Thursday, December 1, 2011

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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.

Boy,  did I hear from a number of you complaining that the mystery spots have been too easy. Ok, I will try to “toughen” them up a bit. Anyway, many of you correctly identified the last MS as the L. J. Williams Theater on Main St. on the Redwood campus. Peter Cowper was Johnny-on-the-spot and was the first to get it right. Peter is a consistently observant HH follower. Good work, Peter!

Now for the new, hopefully tougher, mystery spot.  Here are the clues:
1)      This building was completed in 1918
2)      The architect was Ernest Kump Sr.
3)      At one time, Art occupied this building.
4)      It is a happy place, but it wasn’t always.
Good luck.

Interior Picture of a Visalia Post Office
Recently, Sharon Doughty came upon a treasure trove of family photos. One of the photographs in the group shows Visalia postal workers posing inside the Visalia Post Office. Her grandfather, Edmund Kevol Downing is shown here 4th from the right, and the photograph is marked “about 1910.”  In 1910 the post office was located at 110 W. Main Street and in 1914 it moved to the Merryman Building at 121 W. Main. Very few interior photos of our early post offices exist, so this is a great find. There is some interesting signage in the photo and the postmaster’s office is on the right. Thanks for sharing this one with us, Sharon.

Buggy Step Plaque Mounted
The final act in the restoration of the last known buggy step in Visalia is complete. A commemorative plaque with artwork by Dana Lubich was mounted on the buggy step by Rick Seals of Seals/Biehle Construction on November 4, 2011. This project which included restoring the damaged step and the purchase of the plaque was funded by a number of generous people. Thanks to all of you who played a part. Stop by and see the step with plaque on NW 1st just west of Court. This is a great remnant of horse and buggy days.

Visalia Junior College
These two photographs show Visalia Junior College (now COS) shortly after it was built in 1940. The pictures were provided by Jenny Ernest. Prior to the current Mooney Blvd. site, the Visalia Junior College was on the high school campus (now Redwood High). It was there in 1926 that the Junior College began in Visalia. Thanks, Jenny, for sharing.

Jane Nash & Bill Nash—Visalia Historians
As 2011 comes to a close and we reflect back on the lives of two important people who loved Visalia and Visalia history. Jane Higgins Nash passed away on September 30th , about two months after her husband of 60 plus years. Both Bill and Jane knew Visalia history and the people that made it happen. When I had a history question, I always got a “2-fer” when I called Jane. Bill would almost always offer his recollections. Both Jane and Bill will be missed!

Demolition Photograph Surfaces
In 1876-1877, the Tulare County Court-house was built in Visalia in Court-house Square (the block bounded by Oak, Court, Center and Church streets.) The beautiful building was the centerpiece of civic activity in Visalia for many years. In 1952, the major Tehachapi earthquake damaged the old structure making it uninhabitable. It had to be demolished. This rare photograph, shared by Tim Fosberg, shows some of the demolition of the building. The photo is marked November 11, 1952. Notice the fancy ornamentation on the old structure. It was a shame we had to lose it. Thanks, Tim for sharing a great photo.

Visalia Centennial – 1874-1974
Jon Greeson visited his grandmother recently and she shared with him some local treasurers she had kept over the years. One of them was an unopened bottle of Zinfandel wine from the California Growers Winery in Cutler. It was made for the 1874-1974 Visalia Centennial celebration. At the March 2, 1974 grand ball, Les Brown and his orchestra performed and he signed the wine label. By the way, Visalia has had several centennial celebrations. In this case, 1874 was recognized as the second incorporation of the city. Was 1974 a good year for wine? We’ll never know because Jon has no plans to open the bottle.

The Chinese Experience in Visalia
We know Chinese people have been living in Visalia for over 150 years. During that time they prospered and struggled and at one time Visalia had a thriving Chinatown. On Monday December 12th from 7-8:30pm there will be a historical program called “The Chinese Experience in Visalia” at the 210 CafĂ© sponsored by the popular hangout and the Visalia Times Delta. It is part of a series of programs called 210 Connect and is designed to engage the community and create a community dialog. You will be hearing and reading more about it in the Visalia Times Delta as the date gets closer.  Plan to attend as topics will include Chinese merchants, Exclusionary acts, interesting characters and the opium dens/tunnels of old Chinatown.  What a great time to share your Chinatown stories.

