Sunday, April 18, 2010

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Congratulations go out to, yes, you guessed it, Randy Groom who was the first to correctly identify the last mystery spot as the water tank on the top of the old Bank of Italy building. Many of you incorrectly guessed the Fox Theatre. Good try but incorrect; many of you also identified the mystery spot correctly.

Now here is the new mystery spot. Should be much easier if you know your local history. Identify which building this original stone marker is mounted on right now. Here are the clues:
1) It is mounted very close to the old fire department location.
2) This is the third building this old marker has been on.
3) This building is across the street from the old Visalia Municipal Auditorium.
4) At one time this building was on the site of the old Visalia City Hall.
Good luck.

Ralston Purina Made the Checkerboard Famous—and Mickey Phillips Happy!
Located on the southeast corner of Santa Fe and Main streets, Ralston Purina was one of the many grain mills that occupied the site since 1853 when the Matthews family first set up their grist mill there. Purina bought the mill in 1946 and operate there until it burned in August 1967. Mickey Phillips started working there in 1952 and right before the devastating fire, he received his 15-year anniversary gold watch. Now the site is the medical office of Drs. Wlasichuk & Sharma. Here Mickey can be seen at the site proudly holding his watch.

Visalia Airport During World War II
With help from the federal government, Visalia was able to expand its airport right before the US entered WWII. During the war, the airport was used by the military for national defense purposes. Alan George, a decorated WWII vet, thought P-61 Night Fighters flew out of the airport, and Dick Curtiss, also WWII vet, said he was in charge of an army radar unit at what is now Plaza Park. Dick has no memory of the type of planes at the airport, but he does believe that the runway was used for military training. He believes the B-25s did “touch and go” exercises on the short airport runway. Leonard Coté said there were revetments at the airport which were used to protect the aircraft stationed there. He believes one of the “bunkers” is now part of the old rodeo grounds. I recently found an article that indicated that after the war the federal government gave $40,000 to the airport to remove the revetments and restore the facility for civilian use.

Hudgins Diary—An 1849 Wagon Train
A few HH issues back I mentioned that Sue Hudgins-Hodes had the diary of John Hudgins. In that diary he documented his 1849 wagon train trip to California. She was kind enough to supply a copy of that diary and it’s a fascinating read. In that wagon caravan was the Wallace Family including infant W. B. Wallace who settled here and became a superior court judge. John Wood was on the wagon train also and a year later (1850) he and a work party returned to the Kaweah River, where they had crossed previously, and his plan was to build a toll bridge across the river. As you may recall in 1850 John Wood and his party was killed by the local Native Americans and the incident is well known in Tulare County history. It happened about 7 miles east of Visalia. The diary really sheds new light, at least for me, on why Wood and his party were at the Kaweah River and the document reinforces the hardships these wagon train travelers experienced.

Floyd Byrnes—A Small Town Guy
For many years while doing research, I have seen what appeared to be a regular column in the Visalia Times Delta called Small Town Guy. It was written by Floyd Byrnes and it was a biographical account of himself and his family. Written in the 1950s and I believe some column even earlier, the columns were well written and he documents his memories of early Visalia. What makes them historically important is that the Brynes Family, especially Floyd and his father M. J. Byrnes, were prominent in the community occupying positions of influence like captain of the National Guard, postmaster, newspaperman, manager of the Visalia Opera House, etc. As a result Floyd’s “Small Town Guy” gives a perspective on local events that can be found nowhere else. Floyd’s daughter, Beverly Hofvendahl, recently sent me a bound 231 page book filled with his “Small Town Guy” stories. Floyd knew his subject matter because he or members of his family had been involved in each of the column stories he wrote about. Truly an amazing collection of local history.

I try not to do this, but sometimes I can’t resist the obvious. I’ve not found verifiable evidence that would explain the origin of the name Acequia Ave, but there is good circumstantial evidence that gives us a clue. The word “acequia” in Spanish means irrigation canal or ditch. Wiley Watson had an irrigation ditch that ran along Acequia to his property and in 1888, Visalia’s Tulare County Times newspaper reported, “The water ditch passing through the town on Acequia street has been abandoned by the proprietor, Wiley Watson, and the property owners along its line are being requested to fill it in. This ditch has been a great nuisance to the people living on or traveling through Acequia street, and its abandonment is a matter to rejoice over. Every summer large pools of still water were allowed to stand at places in its bottom, and becoming impure, the wind scattered the stench arising far and wide. It was the water in this ditch that caused the cellars along Main Street to cave in and fill with water. Thanks to the Common Council [City Council], who are ever engaged in the good work of improving the town, the ditch is a thing of the past.” Sure sounds like all of this explains the name Acequia, but for a time the street was named “Sakie.” Now how do we explain that one?

***Stephen Watts, a new subscriber to HH, passed along that he was born and raised in Visalia. He said, “As a teenager, I worked at Dick Parker Shoes and John Richard Men’s Wear. Many times I have sat down for a soda with many of Main Street’s store owners…Greely Togni, Pete Jungworth, Ken Schilling, Brent Ensign, Glen Mar, Mr. Pryor (Bonnell’s dad), Jack Stoebig, Dick Parker, Dick Mackie, Louie Giannandrea, Luke Bianco…Oh, what stories they could tell! Now I’m 48, but those good ‘ol days seemed just like yesterday.”
Now that is a Visalia “who’s who” list!

***Samantha Du Toit noticed recently the tiny numbered rooms inside the courtyard by the alley behind Pauline’s Collection (Main and Court). She asked what the little rooms were. This is the 1876 Palace Hotel building and we believe those little rooms were bathrooms for early hotel guests. These rooms are behind a grated door and not open to the public. This courtyard area is a very interesting part of that old building, and I’m sure holds many secrets. .

***In the last HH, Clement Renzi was mentioned and several of you mentioned his artistic talent and that his statuary is throughout Visalia and elsewhere. Bill Allen and Jay Belt shared some thoughts on this very talented man who died in 2009.

***Is there something happening with Mearle’s? Do I hear the malt machine spinning?

“A Visalia boy who went fishing a few days since and caught several speckled trout, did not like their looks and threw them away. He said they looked too much like frogs for him to eat. There are boys in this part of the country whose knowledge of pisciculture is somewhat limited.” Visalia Weekly Delta, May 21, 1880