Stockton, California at the end of the fifties.

Stockton, California at the end of the fifties.
Burns Tower, University of the Pacific Campus

We moved to Stockton, California at the end of the fifties.. At that time, thousands of people were moving into Califoria each day. Think about that: each day the state’s population increased by over a thousand people. (California jumped from 10,586,223 residents in 1950 to 15,717,204 in 1960, an increase of 48.5%.) The Joads had nothing on us. Last Sunday, I talked about our life in Billings, living on the Rocky Mountain College Campus. At the end of that post, I noted how we moved to Stockton. Poppa had taken a new job at the University of the Pacific.

Stockton is California’s 13th largest city. With a population in excess of 300,000, it is the country’s 63rd largest city. I would surmise that most folk reading this won’t know where Stockton is. Located on Interstate Highway 5 (old US 99) in California’s Central Valley, Stockton lies roughly 50 miles south of Sacramento. Oakland is just 72 miles to the west. The city is on the San Joaquin River, and when we lived there, there was a large US Navy mothball fleet moored in the River. The River has been dredged, and Stockton serves as an inland deep-water port.

I should note up front that I have no photographs of our life in Stockton. Poppa may have taken a few, but I am not going to go through thousands of old slides to find an image or three. The featured image at the top of this page is the Burns Tower on the University of the Pacific campus. Gene Wright took the photo and I am using it under the GNU Free Documentation license.

Our First Couple of Months in Stockton

For a kid, the move was not that major. The 1960 U.S. Census counted 52,851 residents in Billings. The same census showed Stockton with a population of 86,321. The two cities felt roughly the same size to this ten-year-old. We moved from one college campus to another. The main difference for me was that we no longer lived on the campus itself. When we first moved to Stockton, we rented a home owned by the University. I remember the house being large, two stories, with a swimming pool in the back yard. No one had bothered to clean or fill the pool and it served mostly as a storage tank for rainfall and (most likely) a breeding ground for mosquitos.

We attended church at Central Methodist Church on Pacific Avenue across from the college campus. What I remember of that sanctuary is that it had a soaring “cathedral” ceiling, supported by massive concrete beams. Poppa said that if you painted the ceiling red and the concrete white, you’d think you were inside Jonah’s whale. A look at Adele Harth’s photograph of the sanctuary will let you see what Poppa meant. The church building was brand new when we started attending. In fact, it was probably still under construction. The church’s history page says that the last service in the old building was on July 20, 1958. It also states that the new building was consecrated on June 7th, 1964. But I know that we worshipped in the belly of that whale. Such was church life in Stockton, California at the end of the fifties.

A New House, New Church, New School

I do not remember how long we lived in that first house, but before my fifth grade school term started, my parents had bought a house on Allston Way, roughly a mile south of campus. Allston Way ran north-south, and was parallel to Pacific Avenue, the topic of today’s Video of the Day. A couple blocks south of our home, Allston Way became Lincoln Avenue. Our new church, Grace Methodist, had a Lincoln Avenue address, and a physical plant that looked more like a church than a whale. Between Lincoln and Pacific stretched a large school yard, with a red brick building. El Dorado Elementary School, my fifth grade school.

What do I remember about Grace Church? Not much. Just that there was this girl in my Sunday School class. One day her parents called mine to say that since their children were kicking each other in Sunday School, the parents should meet.

Leslie and the Pratt Family

As I recall things, the meeting between the Pratt and Spellman families took place over a large jug of A&W Root Beer and vanilla ice cream. The five Pratts and three Spellmans shared root beer floats in our backyard. Who would have suspected that kicking a girl in Sunday School would lead to a life-time family friendship. Seven years later, Leslie was my date to High School Commencement and the All-Night Party that followed. In the mid 1970s, Ellen, Leslie’s younger sister and I reconnected at U.C. Berkeley. Ellen had a wicked wit, and was always a joy to be around. By the early 1990s, Leslie was working as a chandler and living on a racing sailboat moored in San Francisco Bay. I’ll never forget the day we spent sailing around the Bay on her boat.

School Days, School Days

We were living in Stockton, California at the end of the fifties. For anyone old enough, that should tell you all you need to know about stress levels. Everywhere you looked, there were “Emergency Evacuation Route” signs posted. At school, we had routine duck and cover drills. Sometimes we were told to crawl under our desks. Sometimes we were told to go into the hallway, face the wall, and squat down with our heads between our knees.

Red Alert drills were always conducted on campus. Yellow Alert Drills happened seldom, but they did occur. In a Yellow Alert, the theory was that we had enough time to get home and fry with our family. (Cue Tom Lehrer–“We’ll all fry together when we fry. We’ll be french-fried potatoes by and by.”) We looked forward to Yellow Alerts because that meant school was done for the day. Most of our alerts were red, and we marched into the hall and kissed our asses goodbye.

Hawai'ian Ukulele on hand woven lap rug
Poppa’s Gift from Honolulu

One of Poppa’s first trips for the University was to Hawai’i. He brought me back a present. I still have the ukulele shown above, and you can read more about it on my Photo of the Day page.

