Tuesday, February 9, 2016

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Thanks for visiting Historic Happenings! If you are not on the email list, and would like to be notified via email when a new posting of this newsletter is made, please email Terry Ommen at
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Congratulations go out to Carole Mathewson for being the first to correctly identify the Robin Fountain as the last mystery spot located at the Tulare County Library in Visalia. By the way, she was present at the famous birdbath original dedication in 1944. Nice work Carole.

Here are the clues for the next Mystery Spot:
1) This plaque or cornerstone was on a government building when it was built in 1876.
2) The building is gone now.
3) It was located in what is now downtown Visalia.
4) It was probably the single most important building in Visalia

What building was this cornerstone located on and where was it? Good luck.

Old Victorian Home Saved With Photograph
Many of you remember this beautiful Victorian home that stood next to freeway 198 a few miles east of Visalia. Built in about 1902, the stately home was so well-known it became the model for the popular miniature or doll house that Howard Hill built and called the "Visalian." This doll house became very popular and can still be found all over the country, probably the world. The house that you see here was built by the Hilliard's, but was more recently known as the home of Effie Strowbridge. Effie died some time ago, and this house was destroyed by fire in 1983. My friend, Bill Dillberg, a professional Visalia photographer, took this photograph and coincidentally, fought the fire as a volunteer fireman the day it burned. This landmark home turned many an eye in its day and so many were saddened when it burned. Thanks Bill, for taking this photograph and sharing it with us.

1930s Map Saved
Jean Hedegaard and her son Tom Higgins were kind enough to share a map with me that Tom had recently found by accident. Thrown in with a pile of junk, Tom saved the old map and I'm glad he did. Jean has been kind and generous to me over the years, and Tom, I discovered, is a big history fan. This Thomas Brothers Visalia map is a good one that dates back at least to the early 1930s. We know that because as you can see, the
library is still shown at the Main and Encina streets location. That Carnegie building was vacated when the new library (now the children's library) was opened in 1936. This professionally produced map which is to scale, has display ads all around the outside border. The reverse side of this map shows a partial portion of the map of the state of California. Thanks Jean and Tom for sharing this amazing map.

Whiskerino—When Facial Hair Was the Rage
During the 1930s and 1940s, Visalia was a rodeo town. Yearly, cowboys from all over the country would converge on Visalia to show off their skills with horses and cattle. It was a multi-day event with a huge parade and many rodeo competitions.  The entire town got into the spirit and city officials loved the chance to show off the town. Street dances, fiddler, and rodeo queen contests were part of the hoopla, and city officials encouraged locals to get involved in a "Whiskerino" contest.  They promoted the contest by wearing buttons as you can see. The idea was to grow and display facial hair in keeping with the western theme of the rodeo. In this photograph, Charlie Hammer, one of the rodeo boosters, is shown with his "Whiskerino" button. The man next to him is Albert "Pete" Sweeney. Albert's son, Pete, shared this photograph. By the way, Pete Sweeney is an amazing talent at the organ. But you probably knew that, everyone does. Thanks Pete for the photograph and sharing your wonderful gift.

Captain W. E. "Squeak" Riley
For some time I have wanted to highlight a man who was an important figure in Visalia and really Tulare County law enforcement history. His name is Captain W. E. Riley. I don't know how he got the nickname "Squeak," but he did.  Captain Riley was not a big man, physically, but he had a stellar reputation and was highly respected. Squeak was the third man hired as part of the Tulare County Traffic Squad. He started his traffic enforcement career in 1920 and was named captain of the traffic squad in 1926.
Headquartered in Visalia, the traffic squad office was on Center Street just east of Church. In 1929, the California Highway Patrol was formed and Captain Riley continued as the man in charge during that transition. He retired from the CHP in about 1957, serving in Visalia and Tulare County his entire career. For many years, Squeak was one of the most recognized figures in Visalia. I understand he had one son. Does anyone know if that is true? If so, does anyone know anything about him? The first photograph shown here with his squad is Squeak in about 1926 in front of the squad office, and the other photo was taken shortly before he retired. The CHP office here was on the northeast corner of Stevenson and Mineral King.

