Remember When – Martinez Tribune https://martineztribune.com The website of the Martinez Tribune. Mon, 15 May 2017 16:31:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.2 Part 5: Happy 100th Birthday City Hall Building! https://martineztribune.com/2017/05/15/part-5-happy-100th-birthday-city-hall-building/ https://martineztribune.com/2017/05/15/part-5-happy-100th-birthday-city-hall-building/#respond Mon, 15 May 2017 16:31:36 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=7320 By KRISTIN HENDERSON Special to the Tribune Gentle Reader:  You have inspired me in this, the 100th year of 525 Henrietta Street to nominate, and hopefully list on the National Register of Historic Places, the City of Martinez Grammar School/City Hall. Is that not a nice birthday present?  In 1992, Page and Turnbull felt there was ...

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By KRISTIN HENDERSON
Special to the Tribune

Gentle Reader:

 You have inspired me in this, the 100th year of 525 Henrietta Street to nominate, and hopefully list on the National Register of Historic Places, the City of Martinez Grammar School/City Hall. Is that not a nice birthday present?

 In 1992, Page and Turnbull felt there was enough architectural integrity to make the National Register. However, a Mr. Kite decided otherwise and so the building remains officially found to be not historic. However, buildings can be recorded as such for reasons having to do with inaccurate documentation, etc., and then found to be historic after all. The Borland Home is one example.

 This will be my biggest gamble to date. Anyone wishing to help with a National Register of Historic Places listing can email me. Exterior photography would be a good start and it has to be done how they want it. City Hall is a difficult building to get exterior shots as it is.

 But before we move on, let us remember:

  • Martinez City Hall was built in 1917 in Prairie School style as designed by Stone & Wright.
  • Prairie School is an authentic American architecture that celebrates the open spaces of the Midwest and resulted from the building opportunities the Great Chicago fire presented.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright is considered the father of Prairie School Architecture.
  • We did not go over this, but Page and Turnbull identified a “Sullivanesque” characteristic in City Hall’s architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright was mentored by Louis Sullivan who is known as the father of modernism and the father of sky scrapers. Sullivan is a major inspiration to the Prairie School of Architects.
  • Brick and terra cotta manufactured by Livermore Bricks.
  • Housed K-5 in about nine classrooms.
  • Bought and inhabited by the City of Martinez by 1955.
  • The 1989 earthquake caused consideration of the seismic health of 525 Henrietta.
  • Three sides of the building’s brick facade were almost removed but the town and the Design and Planning Commissions fought to keep the historic elements and won while overseeing a retrofit, expansion, and modernization of City Hall.
  • Mario Menesini exclaimed, “And I went to school here!” upon his son’s reelection to City Council in 2006.  

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Part 4: Happy Birthday Martinez City Hall! https://martineztribune.com/2017/05/05/part-4-happy-birthday-martinez-city-hall/ https://martineztribune.com/2017/05/05/part-4-happy-birthday-martinez-city-hall/#respond Fri, 05 May 2017 08:04:09 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=7268 By KRISTIN HENDERSON Special to the Tribune NOTE: The following is Part 4 of several installments on Martinez City Hall. Many thanks to retired Deputy City Clerk Mercy Cabral for setting me up with these records and lazerfiche. In 1950, the City of Martinez sold its 1912 City Hall that stood where now the creek ...

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An old picture from the “Martinez Standard” newspaper of the 1912 City Hall, which sat about where the creek meets Main Street. (ON FILE)
An old picture from the “Martinez Standard” newspaper of the 1912 City Hall, which sat about where the creek meets Main Street. (ON FILE)

By KRISTIN HENDERSON
Special to the Tribune

NOTE: The following is Part 4 of several installments on Martinez City Hall.

Many thanks to retired Deputy City Clerk Mercy Cabral for setting me up with these records and lazerfiche.

