Sunday, August 22, 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.

He’s back! Yes, Randy Groom was the first again to get the MS location correct. The granite feature is one of several that surround the old courthouse square which is bounded by Court, Oak, Church and Center streets. There are a number of these and they were all quarried at the Rock Point Granite Works near Exeter.

Ok, here is the next MS. This one is a little bit harder, I think. Where is this building? Here are the clues:
1) This building’s fa├žade was part of, or adjacent to, the Justeson Store.
2) It’s on the east side of a north/south street
3) It is across the street from a building that once was an “abstract” company.
4) It is near a street that’s name means ditch or waterway.
Good luck.

The Star Laundry—An Explosive Story
About a year or so ago, an HH reader contacted me asking for information about the Star Laundry fire. I thought at the time I had some material on it, but I couldn’t find it and I have been on the hunt ever since. Well guess what? I think I’ve found it, but it was not a fire, but instead a devastating explosion. This information came to me quite by accident when I was talking to Erin Hayden who happened to have an article about the explosion. It happened in 1926 and several people were burned very badly. For the life of me, I can’t remember now who asked, but let me know who you are and I’ll get more information to you.

Seegar Store Anyone?
In the last HH, the Shorty Check homicide was mentioned and several of you looked at the Traveler’s Hotel photograph that accompanied the posting. You noticed the Main Cigar Store was on the ground floor of the Traveler’s building on the northwest corner of Main and Garden streets. Frank Pineda remembers as a boy going to that Store and getting the coldest root beer in town, all for just a nickel. Earlier that cigar store was called Wood Cigar Store owned by W. H. Wood. Any good Wood Cigar Store stories? By the way, Art Browning believes that Lee Mitchell, historian Annie Mitchell’s brother, once owned the Main Cigar Store. Where’s the wooden Indian? Surely, Visalia had one!

Edwards Court
Clayton Edwards and Glenn J. Edwards owned Edwards Realty Co. and their office was at 108 No. Court Street, Visalia. These two businessmen, who I believe were brothers, were the subdividers in the 1940s of an area just east of Mooney Blvd. near Myrtle Ave. Their subdivision was known as Byfield Park. Edwards Court is a very short street off of Myrtle just east of Mooney Blvd. I don’t know for certain, but I suspect the little street was named for the family or the brothers who subdivided the area. By the way, the Edwards Investment Co. once owned the land on which the Mearle’s building sets.

John Brackett—A Legendary Newspaperman Gave Us Driftwood
There is a man in Visalia history who has not been fully recognized for his contribution to the collection and preservation of local history. His name is John Brackett. John Brackett came to Visalia in 1948 and assumed the position of managing editor of the Visalia Times Delta. In 1966 he not only was the managing editor, but he became the publisher as well. He was very active in the community and reportedly, “he almost won a seat on the Visalia City Council as a write-in candidate,” according to his obituary. While working with the Delta in 1956/57 he wrote a local column called Driftwood, a sort of “who’s who” of prominent local citizens of Visalia. He wrote about people such as Jack Chrisman, Charles Hammer, Jack Iseman, Tom Crow, the Huffakers, and many others. John’s children, Jan Andrews and her sisters, compiled all of his columns onto a cd. I can tell you after reading a sampling of them, they are a fascinating read. What a great collection of mid 1950s Visalia history. I remember some time back talking about John with his granddaughter Kate Gibson-Cates (Jan Andrews’ daughter). The family is proud of John and they have a right to be.

Local historians owe so much to people like John Bracket. Thanks to them we learn so much about our Visalia history. If you would like a copy of the cd, please let me know and I’ll make you a copy (after I get the family’s permission.) I’m thinking someone, somewhere out there should consider creating a booklet of these old Driftwood columns. By the way John Bracket retired from the Visalia Times Delta in 1974 and died in 2002. Thanks Jan for sharing an important part of his life.

Thomas O. McSwain—Visalia’s Well-Known Doc
Sherrill Clark has been very generous in sharing family history. Her in-laws, Gerald Isaac Clark and his wife Roberta McSwain Clark both had interesting families. The Clark side, I plan on sharing with you in a future HH, but the McSwain side is briefly included here. Roberta, Sherrill’s mother-in-law, was the daughter of Dr. Thomas Omar McSwain.

He was born in Wisconsin in 1862 and came to California about 1884. He studied medicine in San Francisco and graduated from medical school there about 1897. It was shortly after that he came to Visalia to practice. He married Mabel Wasson and lived in the “mansion” on the southwest corner of Court and Tulare streets. The house is still there, a real beauty, and is now being used as a dentist’s office. The house always looked like it belonged in the deep south to me..

