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.  

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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 – http://stocktonmiraclemile.com/

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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).

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“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 

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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.  

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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)

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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.

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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.

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The Hotel Stockton: An Architectural Masterpiece

Vintage postcard of the Hotel Stockton mailed on August 23, 1922

After a three-day grand opening celebration in 1910, the first guests arrived at the Hotel Stockton. Our city was an important regional destination and the modern 252-room hotel provided attractive accommodations for visitors. The hotel was one block away from some of California’s greatest theatres at the time, and close to downtown retailers and the business district. The first class hotel provided a relaxing atmosphere with fine dining and dancing on the roof garden, as well as convenient lodging for those traveling to the Sierras and the Mother Lode.

The Hotel Stockton is rich with architectural innovation, including being the first example of mission revival style in California. The five-story hotel was also the first all steel reinforced concrete construction in the Central Valley. The exterior of the building boasts long colonnades, overhanging balconies and a metal roof made to resemble the tiles of the missions. The large roof garden included a pergola and a fountain, and provided guests with incredible views over the Delta region. The hotel’s most distinctive interior feature is the beautiful lobby that includes what was one of the largest public fireplaces in California at the time.

After an expansive restoration effort a decade ago, this grand building remains one of our most distinctive historic possessions. It not only symbolizes Stockton’s early prominence in California but also represents a masterpiece of historical hotel architecture.


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Stockton History at the University of the Pacific


Vintage Postcard of the Hazelton Library (1895-1964)

Every time I walk by the circle of Ionic marble columns located across from the Library on the University of the Pacific campus I think of their origin, the Hazelton Library.  It was Stockton’s first public library funded by Dr. William Hazelton and built in 1895 on the northeast corner of Market and Hunter streets.  

Covered in white marble, this building housed the library for almost seventy years before being demolished in 1964. Its marble Ionic columns were relocated to the University of the Pacific upon request by the University President, Robert Burns.   

I just wish more people knew the historic origin of the columns, there is no sign or plaque explaining its significance to Stockton history. 


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