Motel Harlan—An Adobe Hacienda
In 1937 plans for the Motel Harlan were drawn up by J. K. Houghan. Mr. and Mrs. Ray Harlan, motel operators, also owned the business. 25,000 adobe bricks were made on the site and used to construct the building. In early 1938, the doors opened for business. Located at Highway 198 and the Tulare-Visalia Highway (now Mooney Blvd.), the Spanish style motel made in a U shape even had garages and a coffee shop. The restaurant was operated by Mr. and Mrs. Bill Squires. I don't know when the motel was demolished, but I suspect it was during the construction of the "sunken" Highway 198 nearby. Does anyone remember the motel or know the Harlan's or Squires?

***In the last HH I featured the Bartell-Todd Service Station. In the photo was a majorette, well guess what? Marian Shippey Cote's cousin's wife, Adrienne Taylor Brummer, saw the photograph and identified the majorette as her sister, Earlene Taylor (Leonard) who is now deceased. Thanks Marian and Adrienne for this identification.

The condition of Main street in front of several prominent places of business in this city is revolting. The mud and slush is such that horses stand more than hoof deep. A few days spent hauling sand to these quagmires would be a great relief to the eyesight of many. Tulare County Times, January 5, 1893

Sunday, January 3, 2016

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Thanks for visiting Historic Happenings! If you are not on the email list, and would like to be notified via email when a new posting of this newsletter is made, please email Terry Ommen at
histerry@comcast.net. I will add you to the list. I will never share your email address with anyone without your permission.   


Congratulations to Brent Nunes for being the first to
correctly identify the last mystery spot. It, of course, is the south wall of the old mid-town news building on the corner of Church and Acequia streets. Nice work, Brent.

Ok, here are your clues for the next one:
1) This is mounted on public art sculpted by artist Carroll Barnes
2) The dedication of this art was on July 14, 1944
3) It is on the same grounds as it was originally placed, but at a different location
4) Birds are incorporated in this art.

Where is this piece of art? Good luck.

Greenacres Airport—Gone But Still Remembered
Phil Kneeland remembers the old Green Acres Airport very well. In fact, he flew out of it as a pilot for Greenacres Aviation. He provided this photograph which was taken at the airport in about 1945, but he doesn't recognize the man pictured here. Does anyone
know him? By the way, Joe Doctor wrote that the Greenacres Airport was first called Hyde Field and in the 1920s, it was a forest service aerial fire surveillance base. The airport no longer exists, but it was located just north of Goshen Ave directly across from the Visalia Country Club.

Robinson & Churchman—Part of Visalia's Photography Scene
Visalia is fortunate to have had an especially good number of photographers who practice their trade in town and captured our history on film. The studio of Robinson & Churchman was especially well known. Miss Ida Robinson and Mr. S. E. Churchman had
their studio in the Holt Block (north side of West Main Street in the 100 block), and boasted that they were photographers specializing in "crayon, water colors, frames, etc." Photographs of photographers are hard to come by and we are lucky to have these two, even though they are on the grainy side. These were taken around 1897. Many Robinson & Churchman photographs continue to circulate.

Street Lights In All Different Forms
Visalia's experience with the street light dates back to at least Christmas Eve 1859 when a town lamp, 12 feet high, 4 feet wide with 30 panes of glass was lighted. Composed of 4 camphene lamps with reflectors, the light stood on Main Street between Court and Church. A multitude of street
lamps have been placed on the streets of Visalia over the years since then with varying degrees of success. The technology used and the shapes have varied tremendously, and by 1913 thanks to the Mt. Whitney Power & Electric Company, the city settled on electricity as the standard source of power. Although the styles of the street lights have changed, illuminating the streets for convenience and safety has pretty much been the main purpose. To my knowledge there has been no documentation regarding the various styles used in Visalia, and here is one sample of a style used on Main Street. Sure love the look. Anyone know if any of these old timers still exist in the city?

Browne's Little Print Shop
Not too many years ago, a beautiful little building stood on the south side of Center Street between Court and Church. Architecturally, it was a gorgeous building housing Browne's Print Shop. I'm sure redevelopment forced this little building and the surrounding ones to be torn down. Now the area is a parking lot bordering Center Street between Court and Church. My records show that Charles A. Browne started his
commercial printing company in 1925 I believe at 908 S. Court. By 1932 the shop was at 105 E. Center Street (building shown here I think), therefore, I believe this building was built between 1925 and 1932. My file is noticeably slim regarding the history of this building and the business, and I'd love to know more. Can anyone help?

