The “City Beautiful” Era in Stockton

Civic Center Postcard (1932), before McLeod Lake was filled (Ron Chapman Collection)

Stockton’s Civic Center was designed during the the “City Beautiful” movement. This movement spawned by Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition of 1893 featured grand scale public buildings of classical architectural style fronting large public plazas or wide boulevards.  Due to immigration and industrialization, many American cities of the time were experiencing rapid growth, increasing poverty and growing decay.  The “City Beautiful” reform movement emphasized order, dignity and harmony. Advocates believed that beautifying cities would inspire civic loyalty and promote social order.  They were also interested in attracting the upper class back to cities for work, business and entertainment. 

The Stockton Civic Center is an exemplary City Beautiful complex.  The Civic Auditorium and City Hall, both completed by 1926, are the most significant buildings in one of the finest civic centers in northern California.  The grand classical style of these two structures with their massive columns, decorated friezes and cornices both face a public plaza.  Prior to the plaza’s construction in 1947, the site was a lake fronting both buildings.  Although smaller in scale, the architecture of the Police and Fire Alarm Station in McLeod Park matches the auditorium and City Hall.  The public library’s architecture is more modern, as the plan to construct it did not develop until 1964 when the “City Beautiful” movement had ended.

The prominence of the Civic Center demonstrates the importance of Stockton’s history and is a lasting architectural treasure of national significance

This article was first published by Alice van Ommeren in the Downtown Stockton Alliance in September 2010.

 

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On this Day in 1935, Tillie Lewis…

Photo Courtesy: Haggin Museum and Kyle Tobin-Williams

…opened the first Flotill cannery in Stockton on her 34th birthday.

http://jwa.org/thisweek/jul/13/1935/tillie-lewis

She grew her company (Flo-till) to become the fifth largest canning business in the United States by 1950 and she was referred to as the “Tomato Queen.” The canneries employed many Stocktonians.

Source: Remarkable Women of Stockton (2014) by Mary Jo Gohlke available at local book and museum stores, as well as with on-line retailers.

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The Stockton Theatre Fire on July 4th,1890

The Stockton Theatre on Main and El Dorado Streets (1853-1890)

The Stockton Theatre on Main and El Dorado Streets (1853-1890)

It was on this day in 1890 that the Stockton Theatre located on the southeast corner of Main and El Dorado Streets burned to the ground.  This pioneer playhouse built in 1853 was one of the most successful early theaters of Stockton. The 500-seat venue drew
famous entertainers such as Lotta Crabtree, Edwin Booth and many other early day performers.  At one time Stockton was one of the great theater towns of California. Drama, music and dancing have been a significant part of Stockton’s history and culture beginning as early as the gold rush days with the need to provide entertainment to miners and merchants.

Source: Stockton Memories: A Pictorial History of Stockton, California by R. Coke Wood and Leonard Covello (1977).

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East at Main Street: APIA Mapping Project

A workshop this Saturday, June 28th (2pm-3:30pm) is being co-sponsored by the Little Manila Foundation and the University of the Pacific Benerd School of Education to gather images and stories of Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) historically and culturally significant sites throughout the United States and U.S. territories, with a specific focus around Stockton and San Joaquin County. 

East at Main Street is funded by the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. East at Main Street is a crowd-sourced map available on the web and as a mobile application at historypin.com/project/ 51-east-at-main-street.  

So, bring digital or hard copies of photos, flyers, or other materials to pin to the community workshop, or just stop by to see how it’s being done.  The event will on the UOP Campus in the Benerd School of Education (3441 Kensington Avenue) in Room 110C.

More information here – http://www.littlemanila.org/

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Stockton’s Historical Street: Weber Avenue

Vintage Postcard (1909) of Weber Avenue (before Hotel Stockton)

Weber Avenue is one of the oldest streets in Stockton. Gold seekers and supply merchants disembarked from sailing vessels and riverboats along west Weber Avenue, once known as the “Levee.” Many climbed on horses, or aboard stagecoaches and freight wagons, bound to find their fortunes in the foothills. This wide street originating at the waterfront was one of four avenues mapped to run east and west in a street survey of Stockton completed by Major P. Hammond in 1849. The street, named after the city’s founder, became the major thoroughfare of the early business district.

Over the next few decades, the city’s commerce shifted from serving miners to farmers. As the city prospered and grew into a transportation and manufacturing center for the surrounding agricultural area, Weber Avenue retained its importance because of its proximity to the waterfront. Countless farmers traveled this road to bring their crops to the waterfront for shipping, as well as to pick up supplies from the businesses along the avenue. In 1871, the building of railroad tracks on Weber Avenue and a depot on the south bank of the waterfront enhanced freight and public transportation.

Many buildings on Weber Avenue stand as remembrances of the city’s significant commercial development. On the west end, the Sperry Flour Mill office and warehouse once served one of the largest flourmill companies in the state. Traveling west, the sight of the magnificent Hotel Stockton is striking. Completed in 1910, the elegant tourist hotel brought distinction to the streetscape. Although heavily remodeled, the adjacent block includes some of the oldest buildings on the avenue. Construction of Mansion House and the Tretheway Building took place in the late 1800’s. Traveling further east, almost every building provides evidence of Stockton’s extraordinary and interesting past.

Today, Weber Avenue is not only one of the city’s most important streets as it connects the downtown with the waterfront, but also one of its most historical.

