Windows into the Heart of Stockton

Christmas Window at Breuner's Postcard Series (1970s)

Christmas Window at Breuner's Postcard Series (1970s)

Before shopping malls and giant parking lots, the Christmas season in Stockton always meant a trip downtown to see the window displays. Stores used elaborate exhibits to draw customers for the holidays. Delmar McComb fondly remembers the Breuner’s windows, famous for its moving musical Christmas display. The life-size figures wore authentic costumes depicting seasonal scenes from the era of John Breuner’s first store founded in Sacramento in 1856.

Window displays date back to the early 1880’s, when the use of plate glass made store windows possible. Pioneer stores, such as Yosemite Cash Store and Holden Drug Store, provided for Stockton’s earliest window displays. Specialty clothing and apparel stores, especially along Main Street, found success in advertising their merchandise in the windows.  Department stores of the early 1900’s, such as Stockton Dry Goods and Hale’s, relied on crowded displays to advertise the value of their items to pedestrians.

Franchised department stores of the 1920’s began artistically exhibiting only a few choice items in their windows. Stockton’s first franchised department store was Woolworths, followed by Owl Drug Company, J.C. Penney, Kress and others. Clothing stores, such as Katten-Marengo, Bravo McKeegan, Mode O’Day and the Wonder also used elegant window displays. As we continue to redevelop our downtown, let’s remember the historical significance and potential influence of those storefronts.

This article was first published in the Downtown Stockton Alliance in December 2007.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Book Review: Italians of San Joaquin County

The Pacific Italian Alliance recently celebrated the release of Italians in San Joaquin County, a new history book published by Arcadia Publishing. This is the first publication that chronicles one of the earliest European pioneers and settlers in the area and their significant influence in our community. The book from the Images of Americas Series contains more than 200 photos, many from private collections, illustrating the lives of these early immigrants. The individual and family photos provide us with a unique glimpse into their lives at home and in the workplace.

The book captures some of the influential Italian families of our community, such as the Cortopassis, Lagorios and Sanguinettis, among many others. The personalized photos provide us with a  unique glimpse of the family and cultural traditions of working class families. As a local historian, I was surprised to learn so much about their deep and lasting impact on the business community, many of them still here today. This is Ralph Clark’s third book with this publisher, the other two being about Lodi’s history. For those that have an Italian connection to this area, this book is a must read. For all others, it provides a valuable insight of an important part of our community.

The book is available in local museum stores and through on-line retailers and benefits the Pacific Italian Alliance.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Historic Residential Walking Tour

Great article in the Record last week by Tim Viall on a historic walking tour of downtown.  Our downtown is a treasure trove of historic buildings with architectural designs reminiscent of Stockton’s Gold Era (1890-1940). For residential buildings, the Magnolia Historic District holds the richest variety of architectural styles, built as early as 1860.  A self-guided walking tour of the Magnolia District is available here.  

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The History of Our Magnificent Mile

Vintage Postcard of the Miracle Mile, Pacific Avenue at Cleveland

The automobile revolution led to increasing residential and business development outside of Stockton’s downtown. Until the early 1900’s, the Miracle Mile area was the most southern end of Lower Sacramento Road, surrounded by fields and orchards. In the early 1920’s, developer Joseph Plecarpo successfully lobbied votes to annex the area for shopping. In 1924, the University of the Pacific was also built and Lower Sacramento Road was renamed Pacific Avenue. The commercial growth complemented the residential and university development.

In the late 1930’s, Plecarpo named the one mile stretch from the University to Harding Way, the “Miracle Mile.” He supposedly got the idea from the Miracle Mile on Los Angeles’s palm-lined Wilshire Boulevard, and the reason for some of the palm trees. The shopping area stretched from Castle Street to Harding Way with grocery stores, restaurants, hardware stores, clothing stores and even gas stations. It became the first shopping area of its type as the city grew north, with the 1950’s being its most prosperous time.

To this day, it provides a unique and walkable shopping experience –

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A New Roof for St. Mary’s Church

St. Mary's Church - Vintage Postcard, postmarked in 1911

For those of you that work, play or live downtown you must have noticed the roof repair taking place at the St. Mary of the Assumption Church on Washington Street the past few months.

St. Mary’s nave and square bell were built in 1861 on land donated by city founder Charles Weber. The transept was added in 1869 but the impressive Goth spire wasn’t added until 1893. Washington Park, a grassy plaza lined with palm trees across the street from the church, was used extensively for religious festivities. The park was destroyed in 1977 when the Crosstown Freeway was built, drastically altering the area around St. Mary’s.

This Catholic Church is the oldest non-residential building in Stockton and the third oldest church in Central California.

Source: Stockton inVintage Postcards (Arcadia Publishing, 2004).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“The Eagle Nest” at Oak Park

A Vintage Postcard of the Eagle Nest at Oak Park

On this day (October 10th) in 1918, the city bought Oak Park located on Alpine Street from the Stockton Electric Railroad.  Before 1902, the park was called Goodwater Grove. This postcard from the 1930’s shows a unique swing and tree house called  “The Eagle Nest.” Filled with valley oak trees, the 30-acre park was a very popular picnic place and drew visitors from across the state.  Amenities included a bowling alley, dance pavilion, clubhouse and playground.