***One of the benefits of having so many HH followers is that errors can be found more easily. One of the HH eagle-eyes is Art Browning who found that in a past issue of HH, I incorrectly identified KTKC on an aerial photograph. The station was actually on Woodland Ave outside of the view of this picture.  Thanks Art and if my memory serves me correctly Peter Cowper mentioned that error to me as well.
***I am still waiting to hear about a plan for the “Free Library” granite block that recently was found. I still like the idea of using it as part of a bench on the library grounds or on Main Street near where the old Carnegie Library stood. It would be a shame to not use it in some interesting and creative way.

***Chriss Courtney Laursen remembers the Buster Brown Shoe Store on Main Street just east of the Fox Theatre on the north side of the street. She remembers that the shop, located there in the 1950s or 1960s,  had an x-ray machine that showed how well the shoes fit your foot. Anyone else remember the x-ray machine?

***Tom Rey remembers the famous Estrada’s Restaurant. His Aunt Dorothy went to school with the Estrada girls and later married James A. Flower, M. D. of Detroit. Tom said, “Aunt Dorothy would stop for tamales every time she visited and between visits she would have them shipped…back to Detroit.” Tom also ate at Estrada’s and said he never had a bad meal there.

***I write a regular monthly column in the Valley Voice called “Voices From Four Creeks Country.” The latest column highlights Lee Atwell, a Visalia man who went on to perform on New York’s Broadway and became a recognizable stage actor in the early 1900s. See his interesting story at 

…The dogs about this town are rapidly becoming an unbearable nuisance. The yelping, howling, and snarling, from dark till daylight, are more suggestive of Pandemonium than of the quiet which ought to prevail in a country town during the dark hours. Let it be stopped. We hear loud threats of indiscriminate application of strychnine, but we hope they will not be carried out, at least without due warning, as what few good animals there are, would be apt to get it as worthless cure. Dogs worth keeping are worth keeping at home o’nights.  Visalia Delta, October 23, 1862.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

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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, congratulations go out to George Pilling who was the first to identify the location of the mystery spot marker. The marker with the metal base is located on the northwest corner of Giddings and Main streets, on the property of the old Dudley Mansion. The plaque identifies and commemorates the top bidders at the 1998, 1988, and 2000 Visalia Christmas Tree auction (YMCA). The pedestaled marker is in the flower bed near the intersection and can be seen in this picture on the far right.

Now for the new mystery spot. Here are the clues:
1)    This building had a new beginning in the 1972.
2)    Architect Ernest Kump designed the original building that was built in 1932.
3)    Early-on the building was connected to Visalia education.
4)    The building serves as a major gathering place for people today.
Good luck.

The Palace Hotel Building Becomes the First
Well, it finally happened. The old Palace Hotel building was the first to receive a historic plaque in Visalia’s newly created Historic Recognition Program. The unveiling was witnessed by perhaps a hundred people or so. The big event took place on October 13, 2011 at 10:00am. The bronze marker was mounted on the west exterior wall (Court Street side) of the building located at the northeast corner of Court and Main streets. This plaquing program was kicked off thanks  to William Martin, the building owner, the Kaweah Kollectors, who funded the first and will be funding about a dozen plaques more, and the Visalia Historic Preservation Advisory Committee ( HPAC) who will oversee the program. I look forward to more plaquing of Visalia’s nice old structures. The program is a great way of teaching local history and creating more interest in Visalia’s vintage and flourishing downtown area. The photos are thanks to Dana Lubich who also found a website that shows interior pictures of Palace Hotel

100+ Year Old Relic Found!
In 1904, Visalia’s Carnegie Library was built on the northeast corner of Main and Encina streets. It was called the Visalia Free Library and had that name etched in a granite block above the entrance to the building. In 1936 that library was replaced by the WPA library building that is now the children’s library near Encina and School streets. The old Carnegie Library building was then demolished. Recently, Patrick Barszcz reported that a part of that etched granite name block from the old Carnegie Library was found. The piece says “Free Library.” The block is without the word “Visalia”. That piece is missing. It sure would be nice to do something interesting with the Free Library piece. Any ideas?

