s when Fresno County was formed breaking off the northern section of Tulare County.

Well, there you have it. Once you are satisfied that you have the correct telephone number, check it with the following: If your number is correct, the total of all the numbers added together should be 54.

When you are ready to make the call, have a pen and paper handy. You will need to take notes. Punch in the number. When the gentlemen answers say these exact words, “Terry told me to call.” He will then give you instructions to the next clue. If his voicemail picks up when you make your call, leave the following message, “Terry told me to call” and leave a clearly stated call-back number and your name, nothing else.

If you fail to follow these directions precisely, you will not get the next set of clues. Good luck.