In 1950, the City of Martinez sold its 1912 City Hall that stood where now the creek meets Main Street and took up temporary digs. Meanwhile, a State audit deemed the Grammar School building not up to modern standards for education, even though the 1917 school was in a U-shape plan to maximize ventilation and light, according to Post-Victorian edicts. It was designed for K-5 in nine or 10 classrooms in two projecting wings. It was erected with wood and in the auditorium, steel columns and beams. But when it came up for sale, the City vied with the Catholic Church for the purchase of the building.

Where the police and building departments are today were open but covered areas with skylights. There was a mezzanine on the east side above the  auditorium. There was a low wall with an iron fencing that met in the middle for the iron gate that let students into the front courtyard. Around 1928, two school rooms were added to the upper west corner of 525 Henrietta St. Photographs from this time also show play structures, trees, and shrubs in the courtyard.

When the City of Martinez took over the building, it began to partition the classrooms into offices, remove original wood work, and plaster walls. By the time of the 1993 fought-for historically-sensitive seismic upgrade, what was left of the interior integrity was found mostly in the Council Chambers and those two 1928 second story classrooms with their wood trim, black boarding, chair railings, etc. Council Chambers retains its original plaster, including capitals (those ornate square columns with pretty tops that stick out of the walls), box beam ceiling, and molding around the school stage.

A 1920 rendering of Martinez Grammar School. (ON FILE)
A 1920 rendering of Martinez Grammar School. (ON FILE)

The 1993 renovation said goodbye to the original stair case, fountain and greenery in the courtyard, a door to the Police Department, which is now bricked over, and a few other things. In their place came a seismically sound building, a 15 percent expansion of the second floor (the stuccoed parts up there), replacement of some historic elements; ADA compliant ramps, bathrooms, and elevator; first floor now all even level to match a courtyard raised above the 100 year flood plane, and better work spaces and work flow for City workers.

And yet, Mario Menesini could still exclaim, “I went to school here!” Check in next time when we wrap up City Hall in the birthday paper it deserves.

Plans for the 1993 remodel of Martinez City Hall. (ON FILE)
Plans for the 1993 remodel of Martinez City Hall. (ON FILE)

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Part 2: Happy 100th birthday to Martinez City Hall! https://martineztribune.com/2017/04/21/part-2-happy-100th-birthday-to-martinez-city-hall/ https://martineztribune.com/2017/04/21/part-2-happy-100th-birthday-to-martinez-city-hall/#respond Fri, 21 Apr 2017 17:12:34 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=7152 By KRISTIN HENDERSON Special to the Tribune NOTE: The following is Part 2 of several installments on Martinez City Hall. Architecture is the one art form the public cannot escape. Frank Lloyd Wright stated: “Architecture is life, or at least it is life itself taking form and therefore it is the truest record of life ...

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A Sept. 1, 1917 article on the opening of the Martinez Grammar School, which is now Martinez City Hall. (DAILY GAZETTE / On File)
A Sept. 1, 1917 article on the opening of the Martinez Grammar School, which is now Martinez City Hall. (DAILY GAZETTE / On File)

By KRISTIN HENDERSON
Special to the Tribune

NOTE: The following is Part 2 of several installments on Martinez City Hall.

Architecture is the one art form the public cannot escape. Frank Lloyd Wright stated: “Architecture is life, or at least it is life itself taking form and therefore it is the truest record of life as it was lived in the world yesterday, as it is lived today or ever will be lived.”

The way we see Martinez City Hall now is not exactly the way it first looked. See last week’s installment for the 1917 rendering as well as the newspaper photo below. City Hall was built in the “Prairie School” architectural style that originated in Chicago as a result of the building opportunities the great Chicago Fire provided.

Frank Lloyd Wright is considered the father of Prairie School architecture. The “School” in “Prairie School” does not mean school buildings, it means a school of people who studied and created the first Midwestern architecture independent of historical and revivalist influences. From Chicago and the Midwest, Prairie School spread east and west and to Northern Europe and Australia. Prairie School is considered an authentic American architecture celebrating the open spaces unique to this country.