Source: Stockton in Vintage Postcards by Alice van Ommeren 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Agricultural Pavilion Fire, September 28th

Agricultural Pavilion (1888-1902). Courtesy photo, the Bank of Stockton Archives

Agricultural Pavilion (1888-1902). Courtesy photo, the Bank of Stockton Archives

It was on this day in 1902 that Stockton’s largest and most prominent building at the time, the Agricultural Pavilion, burned down. This architectural masterpiece occupied one square block on what later became Washington Park, now  the cross-town freeway across from St. Mary’s Church. The building was completed in 1888 was able to seat 12,000 people and housed the county fair exhibits.

Local architect, Charles Beasley, who used woodwork in a variety of forms, textures, materials and colors, designed the building in the Queen Anne style.  Towers, projecting pavilions and horizontal siding give the building a visual sense of grandeur. The striking wood and glass building had eight towers modeled after a Chinese Pagoda giving it a unique and striking balance.  The center of the structure there was a large dome.

Built in the shape of a Greek cross where glass conservatories in each four corners, which not only lit the main floor but also provided an opportunity to display the varied plant life on the county. Although it had eight entrance towers, there were three grand entrances.  The eight pagoda towers had oriental detailing with distinctive oriental cast metal details, which was unprecedented in 1887.

Oriental design were not present in Californian at that time, as San Francisco’s China town did not exist before 1906, architect Charles Beasley was ahead of his time.

Source :  Weitze, Karen (1980). Charles Beasley, Architect (1827-1913): Issues and Images. The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, V39, N3, pp. 187-207.  

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Stewart Memorial Library: Stockton’s First Library

The Stewart Memorial Library (1889-1891). Courtesy, the Bank of Stockton Archives

The Stewart Memorial Library (1889-1891). Courtesy, the Bank of Stockton Archives

The Steward Memorial Library constructed in 1889 on land donated by Charles Weber was located on Hunter between Main and Market Street, south of the Eureka Firehouse. Frank Stewart was a prominent businessperson who endowed funds in his will for the creation of Stockton’s first library building. It was designed by prominent architect, Charles Beasley who also designed the Agricultural Pavilion, the Imperial Hotel, Sperry Flour Mill Office and the Henery  Apartments, to name a few.

The front of the library was styled with a combination of medieval and classic Greek style architecture that included granite pillars with marble and unusual large “bulls-eye” windows. It was the third largest library in the state, besides San Francisco and Sacramento, and considered truly magnificent for its day. It was only there for three years, as the city grew rapidly during this period and the need for a larger builder was evident. This led to its replacement, the Hazelton Library, also referred to as the “Marble Library.”

Join us this Friday (9/19) at 5pm to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Cezar Chavez Library, as well as the history of Stockton’s Public Library.

Source: A History of the Stockton Public Library by Virginia Struhsaker, Pacific Historian (1980)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Stockton’s Pioneer Winery: El Pinal Vineyard

Vintage Postcard of the El Pinal Winery (1858-1918)

After describing Stockton’s historic brewery in the last blog, it now only seems appropriate to mention our most famous winery.

El Pinal Winery was the first commercial winery in the region, established by George West in 1858. It was located on the east side of West Lane (named after George) near Alpine close to the Southern Pacific railroad tracks. Today, the vineyard is the site of the El Pinal Industrial Park.

George West was from Massachusetts and came to California in 1849, as so many others did, to discover gold. As the rush faded, his vision of wealth turned toward the rich soil and the growing of grapes. George was not only a pioneer in viticulture but also became one of the most successful and famous wine growers in California during that time.

In the first decade, the grapes were mostly used for table wines but over time, the winery went on to produce more vintage products, including a port that won special premium at the California State Fair in 1867. In 1902, the company incorporated as George West & Son, Frank A. West.  Prohibition forced the closure of the El Pinal Winery in 1918.

Today, there is no evidence of Stockton’s most famous winery and its legendary wine grower, besides the naming of the park and the street.

Source:  George West, Pioneer Wine Grower in San Joaquin County (San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum) by Gerry Howen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Stockton’s Brewery History

El Dorado Brewing Company in 1893

There are a few more days left of Stockton Beer Week, and a reminder that breweries were actually one of Stockton’s earliest industries. In the early 1850s, David Mickie operated a brewery on Weber Avenue and Philip Niestrath ran the City Brewery. There were others, such as the San Joaquin Brewery and the Humboldt Brewery, but most of them were short lived.

The most successful brewery was the El Dorado Brewing Company, founded by the Rothenbush family in 1853. The brewery received early recognition for producing “steam beer” which was marketed under “El Dorado Beer.” The brewery grew into a large plant, located on the block between American and Stanislaus, and Park and Oak Streets.

Their most significant product became the award winning “Valley Brew,” which they delivered to many local restaurants and saloons throughout the Central Valley. They remained in business during the Prohibition Era by manufacturing ice, sodas and a near beer called Special Valley (less than 0.5% alcohol).

The California State Fair in 1953 recognized the El Dorado Brewing Company for making a single product for more than a century, at the same location by the same family.  Nevertheless, they were unable to compete with larger breweries and forced to close in 1955.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment