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Martinez was the place to be …

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By RAY ROBBINS
Special to the Tribune

During the 1930s till the early 1960s, everyone in the county knew that downtown Martinez was the place to go for shopping and entertainment. Martinez was sort of a hub; it had the ferry, train station, Greyhound bus station and privately owned taxi cabs. Sal’s comes to mind. We had the State and Avalon Theaters, a skating rink, swimming pool, ball fields, family parks, fine dining, dances, parades, and many different denominations of churches.

Throughout this period of time, the downtown had various establishments. You could get any kind of vehicle you desired from Giberti Bros. Dodge & Plymouth, Duarte and Whitting Chrysler, Durkee Oldsmobile, Coglizer Ford and Serpa Buick. Grocery stores included Safeway, Hagstroms, Lairds, Martellacci’s, Sparacino’s Deli & Meats, Spike’s Fruits & Vegetables, and the Calicura Bros. Meat Market.

Women had a big selection of clothes from Jay-Vees, Mode-O-Day, Modern Eve, Florances Shop, Marguerites, Gabas, Arlenes, J.C. Penney and the venerable Hilson’s. The men were not left out either. They had Middleton/Marchi, Frisholz, Sparacino’s, Jameson’s, Tito’s, plus Penney’s and Hilson’s. If you needed shoes, there were Williams, Grandes, Watkins, Karl’s and Kirby’s, and most of the clothes stores mentioned above offered shoes also. There were jewelry stores aplenty: Martinez Jewelry, Courts, Beards, Wolfes, Snooks, and Corums.

Furniture was readily available from Huffman’s Martinez Furniture, Furrer’s Pacific, Acme and Zufalls. The three hardware stores to help you were Morgan’s, Lasells, and Wygalls on Pacheco Boulevard. All of these were before Ace Hardware and Home Depot. Claeys Feed Store was also very important to our local ranchers.

There were drug stores, soda fountains and cafes all over town that were a delight for both adults and youngsters alike. Some of the favorites were Wilsons, Gams, Corn Crib, Borden Ice Cream, Owl’s Café, Opals Little Pie Shop, Buds Pork Chop Sandwiches, Dominics Grotto and the all-time favorite, Ciaramitaro’s Empanadas.

Other places worth mentioning, but not in any specific order, are: Woolworth’s, Hoffman’s Liquor & News, Reeds Stationary, Martinez Music Co., Pardini’s, Charrettes and Islanders Bakeries, Granshaw’s, Franco’s, Char’s Florists, McLeod’s Newsstand, Hershey’s and Alhambra Electric Stores, Union Ice Plant, Diamond Match and Mr. Kassik’s Martinez Lumber Yards.

I’m sure I missed a lot of other places, so I’ll let anyone who lived in those eras, in their reverie, add their own.

It is true that Martinez was the place to go for shopping, but what it was really known for was that it was a drinking town. Some say this was because we had oil companies that were open 24-7, PG&E substations, the Mountain Copper Plant, food canneries, county jail, the court justice system, and all of the county employees. All of these were reasons for so many bars. I think it was just because we liked a good time.

If you came from the northwest, you passed through the town of Crockett to the scenic, curvy Snake Road that overlooked the Carquinez Straight. Driving southeast, you came to Canyon Lake and the town of Port Costa, which was worth the trip to the water’s edge where the Bull Valley Inn and the Warehouse were located. The Warehouse was once occupied by the bawdy, buxom Juanita. Juanita was known by northern Californians for her large portions of Prime Rib and her pyromania.

Driving farther southeast, you passed Eckley’s Resort, White’s Dock, the brick works and Ozol. There were a couple of vista points on the way where you could pull over and view the straights and Benicia, and you even had a bird’s eye view of the grounded schooner, Forrester. You can still see the burned out hull to this day. Farther southeast, you pass the two cemeteries on top of the hill and then the road leads you to Escobar Street and the downtown.

If you came from the north, you caught the ferry in Benicia and paddle-wheeled to the Martinez wharf. The wharf was actually a state highway that led you to Ferry Street and downtown. If you came from the northeast, you left the town of Port Chicago on Avon Road. Driving west, you passed the Flying “A” Associated Oil Refinery, the original Martinez dump on the water side of the road, Mococo Plant, the Fairview Village and Shell Chemical, then drove through Shell Oil Co. to Escobar Street and downtown.