Frank Lloyd Wright wrote in 1908 that “The prairie has a beauty of its own, and we should recognize and accentuate this natural beauty, its quiet level. Hence, gently sloping roofs, low proportions, quiet skylines, suppressed heavyset chimneys and sheltering overhangs, low terraces and outreaching walls sequestering private gardens.” Previously, most public buildings were in the Ancient Classical Greek Revival styles, such as our own Finance Building/Court House with its columns, pediments, and raking cornices. Martinez’s previous City Hall was also a Classical Revival style.

You will note that the 1917 building had deep overhangs, a character defining feature of Prairie School. The 2017 City Hall no longer retains these “sheltering overhangs.” However, City Hall does retain its low slung flat roofs, long horizontal lines, windows assembled in horizontal bands, solid construction, terracing, doors that are integrated into the facades, and the employ of restrained arts and crafts (the decorative terra-cotta).

For a nice image assembly of Prairie School Architecture see:  http://www.prairiestyles.com/new.htm and particularly: http://www.prairiestyles.com/wright_comm.htm. Prairie School Style would influence future styles such as the Foursquare American Classic (aka Prairie Box) and the Ranch style.

Next week, we meet our own Prairie School Architects: the prolific firm of Stone and Wright.

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Happy 100th birthday Martinez City Hall! https://martineztribune.com/2017/04/14/happy-100th-birthday-martinez-city-hall/ https://martineztribune.com/2017/04/14/happy-100th-birthday-martinez-city-hall/#respond Fri, 14 Apr 2017 10:50:55 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=7107 By KRISTIN HENDERSON Special to the Tribune NOTE: The following is Part 1 of several installments on Martinez City Hall. The building where we visit the police department, pay our water bills, submit our building plans, and attend public meetings began its life in 1917 as a Grammar School. I still remember Mario Menesini – ...

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525 Henrietta St., Martinez.  (San Francisco Public Library History Room Architect and Engineer 1917)
525 Henrietta St., Martinez.
(San Francisco Public Library History Room Architect and Engineer 1917)

By KRISTIN HENDERSON
Special to the Tribune

NOTE: The following is Part 1 of several installments on Martinez City Hall.

The building where we visit the police department, pay our water bills, submit our building plans, and attend public meetings began its life in 1917 as a Grammar School. I still remember Mario Menesini – upon Mike Menesini’s 2006 re-election – exclaiming from a City Council audience that he went to school in the very building in which we were standing. In 1994, according to the Martinez Historical Society, Nancy Hobert wrote the history of the Martinez Grammar School for the newspaper. This history was handed out during a Martinez Home Tour  and reads:

The newly renovated Martinez City Hall is now open for business at 525 Henrietta Street. When the City Council reconvenes it will be in what was originally the gymnasium for the Martinez Grammar School. Martinez Grammar School was located between Castro and Alhambra on the east and west and Mellus and Jones on the north and south. Plaza de Ignacio Martinez, located in the middle of the block, was used as a playground.

The school was built in stages. The first building, which is now the Boys and Girls Club, was then a two story building, dedicated the week of Sept. 13, 1909. As the population of Martinez grew, so did the demand for classroom space, and on May 16, 1916, the School Board minutes stated: “At various meetings the matter of an additional school was discussed.” The Stockton architectural firm of Stone & Wright was hired that night to design a new school house. Plans called for $45,000-$50,000 to construct the building.

The $49,000 building was completed by Aug. 24, 1917, and was first occupied on Sept. 4, 1917. “The many who have inspected the building, which has every modern convenience in the way of lighting, heating and ventilation, say that it is by far one of the finest school buildings ever erected in this section of the state. … There were numerous changes made in the wall studding, sheeting, brick work across the back, scenery for the assembly hall stage, concrete court, cement sidewalks, curbs and gutters and iron fencing across the front which were not provided for in the plans, but to provide for omissions or mistakes in the plans only $70 was expended, which is an enviable record for a job of that size and cost. …” (Daily Gazette, Aug. 30, 1917)