A Walk around Visalia
A new Visalia book has just been released! George Pilling called his publication A Walk around Visalia and it is now available for purchase. I have spent some time with it and am thoroughly enjoying it. I really like George’s approach in this book. It’s relaxing, almost “Mr. Rogers”-like and incorporates a nice blend of Visalia history and the current scene in our town. He describes several interesting Visalia walks that he maps out. The book is also packed with beautiful photographs. I encourage you to consider adding this one to your library. Christmas is coming up , too.  To order your copy, go to his website at Thanks George for giving us a nice book.

It’s Called the Shippey House
Teresa Williams and Robert Beckett own the beautiful old home located on the northeast corner of Court St and Tulare Ave. After doing some research, Teresa discovered that the home was built in 1914. They would sure like to be considered for a building plaque. According to them, the house was built by Daniel Shippey and his son Alvin Shippey, therefore Teresa and Robert affectionately call their home Shippey House. You can visit their website at Good luck Robert and Teresa on your goal of getting a plaque. 

Estrada’s—A Deep Rooted Family & Restaurant
Remember this landmark business on Mooney Blvd? Recently, Sandy Newman shared some photographs of this long-time Visalia business—all taken in November 1993, shortly before the building was demolished, I believe. The Estrada’s restaurant story is a real success story that at one time also had a presence in Fresno and Colma. The Estrada family ran the restaurant from its beginning. The Visalia restaurant was located at 414 W. Main Street for years. In about 1958, the operation was moved to this Mooney Blvd. location (1545 So. Mooney). Thanks Sandy for reminding us of this important Visalia family and their business.

***A number of you have personal knowledge of the old buildings that made up  Tarterville and provided nice tidbits of history. The structures were described as Quonset type buildings which meant they had curved metal roofs, similar to older military buildings. Thanks everyone for sharing their Tarterville stories.

***Sharon Logan Gregory mentioned Lindsay and Elaine Williams who she said owned the “Sin City” bar was at Main and Ben Maddox. For many years I have heard this bar mentioned, but I’ve never seen any photographs. Sin City apparently disappeared when Main Street was extended east of Ben Maddox. Can anyone provide photos or additional information on Sin City?

***Crop duster, Phil Kneeland, asked whether any aerial photographs of the Green Acres Airport (near Green Acres School) existed. I do not have any photographs of the old airport, but maybe you do? Please let me know if you have any and are willing to share.

***Jim Drath recently shared two old copies of the Visalia Daily Times from 1917. There are so many good stories about early Visalia inside, but one of special interest to me is the detailed article that discusses the possibility and desirability of creating a reservoir below Three Rivers for irrigation purposes. Thanks Jim for sharing.

Visalia, county seat of Tulare County, is one of the oldest as well as one of the prettiest and most prosperous cities of the San Joaquin Valley.  Fresno Morning Republican, June 22, 1919

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

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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 Art Browning who was first to successfully identify the old brick Bradley law office building on Church between Main and Acequia. Great old building with nice brick pattern on top.

Now for the next mystery spot. It is for the very observant. I just happened to notice it for the first time a few days ago. The clues are:

1. This marker/plaque is mounted facing the street that was once used as the entrance to Visalia from the west.
2. The plaque is mounted very close to the site of the smallest park in the world.
3. The plaque commemorates “Visalia’s Tree for Youth.”
4. The property where this plaque is mounted once belonged to a pioneer who came from a well-known Tulare County cattle ranching family.

Where is this plaque? Good luck.