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Stockton’s First Courthouse

The mention of the new courthouse this week had longtime Stocktonians and local history buffs reminiscing about the magnificent and grand courthouse built in 1890 and demolished in 1961. Not much is ever said about Stockton’s first courthouse.

It was in April of 1850 that a California law directed San Joaquin County to build a courthouse, which immediately levied a property tax to fund a building. This fund was not adequate and by 1853 it was decided that the county and the city should support this endeavor equally, which led to a bond measure.  

Charles Weber donated the land, although he found the location not ideal since it lay between two sloughs.  He did insist that that the plans should include a plaza or square. The slough on the west side of the block was filled and named Hunter Square.  

The courthouse was designed in the Roman Doric style by architect F. E. Corcoran and included four entrances, each with a portico of white columns. The two-story building had 12 rooms on the lower floor, which included the two courtrooms. Council Chambers were located on the second floor and accessible by a single staircase.  

The courthouse was dedicated on April 17, 1854 and the city immediately occupied the south part of the building and the county the north.  

This building received immediate attention from the State Legislature, and consideration of moving the state capital from Benicia to Stockton was widely discussed. The courthouse was minutes from waterfront and the city had the finest theaters in the state, as well as many first-rate hotels and restaurants.  

Nevertheless, Sacramento also had a new courthouse and eventually won the bid. This first courthouse began deteriorating in the 1880’s and was demolished in 1887 to make room for Stockton’s second courthouse.

Source: Stockton Album through the Years by V. Covert Martin, 1959.

 

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Stockton’s Famous Mineral Baths

Vintage Postcard of the Stockton Mineral Baths (White Border Era, 1915-1930)

Vintage Postcard of the Stockton Mineral Baths (White Border Era, 1915-1930)

Stockton was formerly occupied by the Weber Baths, the first mineral baths in Stockton. Built in 1883, the Weber Baths boasted a substantial sized swimming tank with more than forty dressing rooms.  Stockton’s abundance of natural gas wells allowed for a steady and continuous flow of warm water into the baths. The gas actually pushed up the mineral water which contained iron, sulphur, magnesium, soda and salt and was deemed therapeutic.

Stockton’s most famous mineral baths were the Jackson Baths built in 1893 at the present location of McKinley Park. Three wells supplied water to one large pool and several smaller pools which were surrounded by swings, a trapeze, slides, springboards and 150 dressing rooms. The facility included twelve bath houses for private parties, a clubhouse for entertaining and a grand stand for musical concerts. The thirteen acre resort destination also featured lawn areas with picnic tables and barbecue pits, and even a small zoo and a scenic railway.

Renamed the Stockton Mineral Baths after substantial renovations in 1920, the expanded pool became the largest swimming tank in the world with a central circular pool with two wings.  Renowned architect Glenn Allen designed the four-story lighthouse tower with a statuary and fountain at its base, two Venetian bridges at either side of the circular pool and several slides and waterfalls.  Private pavilions, wading pools and sandy beaches made all this Stockton’s most popular attraction of the time. Unfortunately, these wells dissipated by the 1940s, but memories of them live on in vintage postcards and photos.

This particular article of mine was first published by the Downtown Stockton Alliance in June 2011.

 

 


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On This Day in Stockton History: 1873

 

Weber Primary School (photo credit to Gene Wright)

Weber Primary School (photo credit toGene Wright)

It was May 12, 1873 when Weber Primary School on Flora Street was dedicated. Today it is is one of the finest remaining examples of a pioneer “brick” building in California.  Famous architect Charles Beasley is credited for the design of this school that originally had four classrooms.

It is one of the earliest brick buildings in Stockton that has retain its original appearance and remains the oldest reminder of Charles Weber who donated land for many early schools.  There is state wide interest as it is perhaps the oldest brick urban school remaining in California. 

It is a rare example of public building architecture of the 1870s’ and very representative of the type of structure that gave Stockton its nickname “the Brick City.” Like most early structure it has a “high” water basement for flood protection.  The exterior has remained unaltered with the exception of the removal of the belfry. 

Source: Stockton’s Historic Public School by Robert Bonta and Horace A. Spencer (1981).

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Cultural Heritage Board – Wednesday, May 7th

Last month I wrote here about an announcement seeking nominations for the Charles Weber and Glenn Allen Awards.  This Wednesday, the Cultural Heritage Board will discuss the submissions and vote on this year’s recipient. This City of Stockton board only meets a couple of times a year, so this is a great opportunity to attend. Here is the agenda for the meeting. The board meets in City Council Chambers in City Hall, starting at 5:15pm and scheduled to end at 6:30pm.    

 

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Pixie Woods: Stockton’s Wonderland for Children

Today Pixie Woods opened for the season, just as this children’s amusement park has since 1955. Although owned by the City of Stockton, the park was created and has sustained by fundraising and donations. The Stockton Lions Club was the first significant booster when fundraising started in 1954.

By June 12, 1955, approximately $45,000 was raised and Pixie Woods was opened to the public. Admission at that time was 10 cents for children and 15 cents for adults.

The 3.5 acre site located within Louis Park has many attractions, including three amusement rides. The storybook kingdoms, enchanted lagoons, and imaginative playgrounds provide it with a fairytale experience for children. Many generations of Stockton residents have special memories of Pixie Woods.

Here is a short video produced by Roy Perez and filmed by Ralph Orlandella of the Stockton Police Drum Corps at the annual Spring opening, early 1960’s.   

 

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