The Field Act was passed in 1938 and all school buildings were surveyed by the State Dept. of Architects. Buildings that did not comply were put on a schedule of upgrading. An official of the School Planning Division of the Department of Education toured the building in October 1952 and sent a devastating letter listing the multitude of items that needed to be upgraded. A group of concerned citizens requested the School Board to abandon the building on Henrietta Street in January of 1953. Throughout the first six months of 1953, the issues were debated, and in May 1953, a cost summary was made to repair the building. The work included structural, roof, door and sash repairs; adding fire escapes; painting, electrical, plumbing and heating work. The cost, including architectural and engineering fees of $16,467, was $214,069. The Board issued a position paper on other reasons besides cost why the building should not be considered for repair under any conditions. The reasons list[ed] were poor design, undesirable location, inadequate site, mental health of teachers, outside noise, more money spent would make it more permanent and “would not allow the children to enjoy the same educational facilities the children in Montecito and John Muir experience.” The decision was to construct wings of seven or eight classrooms at Montecito and John Muir, and consider a small primary school downtown when the District could afford it.

During the next 18 months, correspondence flew between the School District, appraisers and title companies. Monsignor William M. Burke of St. Catherine’s Church, and the City of Martinez were both interested in purchasing the brick school building. The trustees of the Catholic Church finally withdrew their request for consideration in March 1955. Superintendent Willard B. Knowles wrote to the City Council offering the property to the city for $5,000 down and $5,000 a year for seven years, for a total of $40,000. The offer was accepted.

School board trustees at that time were President Charles Laird, Emory Taylor, Kermit Coon, Phyllis Wainwright, and Lester Small. City Council members were Mayor Jack Fries, George Freschi, Thomas Francis McMahon, Robert Williamson, and William R. Zufall.

No doubt Martinez Historical Society has hard copies.

Martinez City Hall, 525 Henrietta St., has undergone three significant changes to its architecture and uses. We are going to examine these changes over a few installments of this column and in reverse chronological order. So, why does City Hall look the way it does now?

As a reaction to the 1989 earthquake, the City of Martinez – under the aegis of then City Manager Jim Jakel – planned to remove the brick from three facades of City Hall. On July 26, 1990, the Design Review Committee relayed poignant misgivings about these alterations (click here to see original document). On June 27, 1992, Planning Commission Chair Gus Kramer, wrote a letter to the City expressing the Commission’s “serious concern” over the removal of this brick. In a rare commentary on local government setting an example for its citizens, the Commission wrote:

The Planning Commission wishes to express its serious concerns with this “emergency” project and the process used to approve it. In addition, the Commission wants to provide the City Council with the comments of the Design Review Committee. To our knowledge, these comments have not been provided to the Council by the Director of Public Services.

The Commission feels that the brick removal will make the City Hall unattractive and set an undesirable precedent. How can the Commission hold private applicants to a high standard of design when the City does not hold itself to the same standard? What can the Commission say to an owner of an historic brick building in the downtown area who proposes brick removal rather than restoration?

This project was referred to the Design Review Committee for review of exterior colors only. The Committee members were so opposed to the proposal that they refused to rate the project. The Committee members asked to review other options. Although the City secured opinions from two engineering firms, no architectural firm was employed. No other options have been presented to the Design Review Committee.

We believe that the emergency has been largely eliminated by the exterior scaffolding. We request that the Mayor and Council delay the project and appoint a subcommittee to meet with the three architects who serve on the Planning Commission and the Design Review Committee. The subcommittee would provide the Public Services Director with direction in investigating further alternatives.

Ultimately, City Hall’s brick facades and terra-cotta were saved, although many other alterations occurred. Some of the Arts and Crafts-period architectural terra-cotta was in the way of the renovations, so they were hung inside City Hall. Thanks to a Tile Heritage Foundation Grant received in 2008, research revealed that the brick maker (Livermore) was also the terra-cotta maker.