If you came from the southwest, you passed through the town of Pinole to Highway 4 and had to negotiate up Tank Farm Hill to Franklin Canyon Road. Driving east, you passed the Shady Glen beer joint tucked under a large tree that was the entrance to the Frazer property. The bartender at the Glen was a lady appropriately named Gabby.

Farther east, you passed the Zuppan family ranch/dairy and the concreted number “57” that advertised the Heinz products. Johnny and Zelda later opened a drive-through dairy on the side of the road.

Farther east you passed White’s Franklin Canyon Inn (they served great fried chicken). Just past White’s you turned left to Canyon Way to Highway 4 and followed it all the way to the Alhambra Avenue/Alhambra Way “Y” in the road.

Alhambra Avenue was not extended to Highway 4 until the early 1950s.

There was a bar called the Y Club owned by Charlie and Marion Sly that greeted the travelers entering Martinez. Farther down Alhambra was Paul Paganini’s place that served fine food, had music and dancing on the weekends and also had a well-stocked bar.

Entering downtown, the Traveler’s hotel had a bar named The Redwood Room that occasionally had music and dancing as well.

If you came from the southeast, you entered from the four corners of Highway 4 and Pacheco Boulevard; there you were greeted by Spriggs’ place with dinners, weekend dances and a full bar.

Traveling north on Pacheco Boulevard, there was Ralph Story’s beer joint at the Morello Avenue intersection. Ralph’s later became the Kit Kat Club. Farther north was Mitch and Ann Costanza’s Club at the intersection of Howe Road that served dinners and had a full bar. Farther north was the King of Clubs bar that later became the The Trails End. Next came the Copa Cabana Club that seemed to cater to a more exorbitant and thirstier crowd. The Copa was later named the Gold Room.

The last bar before entering downtown was one of the oldest and friendliest, run by its namesake, Joe Della Pipa. Della Pipa’s was taken over by Shorty Stetler and Tom Hogan. Shorty soon bought out Tom and made major improvements that brought success to Shorty’s. Failing health and other adversities ended Shorty’s reign.

The bars on Escobar Street were Nick Paganini’s place that was rebuilt from the ashes of the original Armando’s, Charley Colombo’s 724 Club that was later called The Venetian Club, and Ray Chapot’s Rex Club & Card Room.

Main Street bars were Rampoldi’s 500 Club ran by Toots, Marina Lounge, later Main St. Tavern, Hub Club, Sports Club, and the beer joint The Green Door.

Ferry Street bars began at the Marina. There was Pascoe’s on the wharf, what was once the Marina Grotto, and The Albatross on the Marina that went belly-up, as did the guy from Benicia that rebuilt on the same property. The only place still standing is the Martinez Yacht Club Bar & Banquet Room.

On Ferry Street there was Amato’s Sportsman Bar & Dining Room, and Angelo’s on the corner of Howard Street, which was owned by several different owners, including Hank Pistochini, Mohawk Peccianti, and Al Pacheco. Next up Ferry Street were Win’s Bar and Alvin McMahon’s Yacht Club on the corner of Escobar Street, that was managed by many locals; now it’s Ferry Street Station.

Next was Steve’s Club that was later changed to the Set Up, The Aloha Club owned by Mr. Green, Angelo Colombo’s Martinez Club that changed owners and names like Satin City and The Matador Lounge. Next is the venerable College Lane with its different owners and is now Whiskey Lane to the dismay of plenty old-timers.

Finally, there is George Freschi and Andy Belleci’s place, later Oscar Gambucci’s and now Ray’s.

Now you know why Martinez not only claims to have invented the martini, but has also earned the reputation of being “…the quaint little drinking town with a fishing problem.”

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One comment

  1. Your most favorite council person, Lara Delaney, sits right next to the man who will ultimately tear the Old Jail Down. Your best friend Council Person is in line for Twa’s job. Why are you not appealing to her? So easy to play limbo under her when she is so high up, but do remember she is supposed to be down here representing the people. Are you really interesting in the Old Jail, or just getting Delaney to be Mayor?

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