Howard Ave and Iris Ave
Recently, I talked with Rosalie Buszek Powell about her father Buz Buszek and in the course of that conversation she told me that her family was friends with Howard and his wife Iris Straughn in the 1950s. Howard was in the real estate business, and it was he that was responsible for the naming of both Howard and Iris avenues sometime around 1952.

Tartarville—A Veteran Community on Campus
In the last HH I included an aerial photograph of Mooney Blvd in 1950. As part of that photo was a great view of the little community known as Tartarville, made up of a group of houses built on the northwest corner of the Visalia College (Now COS) campus. After World War II veterans returning to their hometowns, found housing shortages. Towns like Visalia tried to deal with the house problem. The building trades department at the college built 24 duplex buildings as can be seen in this aerial photograph. Frank Tebeau, a current COS welding instructor, was nice enough to share some history. He said the buildings were occupied by college veteran students and their families. According to the 1947 Tartar Yearbook, the students of the college had a contest to name the special housing area and Pat Lehn had the winning submission calling it “Tartarville.” Anyone know when Tartarville was disbanded?

Wander In – Stagger Out
Recently, I was contacted by Cheryl Jackson, an HH follower, who shared that she had found a brass token with the word Sweeney & Necklausson, Visalia, California on it. She also has blue chips from “The Stag.” On one side of the brass token it says “Good for 12 ½ cent cigar.” Cheryl also shared that her father, Beryl Logan worked at the Wunder Stag from about 1950 to about 1965 as a bartender and “house” card player. Visalia’s Pete Sweeney is the son of Carter Sweeney who owned the Wunder Stag for a long time and shared this photo. The Wunder & Stag were separate establishments for a number of years and in 1918 they combined to become one. An expression soon developed: “Wander In and Stagger Out.” The Wunder & Stag history in Visalia is colorful and interesting. When combined, the Wunder Stag was located near 115 E Main
Street about where Links store is now. Thanks Cheryl for reminding us of this historical part of Visalia’s past. By the way, at various times these establishments were saloons, cigar stores, billiard parlors and restaurants.

Classic Postcard Reveals Classic Home
A loyal HH follower shared an interesting story with me recently. In the early 1970s her mother saw a man standing outside her Visalia home alternately looking at her house and then looking down at a postcard. She talked to the man visiting Visalia from Ohio and discovered he had a commercially made postcard with a picture of her Visalia home. The Ohio man then gave her the postcard. The house was built in 1916 and over the years it has gone through considerable remodeling, especially in 1938. In many ways it does not even resemble the postcard image. The family continues to live in the home and is proud of their Visalia classic. Check your postcard collection—you may have this one. If you recognize this home and have any information about it, please let me know and I’ll share it with the owner.

Another Amazing Aerial Photograph
So many of you enjoyed the last aerial photograph of Visalia supplied by Bob Link, so I thought I’d include another. This one was also taken in 1950 and shows Mooney Blvd looking northbound from just south of Walnut Ave. What a difference 61 years made to Visalia! Enjoy.

***I received lots of comments on the noon horn. Thanks to all of you and especially Tony for sticking your voice out there to demonstrate. One more thing. I came across an article in 1878 from the Visalia Delta which said, “The steam whistle that proclaims the hour of noon to Visalians, is on the engine at the water works.

***I am getting ready to prepare and order a metal plaque for the buggy step that was restored in January, 2010. I would like to include on the plaque a relatively simple line drawing that would show how the buggy step was used. The art would accompany the text on the plaque. If you have any interest in creating a simple line drawing that I can include on the plaque, please contact me at or (559) 901-3227. I need help on this one.

***Charles Loffland, an HH subscriber, commented on the old fire station photo after seeing it in the last HH. He remembered it, calling it a beautiful building and lamented that we lost it. Charles and others believe we need to preserve our old buildings in Visalia. I think it’s revealing that The Habit chose the 70-year old Mearle’s building and invested hundreds of thousands of dollars. Preserving our old buildings makes sense emotionally and economically.