I am considering nominating Martinez’s 1917 City Hall/Grammar School to the National Register of Historic Places. However, because of the many rehabilitations that have changed the character-defining features of what was originally a type of utilitarian “Prairie School” style architecture, I am seeking outside advice before I undertake such an expensive and monumental task.

Stay tuned to next week when we meet Frank Lloyd Wright.

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Martinez was the place to be … https://martineztribune.com/2016/04/22/martinez-was-the-place-to-be/ https://martineztribune.com/2016/04/22/martinez-was-the-place-to-be/#comments Fri, 22 Apr 2016 16:24:10 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=3912 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. ...

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Submit “Remember When” contributions to admin@martineztribune.com.
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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From the Archives: Contra Costa’s last milkman https://martineztribune.com/2016/02/26/from-the-archives-contra-costas-last-milkman/ https://martineztribune.com/2016/02/26/from-the-archives-contra-costas-last-milkman/#respond Fri, 26 Feb 2016 17:26:58 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=3422 At the time of this photo, August 1989, the man seen in this photograph was the last remaining milkman in Contra Costa County. His delivery truck seemed to be a vintage model even then! (CONTRA COSTA COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY / Courtesy)

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milkman
At the time of this photo, August 1989, the man seen in this photograph was the last remaining milkman in Contra Costa County. His delivery truck seemed to be a vintage model even then! (CONTRA COSTA COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY / Courtesy)

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Days gone by … https://martineztribune.com/2016/02/26/days-gone-by/ https://martineztribune.com/2016/02/26/days-gone-by/#respond Fri, 26 Feb 2016 15:53:45 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=3405 By RAY ROBBINS Special to the Tribune I miss tagging along with my older brother and his friends, riding the ferry boat to Benicia and back. You could ride all day for 10 cents, if you knew where to hide. I miss being shooed away from Pasco’s Bar on the wharf, which was always filled ...

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By RAY ROBBINS
Special to the Tribune

I miss tagging along with my older brother and his friends, riding the ferry boat to Benicia and back. You could ride all day for 10 cents, if you knew where to hide.

I miss being shooed away from Pasco’s Bar on the wharf, which was always filled with laughter and smoke from the little Toscano Cigars that looked like twigs.

I miss the thump, thump, thump sounds of the single stroke engines on the fishing boats tied up in the creek at Granger’s Wharf from the aromatic food cannery all the way past the Pellegrini home where there was an area fisherman dried and mended their nets. That way of life ended for them in the early 1950s when someone deemed it was illegal to fish with nets – everyone except Chucky DiMaggio’s defiant stand which earned him a vacation in the “Gray Bar Hotel.”

The food cannery at Granger’s Wharf was managed by Mr. Graziano and was home to a lot of blue-collar jobs for the locals. Some of the things I remember being canned were sardines, tomatoes, peaches and asparagus, and I think they even made saltwater taffy once. The cannery also had the best softball team in town. The roster was filled with guys whose last names ended with a vowel.

I miss the ship the “Forester,” grounded northwest of town. We didn’t know the owner’s name at the time (Captain Otto A. Daeweritz); he was just known as the captain, or the informal “Cap.” I’ve been on that ship. Cap had a rickety gangway on the port side where you boarded the ship. He would show you around the deck and let you play pirate for awhile. Once he allowed us below deck where he and his dog lived and showed us a rack filled with different flags and insignia that he flew to message fellow mariners. When Cap died, the new owner was a grouchy guy that wouldn’t let anyone get near the ship. It eventually had a mysterious fire and burned down to the waterline.

The shoreline was different in those days and was loaded with tulles where the duck hunters built their blinds. They laid out their decoys, sat in their blinds and called the ducks in. They never had a chance.

I miss those Foley & Burke carnivals set up across the tracks between the Alhambra Water building and the little airport, where Jack Davi kept his airplane. They had a Ferris wheel and other rides, and games that were nearly impossible to win.

