On This Day in History: A New Courthouse

February 22, 1888 was the official laying of the cornerstone for the second San Joaquin County courthouse which was designed by Elijah E. Myers, a noted architect of several state capitols and many county courthouses. The stately structure was built from local bricks and faced with high quality granite from Placer County. This granite was used in many California landmarks and can still be seen at the State Capitol.

The courthouse was created in the neo-classical style with a dominant entrance that extended to the full height of the façade. The building had spacious hallways with tall columns and high ceilings. The floor was made of tiles imported from Belgium. The interior was adorned with intricate mahogany and walnut woodwork.

The dome of the courthouse dominated the Stockton skyline for over seventy years and afforded visitors with panoramic views of the city. Landscaped with palm trees, the courthouse block displayed two eight-foot long cannons used by Commodore F.Stockton in his conquest of California.

As the building deteriorated, the controversial decision was made in 1961 to demolish and replace it with the current courthouse. The second courthouse was one of Stockton’s grandest and noblest buildings, reflecting both elegance and authority. It was a measure of the wealth, pride and aspiration of one ofCalifornia’s most important cities of the time.

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New Book: The True Story of Sarah Althea Hill

Enchantress, Sorceress, Madwoman, a new biography by Stockton author, Robin C. Johnson, tells the story of a woman whose name has passed into obscurity. But in 1880s California, Sarah Althea Hill was the biggest celebrity around, beginning in San Francisco when she caused the sex scandal of the decade, and continuing when she married the famous dueling judge and Stockton attorney, David Smith Terry. They were married at St. Mary’s Church downtown and lived in the Terry’s original home on Fremont Street.

Together, these two outraged the entire California legal community, bringing tragedy raining down upon them. These events led to Judge Terry being shot and killed at the Lathrop train station by the bodyguard of a Supreme Court justice. A few years later Sarah Althea was declared insane and committed to the Stockton asylum. She died there in 1937, forty-five years later, outliving her fame and her enemies. She is buried in the Terry plot in the Stockton Rural Cemetery.

The life story of one of the Stockton State Hospital’s most famous residents has been reconstructed and revived from the past by the thorough research of a local author. The book can be purchased from Amazon.com in paperback or e-book format.

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Today in 1895, California Governor from Stockton


James H. Budd (May 18, 1851 - July 30, 1908)

It was on this day in 1895 when Stockton resident James Herbert Budd became the 19th Governor of California. He had moved to California from Wisconsin as a child and attended the local grammar and high schools in Stockton before attending the University of California Berkeley.  After graduating from Berkeley in 1873, he started his career as a San Joaquin County deputy district attorney. 

Governor James H. Budd was credited with increasing funding for higher education and the creation of a state road-building agency, the Department of Highways in 1897. This later became the California Department of Transportation. He lived in what was referred to as the Governor’s Mansion on the northwest corner of Channel and Ophir (Airport Way) Streets. 

He never sought a second term because of failing health. He died at the age of 57 and is buried in Stockton’s Rural Cemetery. He is the only Stocktonian ever to be elected as Governor of California.

Democratic Governor James H. Budd’s inauguration speech of January 11, 1895 is here – http://governors.library.ca.gov/addresses/19-Budd.html


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Buhach: A Stockton Innovation


Buhach Nontoxic Insecticide

The large farming industry in and around Stockton, as well as its proximity to the Delta, created a lot of pests. In the 1870’s, Giovanno N. Milco who was an immigrant of Croatia, created a pesticide called “Buhach” which is a powder produced from the flowers of the Pyrethrum plant.  In 1873, he was growing the plants in Stockton.  He turned towards successful local grain merchant, J.D. Peters, for capital to expand.  The Buhach Producing and Manufacturing Company acquired 300 acres near Atwater in Merced County where the plants were cultivated before flowers were transported to the Stockton mill for grounding. The main office was on Channel Street.  Its fame came from being an environmentally safe or organic insecticide, while being effective. Buhach went out of business when another insecticide called DDT was developed in the early 1940’s.  It has returned on the market several times over the decades.  

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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.


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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.

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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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