***Regarding the Recreation Park playhouse mentioned a few postings back, Kim Gunter found out some things. She said, “Just spoke to Betty Anthony and asked her about the playhouse. She referred to it as the ball house. (She and her husband Dick lived in the house on the property from 1955 to 1964.) Nobody has a closer connection to Recreation Park than the Anthony’s. Betty taught most of us who grew up in Visalia to swim. At least those of us between the ages of 24 & 64. She said that earlier it was used for arts & crafts with the kids. Then they began to use it almost exclusively to store balls in, hence the name, The Ball House. She said that after the city decided to clear more of the property for sports and other activities, the house they lived in was sold and moved further north, their fence was demolished and so was the ball house, as far as she knows. A sad ending, but that was the way things were done in the mid-60s.”

***By the way, Harvey May of Paloma Development said he is planning to apply for a historic building plaque for the old Togni building on Main St. Glad to hear that Harvey.

***The mystery of the Ben Maddox Courts has been solved. I’ll share what has been shared with me, if you’ll email me.

***Thanks to Wesley Peck for all his Riggin Family history. He found some interesting material on a genealogy website.

Editorial Note: First of all let me apologize to my attorney friends—it appears lawyer jokes are not a recent phenomena. “Why are lawyers like a lazy man in bed in the morning? Because they lie first on one side and then turn over and lie on the other.” Visalia Weekly Delta, September 26, 1861

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Click on photo for larger imageThanks 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 Ed Stewart who was first to get the latest mystery spot identified. It was the old Railway Express Agency building at 225 No. Garden. It is now on The Depot Restaurant property and is the separate building on the southwest corner of Oak and Garden. Good job Ed, this was a tough one!

Now for the next mystery spot. Here are your clues:
1) It is on the site of the first church building in Visalia
2) The building is just south of the Fred Uhl building
3) It is just north of the old telephone company building
4) If you add the number together in the address it totals 7
Good luck.

Recently, I was talking with Nick Anthony a member of the pioneer Riggin family—a family that has had very little written about them. He shared that John Riggin, I believe the earliest Riggin family arrival in Tulare County , had a son named Lawrence and when Ave 312 was given a name, it was made Riggin Ave in honor of Lawrence and the Riggin family. The family owned property west of Visalia. Anyone know more about the Riggin family? We really need to get Riggin history into the books.

From Eyesore to Eye Popping!
Well, the new chapter in the life of the Mearle’s building is now beginning. For the last several months, we have witnessed the old-timer go from eyesore to eye popping and I know the community is grateful. We are so fortunate Dana Lubich has spent many hours with his still and video camera capturing the amazing transformation. Dana has pictorially documented the building in hundreds of photos showing the wonderful change. Here Dana gives us about a 3-minute slide show showing the transformation. Dana, your work is a community gift and we can’t thank you enough for the hundreds of slides/videos you took and the hundreds of hours you spent at that building. You have become an important part of the buildings history and we thank you. Turn your speakers up and watch Mearle’s become a Habit through Dana’s camera lens.

Visalia Aerial Photos Surface
Recently Mayor Bob Link told me of some copies of photographs of Visalia that had been given to him. Most of them are aerial shots from the 1950s. The one shown here is dated 1950. In this photo the view is looking southbound on Mooney Blvd. from about Mineral King. I have marked some streets with reference points. There is so much to learn and enjoy from these amazing old photos. Thanks, Mayor, for sharing them. As always, if any of you would like to see any of these photos or others that I have, I love sharing old Visalia. Just let me know.