I miss being a paperboy and hanging out at the Gazette (then in the Sharkey Building), and the ebullient Elmo Crow and his little mustache; he looked after the carriers like we were his own. He showed us how a paper was put together, from the typesetters in front of their huge machines, lifting the metal letters, making the leaden molds and man-handling the giant spools of newspaper. The press was underground and when it was asleep, the pressmen would show us how it operated. No one was allowed below when it was running because it was too dangerous and the roar was deafening and shook the building.

Elmo could drink a coke from the side of his mouth but when we tried, it dribbled down our chins. A couple more names I remember at the Gazette were Clarence and Dink.

I miss playing street games like hide and seek, kick the can, red rover, dodge ball, mumblety-peg, marbles, rubber gun fights, stilts, skates and coasters. Does anybody know what olly, olly, oxen free means?

I miss unsupervised sports we played without umps, refs or parents and everyone got to play no matter how good or bad you were. I miss the skating rink next to the Masonic Hall and Dairyvale and Ice Cream kitty-corner from the hall.

I miss the mom and pop grocery stores dotted all over town, especially on Alhambra Avenue where there was Barnett’s, Drago’s, Brown Street, Red and White – where the high schoolers hung out – Knutson’s, and Valley and Trestle Markets. Just about every one of them had their own butchers.

I miss the alumni football, baseball, and basketball games played at Alhambra High; to me it was like watching the pros. I miss the fastpitch softball games played under the lights of Rankin Park by both men and women teams, and the men’s city league basketball played at Alhambra gymns.

I miss the dances that were held at our schools, the Firemen and Police Balls held at Carpenters Hall, the Job’s Daughters Balls at Masonic Hall and the teenage dances held at the old Odd Fellows building.

I miss Mr. Ackel’s Avalon Theater that played mostly B and cowboy movies. It was alright to wear your holsters and guns to the shows. Ackel once showed a controversial movie called “Mom and Dad” that was for adults only; today it would probably be in school biology classes.

My favorite intersection was Ward and Ferry, which was where the majestic State Theater stood. It had a well-appointed mezzanine that led to the balcony. The tickets were priced so you could afford to go every time they changed the bill. Across the street was the alcohol-free pool hall where kids and men of all ages could hone their skills playing 8 ball, snooker or billiards. There was the Corn Crib Cafe where I learned to drink coffee like the big boys, and listened to the Nickelodeon. There was also the telephone company where all the pretty operators were always coming and going.

I miss the old friendly police force that you knew by their first names and they kept you in line by threatening to tell your parents or take your car keys away from you. Who can ever forget the gallant Roy Nicola on his motorcycle, or Chief Nielson in the passenger side of a patrol car sitting at the corner of Main and Ferry looking over his town.

I miss the long parades we had that featured every attraction from drill teams to horses, and usually started with Majorette Jeanne Vallejo and ended with sweepers and the Balestreri twins standing in garbage cans hung on the back of one of the Bisio’s trucks.

I miss the festivals, whiskerinos and street dances we had celebrating anything we could think of. We even had a festival for the opening of Interstate 680 and the bridge that, along with the closing of the ferry boat and the opening of Sunvalley Mall, was the beginning of the end for downtown Martinez being a shopping destination.

We had a lot of dinner houses throughout town, starting with Sprigg’s Chicken Dinners at the four corners of Highway 4 and Pacheco Boulevard where Kirk’s Drive-In and the old CHP office was located. Sprigg’s raised their own chickens; can you imagine what the health department would say today? The four corners were also the original eastern entrance into Martinez before I-680 was built.

There was Mitch’s Club and Dinners that was more family oriented. Mitch ruled with an iron fist and raspy voice, but we all knew the real boss was his lovely Ann. Paul’s Place catered to a more sophisticated clientele that enjoyed dinner and dancing to live music. Nick’s Place was rebuilt at the original Armando’s on Escobar Street, where there had been a fire. Nick’s also had music on occasion, but there were some people who thought he watered down the booze.