Bartell Todd—Known for Gasoline and Tires
In the day, Visalia's downtown had numerous gasoline filling stations sprinkled about. It's not surprising because Visalia's downtown area was really the only commercial area in the town. One of the early filling stations was owned by L. S. Featherstone in the 300 block of W. Main Street. In 1921 Bartell Todd, a "well known young Visalian" took it over. The business
address was 309 W. Main Street and was located across the street and a little west of the Fox Theatre. The first photo here shows a small portion of Bartell Todd’s station during a parade with the big orange in the background. Anyone know anything about the orange? Was it a root beer stand? The beautiful advertising blotter shown here is courtesy of Sharon Doughty. I love the bright colors and the wonderful artwork. Anyone know when the Bartell Todd business left this location?

**In the last HH I mentioned a couple of Works Progress Administration (WPA) sidewalk markings by Miller's Mortuary which were found by Richard Zack. Joseph Vicenti let me know that he had found more of these WPA markings in the Home Builders Tract and even spotted some WPA markings on the concrete bases of some picnic benches at Cutler Park. Thanks, Joseph, for sharing that.

**If you'd like to read more about the historic American Legion Memorial obelisk now located near Main and Hall streets, pick up a copy of the December 2015 issue of Lifestyle Magazine. The article starts on page 12 or you can read it online at http://www.visalialifestyle.com/history/

**In the last HH, I included a Visalia map and Phil Esbenshade asked us readers to estimate the age of the map. I speculated it was published probably in the later 1960s and a couple of you eagle-eyed readers noted one of the business ads on the map proudly proclaimed that they had been in business since 1976. So much for my estimate!

**In the last HH, I shared a Church Street photograph postcard and asked if anyone knew anything about it. Russ Dahler, Aaron Collins, and Joseph Vicenti identified the house on the left and the cross street as Myrtle. So the image is Church Street looking north through the intersection of Myrtle. The J. V. Garcia home is on the far left and still stands today. Thanks guys for helping with this photograph. I'm impressed!

Good News for Bachelors—A short time since a family arrived in Tulare county from Texas composed of the father, mother, twenty-one daughters and one son. During the past week, another family from the same state arrived and took up their abode amongst us, in which were fourteen unmarried daughters. Visalia Weekly Delta, April 14, 1860

Sunday, December 6, 2015

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Thanks for visiting Historic Happenings! If you are not on the email list, and would like to be notified via email when a new posting of this newsletter is made, please email Terry Ommen at
histerry@comcast.net. I will add you to the list. I will never share your email address with anyone without your permission.   


Congratulations to Steve Gerrard for being the first to
correctly identify the building that once housed the Railroad Express Agency. It is now one of the Southern Pacific Depot Restaurant buildings on the southwest corner of Garden and Oak streets. Nice work Steve!

Now, for the next mystery spot. Here are your clues:
1) This is a corner building
2) The building was at one time affiliated with the local telephone company
3) At one time you could get news here.
4) If you add up the numbers in the street address of this building it will total 12.
Where is the building?

S & N Token—A Real Beauty
Kate Gibson-Cates recently inherited a cigar token from her grandmother. It is marked S & N Visalia, Calif. on one side and the other says Good For The Stag 12 1/2 Cent Cigar. Her keepsake is a beauty and originated from The Stag saloon and cigar store (100 block of E Main Street, south side of the street.)  It was owned by Carter Sweeney and Al Necklausson (S & N). It opened in 1921 and was a popular hangout and later
combined to become the Wunder Stag. A few of these old tokens still exist and surface occasionally. Thanks Kate, for sharing what are sometimes called "Good For" tokens. Anyone have any other Visalia tokens to share?

Church Street Before 1907
Recently Paul Green shared this real photo type postcard of Church Street in Visalia. It doesn't say whether it was north or south Church Street but it shows an unpaved street with horse and buggy marks in the dirt. Anyone recognize the cross street?  Off in the distance horses and buggies can be seen. This old postcard is postmarked on the back with 1907, so we know that this street photograph was taken in 1907 or before. Thanks Paul, for sharing this great old picture.