Historic Buildings Will Get Plaques
For the past few years, Visalia has kicked around the idea of mounting identifying markers on historic buildings in town. Now the Visalia City Council has just approved the Historic Recognition Program (HRP). Buildings at least 75 years old are eligible for a plaque. See this design sample from another city. The plaque is not what ours will look like, but gives you an idea. This program is a great way to identify and appreciate Visalia’s great old buildings. We owe much to the Kaweah Kollectors who are the sponsors of this program and the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee who will oversee it. Nancy Loliva, Andy Chamberlain and a few others did the administrative work to get the program off the ground. Everyone did a great job on it. This is what the “Inside City Hall” electronic newsletter said about this program: “Historical Recognition Program Approved: The City Council approved a Historic Recognition Program (HRP) that allows interested building owners an opportunity to be considered for a plaque to identify buildings with local historical significance to the community. To qualify for an interpretive marker, the building must be at least 75 years old, researched for its authenticity, and at a minimum, the date of construction must be reasonably determined. The research and documentation must be conducted by qualified historical research personnel approved by the City of Visalia Historic Preservation Advisory Committee, and submitted with the application. Once mounted, all plaques become the property and responsibility of the building owner. The structure does not need to be within the City of Visalia Historic District or on the Local Register of Historic Structures. The estimated cost of each plaque with installation is $750, and funding is currently available through a $10,500 grant from Kaweah Kollectors.” For more specifics about the program go to

By the way, if you want to stay informed on general business/ activities within the city you can subscribe free to the “Inside City Hall.” Newsletter. It’s easy to sign up and a great way to stay informed. If interested go to the city’s website at  and click on About Visalia and go to Inside City Hall Newsletter. For help contact Community Relations Manager Nancy Loliva at  or call 713-4535.

Old Togni Building Is Looking Good
Harvey May, the principal of Paloma Development and his investment group has been working hard on the old Togni-Branch building, formerly Cross Horlock at 116 E Main. It is a nice century-plus old building in the heart of downtown. They removed the metal sheeting off of the front months ago (thank you for that) and gave us back the upstairs windows. The ground floor interior has been remodeled and the upstairs interior is in the works. Much of the ground floor is occupied and anyone interested in possibly occupying space in the nice old building should contact Harvey at or 713-0202. By the way, Harvey is working on a historical display in the common areas as part of the building’s restoration and would like to make sure the Togni family is included. Stay tuned, there will be an open house down the road. Harvey, the work of your group is appreciated!

Visalia’s Noon BlastIn the last HH I mentioned Visalia’s noon horn or whistle. At twelve noon, Everyday like clockwork, it would sound. Bob Miller had mentioned it to me and when I included it in HH and asked readers about it, I was bombarded with responses. Some called it a whistle, some a siren, some a horn and some a bell. Tony Cornett, a firefighter who worked in the old fire department building, says the horn, and he said it was a horn, was located in the south tower of the old city hall/fire department building at Church and Acequia. Several others agree. Tony said the pitch or sound of the horn was “3 very deep bass type tones” that he said sounded exactly like AHHH HAWWW AHHHH, repeated 3 times in rapid succession. I am not kidding, Tony actually believed by spelling out the horn sound allowing us to pronounce it, we could immolate the horn sound. I wasn’t buying it, so Tony recreated the horn sound and I share it with you here. This is Tony making the horn sound. Tony you are one amazing guy. Your voice is now being heard all over the world. Everyone, please tell me how close he came.

***Speaking of the town whistle/horn, Eleanor Bergthold recalls, “During the 1940s, my mom’s extended family got together at my grandparents’ house for Sunday dinner. On what must have been Sunday, September 2, 1945, several of my cousins and I were sitting in my grandparents’ front yard when the town whistle started blowing multiple times—a most unusual happening. Before long we were told by our parents that the war was officially over – a great relief since four of my mother’s brothers and one of my dad’s were in the service. (My mom’s 19-year old brother had very recently been killed in Okinawa in what would be the final assault of the war.”

***Steven Cullen, after reading the HH item about Visalia Olive Oil, shared that at some point, the U. S. changed olive oil import laws that had protected U.S. olive growers. He said the new import laws favored poor European countries (Italy) and California olive growers were economically hurt by it.

In 1870, after much water puddling in Visalia, the Delta facetiously reported: Good Investment—Any person wishing to go into the duck business can find a good pond on Court, between Main and Acequia streets. It also [is] a good opening for the establishment of a ferry, if a franchise could be obtained from the Roadmaster of this district. Visalia Weekly Delta, May 25, 1870