Amato’s had a lot of legal people as customers. Some people say there were more cases solved over a three Martini lunch than at the courthouse.

Dominic’s Grotto was a seafood favorite and I can remember you could get an Abalone sandwich on a French roll for less than two dollars.

I miss the service stations that had attendants that cleaned the windshields and checked under the hood. They had water and air hoses on the islands, and most of them had unlocked restrooms open 24-7 for your convenience. Our favorite was Rupe’s, who allowed us to tinker with our engines in the parking lot and use his washing rack and accessories. Thanks, Rupert Lorenzo.

I miss all the Damon Runyon-type characters that frequented our more than adequate watering holes, card rooms and cafes. Andy Bellecci used to say that if Mr. Runyon had stopped in Martinez he would never have made it to New York. For those of you that do not know what I’m talking about, all I can say is, I wish you were there.

Share your Martinez memories in the Tribune’s “Remember When” feature. Call (925) 229-2026 for more information.

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This Week in History: Feb. 19-25 https://martineztribune.com/2016/02/18/this-week-in-history-feb-19-25/ https://martineztribune.com/2016/02/18/this-week-in-history-feb-19-25/#respond Fri, 19 Feb 2016 04:38:23 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=3332 By DANNY YOEONO Martinez Tribune Pacheco Tobacco Company opens Pacheco, 1874: The Pacheco Tobacco Company was incorporated, with a capital stock of $10,000, for the purpose of leasing or purchasing land, as well as curing and manufacturing tobacco. (CCCHS) Ferry Street Canteen closes Ferry Street in 1946: Next to the Hot Dog Depot and across ...

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By DANNY YOEONO
Martinez Tribune

Pacheco Tobacco Company opens
Pacheco, 1874: The Pacheco Tobacco Company was incorporated, with a capital stock of $10,000, for the purpose of leasing or purchasing land, as well as curing and manufacturing tobacco. (CCCHS)

Ferry Street Canteen closes
Ferry Street in 1946: Next to the Hot Dog Depot and across from the old train station, the Martinez Troops-In-Transit-Canteen closes its doors. During WWII, 401,322 traveling servicemen and women, escorts and children, were given rest and refreshment by community-supported volunteer hostesses at the Canteen.

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Longing for summer https://martineztribune.com/2016/02/18/longing-for-summer/ https://martineztribune.com/2016/02/18/longing-for-summer/#respond Fri, 19 Feb 2016 04:20:47 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=3307 By RAY ROBBINS Special to the Tribune When I was growing up in Martinez in the late 1940s, there wasn’t much air conditioning around, so in the dog days of summer we were always looking around for places to stay cool. We would make excuses to visit the Union Ice Plant on Escobar Street across ...

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Submit "Remember When" contributions to admin@martineztribune.com.
Submit “Remember When” contributions to admin@martineztribune.com.

By RAY ROBBINS
Special to the Tribune

When I was growing up in Martinez in the late 1940s, there wasn’t much air conditioning around, so in the dog days of summer we were always looking around for places to stay cool.

We would make excuses to visit the Union Ice Plant on Escobar Street across from the jail. They would let us stay awhile as long as we didn’t get in the way.

There was Claey’s Feed Store that took up the whole block between Foster and Buckley Streets. This is the block where Berrellesa Palms Apartments now resides. Claey’s building was huge and had a tin roof that reflected the sun. They had a railroad spur that entered the back of the building that used to deliver supplies. You can still see evidence of the tracks if you know where to look. There was plenty of ventilation and it was always cool inside.

He also sold rifles, guns, ammo, and other hunting equipment; it sort of became a hangout for the old timers.

Another tin roof building that was always cool was the Diamond Match Lumber Co. that occupied the block where the County Clerk-Recorders Office now resides.

There was an asphalt-paved customer’s pick-up drive-thru lane, which connected Escobar Street to Howard Street, and it always had a breeze.

Howard Street itself has a history of sorts. At that time, it ended at Pine Street and, years later when they extended it to merge with Escobar Street, they renamed it the more pleasant sounding Marina Vista Avenue.