Dr. McSwain practiced medicine in and around Visalia for over 25 years and died in 1933 in his home after a lengthy illness. The McSwain family and especially the practice of Dr. McSwain is a very interesting part of Visalia history. Reportedly, one of his responsibilities was to examine “ladies of the evening” to help control the spread of deceases in the community. I plan on doing an article about him soon in my “From Out of the Tules” column in Direct Magazine.

Thanks Sherrill for not forgetting about the McSwains. Claudia Allred Ward also a granddaughter of Dr. McSwain has shared some interesting family history with me, and she too is an HH reader.

Visalia’s “Moving” Theater
So many of you shared Visalia theater stories with me and helped solve the Bijou mystery. The mystery came about when the question was raised as to where the Bijou Theatre was located. Some said it was on E. Main Street on the north side of the street, others said E. Main St. on the south side. Well the mystery is solved. Everyone was correct. It was on the south side of the street near the site of the Visalia Theatre at one time, and it was on the north side of the street by the Hotel Johnson at an earlier time. In this 1945 flood photo, you can clearly see it on the north side of the street on E. Main next to the Hotel Johnson. Thanks to the many of you that helped with this one.

***Terry Akers shared an internet photo she found which is a very interesting old flood photo. I believe it was the Santa Fe Railroad track just outside of Visalia. You can see it at

***Comments from readers of the Shorty Check story in the last HH newsletter, revealed that at least one of you was familiar with Shorty Check, the murder victim. “I remember Shorty Check very well, but I know nothing about his murder…he was a permanent fixture around town,” Art Browning said. Both Marian Shippey Cote and Frank Pineda remember the murder case, but deny being in the area and claim they have good alibis to their whereabouts. (Of course I’m just kidding.)

***I recently heard from John Poultney who is the west coast editor for Arcadia Publishing Co. Arcadia is the company that published the Visalia Then and Now book. John is looking for someone who would like to do a Visalia—Images of America photo book. If you would like more information on this opportunity, he can be emailed at or by calling him by phone at (650) 534-7109. This is quite an opportunity for someone. Think about it and consider contacting John.

***In the last HH I included a photo of the beautiful old Acequia Post Office as part of the Mystery Spot feature. It didn’t take long for several of you to comment about the old post office and this is what Barbara Hinds Joseph said, “I haven’t lived in Visalia since 1953. When I was little my family had a post office box so we were there often. My mother taught me how to make purchases there by letting me buy stamps. (Little did she know how proficient I would become later in life at making purchases!) I had to say ‘may I please have’…and ‘thank you.’ In those days postcards cost a penny and first class stamps were three cents. I also remember that during the war there was an Uncle Sam Wants You sign on the sidewalk out in front.

After mastering the post office, I was allowed to help my mother shop at Mixter’s Drugs. I have many memories of the wonderful old scale that was just inside the side door. Several years ago when my girlfriend (of 65 years standing now) and I were in town for a class reunion we went to Mixter’s and took our pictures with the scale.”

***Since the last HH so many interesting stories have come my way. Clearly more than I can include in just one issue, so stand by for subjects like Visalia saloons, the notorious Balcony’s Apartments, rediscovering old Highway 99, the 1910 Citrus Fair, and the local beginning of California Water Service, hobos, carnivals and circuses. All of these are stories that are pending for future HH postings, and keep sharing your thoughts and remembrances.

“The capacity of bermuda grass to grow is an old story. It will push its way between bricks in a sidewalk. There is a dead locust tree in the courthouse yard that is attracting considerable attention from the fact the bermuda grass has grown up the trunk and is now covered by the bark. The grass has obtained a height of 4’ above the ground and it can be seen in places where it has cracked the bark by its growth. There are tusts of it growing out of the
cracks of the bark.”
Daily Morning Delta, December 3, 1892

Sunday, August 1, 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.

Congratulations go out to Virginia Strawser who correctly identified the Acequia Street post office as the last mystery spot. The cornerstone is right behind the newspaper racks. It’s interesting, so take a look. Over 25 of you correctly got the mystery spot correct. Good job everyone, especially to you Virginia for being the first.

Are you ready for another? Where is this historic feature in Visalia. Here are the clues:

1) This decorative granite feature is one of several nearby.
2) Minerva looked down on these for many years.
3) This particular one stood across the street from the old Farm Bureau of Tulare County building for many years, and in fact it still does.
4) Train whistles serenade this granite feature on a regular basis, and have for many years.
Good luck.