Visalia Map—A Half Century Old, Maybe
Phil Esbenshade recently shared a couple of images of a Visalia map he recently acquired. It is not dated, but has some clues as to its age. He was wondering when it was published and hopes someone can help him. The map was
obviously professionally printed and has some advertisers listed on it. Another clue—the map itself does not show the Royal Oaks Drive cul-de-sac. Anyone have an idea when this map was published? I'm thinking 1966/1967.

Armistice - A Cause for Celebration
Fairly recently, someone (forgive me but I don't remember who) shared this Visalia Morning Delta newspaper with me and I have to share it with you. It is dated November 11, 1918, and the bold headline reads ARMISTICE. The
sub headline anxiously announced that the "World War will come to an end" at 11:00 o'clock Paris time and that the armistice was signed at 5 o'clock by German representatives. Today we celebrate Veterans Day on the same day. If you look at the second image, you will see that Visalia celebrated this great day with a parade.

WPA—More Than Just Buildings
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was one of the federal organizations of the 1930s-1940s during the Great Depression era. The federal government was concerned about the nation's high unemployment, so they were working with local government to try
to get public work projects done. Visalia had several buildings built with WPA funding, but obviously sidewalks, storm drains, etc. were part of that program. Richard Zack recently found some signed work by the WPA in Visalia on one of his walks. These two locations are in front of Miller's Mortuary in the sidewalk on Goshen Avenue near the cemetery. These are the first "signed" WPA projects (other than buildings) that I have seen in Visalia. Good observations Richard, and thanks for sharing.

Harry Tow—A Historian is Honored
On Thursday, October 22, 2015, former Visalia City Manager Harry Tow was honored as the Sequoia Council Boy Scouts of America Distinguished Citizen for 2015. As Visalia City Manager from 1958 to 1972, Harry was at the helm of Visalia's serious growth (population went from 15,000 to 30,000 during his tenure.) The 1960s were especially eventful and Harry was right there to witness it. He is always willing to share. By the way, when he left as city manager, he founded Quad Consultants and he still lives and works in Visalia.

The American Civil War…A Dark Time in Visalia History
When the American Civil War began (1861), Visalia wasn't even a decade old. Many of the settlers were southern born and supported the Confederacy during the war. As a result, the southern sympathizers made life difficult for the northern supporters. Concerned about Visalia's negative influence in the Union war effort, the north established Camp Babbitt just outside the Visalia city limits and stationed troops there to keep the peace. Peace was hard to come by and the little town suffered enormously. Here is a photograph of Camp Babbitt. On Monday, December 14th at 7:00pm I will present a historical program on Visalia's Civil War at the 210 Center in Visalia. See the electronic flyer attached for more details or email me.

**I got such a chuckle from Lori Chan Luna who shared a childhood story. For me it was so cute I have to share it with you. A few posts ago I included a small piece on Ralph Drath, a long time Visalia educator. After reading it, Lori reminisced and wrote, "When we were attending Highland Have School so many years ago, Mr. Drath was Principal. Everyone called him Mr. Giraffe and it wasn't until I left Highland to attend Houston Avenue School that I realized his name was actually M. Drath! It seems to me that maybe because he appeared so tall, we students figured that the name was appropriate! Anyway, thanks for helping me to remember this kind man."

**Richard Garcia has a question. Can anyone help? "In the early 1970s my favorite hangout was a classy little cocktail lounge in Visalia's Chinatown called the Nine Dragon Room. Located where the Hong Kong Market Place Restaurant is currently, its entrance was off Center Street. The entire length of the wall behind the bar (opposite side of the wall behind the current bar) was a mural of 9 beautiful dragons. A barmaid named Katie told me that an artist from San Francisco who was a heroin addict had painted it years ago. That's all I remember through a smoky haze of black lights, cigars and Canadian whiskey. Was it a canvas that someone saved? A wall that was covered? Or was it lost forever? Anyone have a photo?"

** It you'd like more history of Visalia's St. Charles Saloon and its collapse, read the story in the Lifestyle Magazine for November 2015, beginning on page 12, or you can read it online at http://www.visalialifestyle.com/history/

For the Lord's sake somebody, let up on our wood pile. If you can't steal from someone else, give us the proper direction, and we will send a load. Visalia Delta, December 25, 1862 (Commenting in frustration after repeated thefts of their firewood.)