If you didn’t like swimming in the bay at “Sandy Beach” northwest of town, you could always hike down the tracks to Crystal Pool in Walnut Creek, Mitchell Canyon in Concord, or Marsh Creek Lodge a few miles past Clayton.

You can imagine how elated we were when we heard they were going to build a swimming pool in our own back yard at Rankin Park. The only sad thing about it was the open field they were going to build on had a big quince tree, which we used to play jokes on the uniformed who didn’t know what a quince was. It was sort of like the forbidden fruit that was very tempting. It looked and smelled like a yellow apple, but when you bit into it and started chewing, it soon puckered up and dried out your mouth. Lots of laughs.

After the pool was completed they had a grand opening and the whole town seemed to be there. They had the regular politicians, and I heard the swimming movie star Esther Williams was also in attendance. I don’t remember her, but I do remember the radio personality “The Great Gildersleeve” being there. Seems my priorities weren’t right.

There are still a lot of us around that can say they watched the original pool being built and that thing of beauty they have now completed.

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Bottled up memories discovered https://martineztribune.com/2016/02/11/bottled-up-memories-discovered/ https://martineztribune.com/2016/02/11/bottled-up-memories-discovered/#respond Fri, 12 Feb 2016 04:20:16 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=3260 By RAY ROBBINS Special to the Tribune When I was attending Alhambra High School in the 1950s, we had curriculum and activities offered to us that would be the envy of every school district in the state of California. We didn’t have vice principals or counselors, our teachers and coaches were there for us. We ...

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In the early 1950s (at left) and more recently at their 40-year reunion (at right), are (clockwise from lower left): Cat Russo, Bob Haisley, Nat Russo, Al Marazzani, Ray Robbins and Toni Cellini. (COURTESY / On File)
In the early 1950s (at left) and more recently at their 40-year reunion (at right), are (clockwise from lower left): Cat Russo, Bob Haisley, Nat Russo, Al Marazzani, Ray Robbins and Toni Cellini. (COURTESY / On File)

By RAY ROBBINS
Special to the Tribune

When I was attending Alhambra High School in the 1950s, we had curriculum and activities offered to us that would be the envy of every school district in the state of California.

We didn’t have vice principals or counselors, our teachers and coaches were there for us. We had elected student body officers who got along with the faculty very well, thank you.

Besides the three Rs and college prep classes, we had Spanish, French, typing (on yesterday’s laptops), driver’s ed, home economics – which included kitchenettes – mechanical drawing and music.

We even had a brunch period where baker extraordinaire Fred Pardini would be there when the bell rang with his trays and pastries. Fred was a minuscule guy who looked like he just stepped out of a comic strip.

Physical education was mandatory and everybody suited up, unless you had a broken leg or something.

For the blue collar minded, we had welding/sheet metal shop, machine shop and carpentry/wood shop.

I had wood shop and was a member of a crew of six that were selected to build a new refreshment stand at Knowles Field, from the ground up. The other members were Bob Haisley, Nat Russo, Al Marazzani, Cat Russo and Tony Cellini.

We were learning quite a bit about carpentry and one day we acquired a case of Bireley’s Grape Soda.

While we were sipping on our sodas, one of us spotted our teacher, Big John Atkinson, coming down the road. We decided to hide the contraband and placed the remaining bottles of soda between the 2×4 studs and slapped a sheet of plywood up.

We were very proud of ourselves when we got the building finished, and that was the end of it, we thought.

Forty years later, Nat Russo read in the paper that the building was going to be razed, and he remembered the soda bottles were in it. He contacted Ray Martellacci, who worked for the school district, and asked if he could be there during the razing and retrieve the bottles, which he did.

At our 40th graduation party, Nat was the M.C. and gave all of the crew a bottle. I have mine encased and it sits on a shelf along with a before and after picture of the crew.

Bob Haisley, the only one who became a carpenter, is no longer with us, but the rest of us are still kicking around.

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