The Travelers Hotel - A Gruesome Scene of a Homicide
Recently retired Tulare County Superior Court Judge David Allen asked about Visalia’s old and long gone Traveler’s Hotel which was located on the northwest corner of Main and Garden streets. His interest in the hotel is because of its connection to the murder of Paul “Shorty” Check, that took place there. The gruesome crime that occurred in the early morning hours of September 23, 1955 is unsolved and the judge would like to see justice prevail. At the time of the homicide, Judge Allen remembers how unsettling and upset residents were. He hopes there is still a chance to solve this homicide case. In the meantime he is preparing an article summarizing the 55-year old crime. It will be published by the Tulare County Historical Society in their Los Tulares newsletter soon. Does anyone remember hearing about the Shorty Check murder? Anyone have any information that could lead to the killer? A true Visalia cold case!

Hobo Jungle – A Truly Wild Place
David Lacy asked about the large open area between Ben Maddox and Burke and Center and Murray streets. That is the area that has been identified, the last I heard, as being the location for a new city hall complex. David remembers the area being called the “Hobo Jungle” in the 1950s. Actually, at least a portion of that area has been considered “Hobo Jungle” or “The Jungle” for almost a 100 years that I’m aware of. This is part of what I on the jungle in my file:
I believe in the 1930s they had circuses set up on at least part of that site. It has been known as “the jungle” or “hobo jungle” or “the jungles” for a very long time. I have references that date back to 1914. Even then it was a homeless camp that oftentimes attracted crime and criminals. At least part of the reason for the “hobos” using the location was its proximity to the SP railroad tracks. It was a convenient location to get on and off the train as the tracks made the curve and the train had to slow down. A slower train was easier to board. Oak trees provided shade also. It has been mentioned a lot in the historical record.

David and I would sure enjoy hearing from you if you have any stories about this interesting place.

Santa Fe Street
The original east townsite boundary for Visalia was called East Street. Pretty clever, huh? The name was changed to Santa Fe after 1900 when the Santa Fe Railroad came to Visalia and used that street. With the recent opening of the S.F Railroad Highway 198 overpass to ordinary vehicles, Santa Fe Street has become a major north/south thoroughfare through town.

Before Lumber It Was Mattresses
James Hitchcock is wondering about the northern most building of the Visalia Lumber Co. located on Ben Maddox near Center. That north building has been part of the lumber yard for many years, but James thought it looked like it had been something before it was acquired by the lumberyard. When I went by, I noticed what James did about the building--an unusual appearance—especially the small section in front, as you can see in this contemporary photo. I stopped in and talked with some of the veteran employees there, and yes, the north building was a mattress company when it was purchased by the Visalia Lumber Co. A directory search confirmed the building was The Visalia Mattress Co.

More About Bob Morris’ Business Interests
Dana Lubich, grandson of Robert “Bob” Morris is looking for more material regarding his grandfather. Dana as you remember provided us with a photo and information on the Mobil Service Station at Mineral King and Mooney (where Marie Callender’s is now.) It is also the photo in which we included an audio recording of its grand opening. Dana’s grandfather also had a butane service in Visalia around the same time. It was located about where Rebel Lumber is today just east of Visalia and on the same side of the street he thought. There is a propane company now on the Southside of Hwy 198 again near Rebel, so if this is what use to be his grandfathers, how did it get on the south of 198? So, can any readers help determine the exact location of the Morris Butane Service?

***There is optimism in the air about Mearle’s. Could it be that the Mearle’s building could be getting its dignity back soon?

***Native Visalian Jane Nash doesn’t believe the old Grand Theater by the Hotel Johnson was ever named the Bijou. The only Bijou Theater in Visalia she recalls was the one on the south side of Main Street near what is now Las Palmas Restaurant. A couple of you and one document that I have indicates that the Bijou was at one time where the Grand was.

***I received an inquiry about the Johnson Hotel and its operators William and Annie Smith and there son James and daughter-in-law Marian. William operated the Johnson Hotel from about 1927 to 1937. Anybody know anything about the Smiths during their operation of the hotel?

A large group of Lions Club conventioneers “stopped at Visalia, a go-getter sort of town of about 7000 people. About dinner time when the boosters were getting hungry and Visalia was reached, they were ready for a good meal, which was awaiting them in the City Auditorium, which comfortably can take care of about 400 people at one sitting. Inviting guest rooms were in evidence while waiting for the last of the stragglers to appear. Cards or dancing, reading or lounging were possible right at hand. The party voted Visalia some town. And that vote caused us to admit a blush of shame, for do you, fellow citizens (of Sacramento) know of any place in Sacramento where 400 people could dine together, as was done in Visalia? We don’t. We wish we did.” From the Visalia Morning Delta, May 31, 1922 reporting on what the Sacramento Bee had written.