Fifth grade was also when I got to be a School Crossing Guard. It was when I learned to bite my fingernails. I was taking violin lessons at school, and our teacher would grade us down if our nails were too long. I never remembered to file my nails, so fifteen minutes before class, I’d look at my hands and start chewing. It’s a habit I’ve never been able to break.

Fifth grade was also the year my teacher called my parents into his classroom. “Bryan cannot see the blackboard,” he informed them. And so, in fifth grade, I became one of the four-eyed kids. Another habit I’ve not been able to break. Sixty years later I still wear glasses.

Leaving Stockton

Poppa’s job had him on the road constantly. He said that the job he applied for was not the job he got. The University of the Pacific told him that his job was not to recruit students–one of his favorite duties at Rocky. Instead he was supposed to go out and fund-raise. He was the Executive Assistant to the President in the Office of Development. And he was successful at that job. He just didn’t like doing it. I’ll go into how our next move came about in next Sunday’s Post, Colusa, California.

Flower of the Day

Pink Orchid Cactus Blossom
Second Time the Orchid Cactus has bloomed

Several years ago, Kevin and I were in the greenhouse of a nursery in Polson, Montana. Walking into the enclosed space, I was immediately drawn to plants I assumed were some sort of Christmas Cactus on steroids. No, I was told, the plants were orchid cacti. With green fronds hanging almost to the floor and colorful blossoms easily as large as my fist, the plant, Disocactus ackermannii was certainly an eye-catcher. While I didn’t feel I could afford one of the hanging baskets, I could afford to buy a 2 inch pot which, fortunately, the nursery had. The one I chose was covered with bright pink blossoms, and I was delighted. “Do not transplant it for at least a year,” the clerk told me.

I took it home, put it on my plant table in the living room, and waited. In time the blossoms faded, folded up and dropped off. And still I waited. A year later, I transplanted the cactus into a larger pot. I also went back to the nursery and bought another orchid cactus, this time in bright red. The red one blooms every year, giving me many red blossoms.

The pink one has bloomed twice since I transplanted it. The green fronds grow voluptuously, and are several feet long, but yesterday is only the second time I have found a blossom on the plant. Of course, I had to take a photograph. There is another photograph of this same plant at the bottom of the Flower of the Day page. I took that photo the first time the plant bloomed after the transplant. Maybe it’s finally beginning to feel at home in its pot.

Guest Site of the Day

The Guest Site for today appears to be a Chamber of Commerce, or city tourism type of site. But in keeping with both today’s theme, life in Stockton, California at the end of the fifties, and also with our (self) imposed house arrest, I thought that a site urging you to Experience Stockton From Home was appropriate. More about today than Stockton, California at the end of the fifties, the site has more information than you will ever need. I heartily recommend a visit, if only a virtual one.

Recipe of the Day

Today’s recipe comes from the FoodNetwork. I made it for supper a couple of days ago. Kevin is very predictable when we go out to eat. If we’re in a Mexican restaurant, he almost always orders Steak Fajitas. In an Asian restaurant (of whatever nationality), he will order the closest thing the menu has to Shrimp Fried Rice. If the menu has a dish that combines shrimp, chicken and pork with the fried rice, even better.

In an Italian restaurant, he wants Fettuccine Alfredo. When he took a couple of chicken breasts from the freezer, I knew this recipe would be a hit. And it was. “You can make this again!” he exclaimed. The straight-forward recipe calls for freshly grated cheese to thicken the cream sauce. It also calls for freshly grated nutmeg, but my nutmeg grater (and whole nutmegs) disappeared in the move. To date, I haven’t replaced them. I made four minor changes to FoodNetwork’s recipe. First, I used egg noodles instead of fettuccine. I also used ground nutmeg instead of freshly grated. And because my tablet died before I could finish supper, I added onion powder and garlic powder to the sauce. With those caveats, I give you FoodNetwork’s Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo. It’s so simple, you’ll never go back to the jarred version.

Video of the Day

When we lived in Stockton, our home was two blocks west of Pacific Avenue, specifically that part of Pacific Avenue known as the Miracle Mile. I don’t really know why the city gave that name to this particular business district. What I do know is that Pacific Avenue has gone by Miracle Mile for almost one hundred years now. In his video, Jeffy the Adventurer doesn’t really give a full history, either. He tends to look at the current buildings and then talks about what those buildings housed in the 1970s. Well, I lived there in the 1959-1960 school year.

One building Jeffy does not talk about appears on the right side of the screen starting fifteen seconds in. A large red brick building with white trim is the background for Jeffy’s introduction, lasting almost a minute. That red brick building today is the Stockton Adult Education Center, but in 1959 it was El Dorado Elementary School. My elementary school for fifth grade.

I have vague memories of the See’s Candy Store Jeffy indicates, but my strongest memory of the Miracle Mile was the Stockton Theater. In Billings, I had gone to movies on my own, at least a couple of times, but in Stockton, living just two blocks away, I was able to visit the Stockton a lot. I have a very strong memory of watching Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest.” What I remember most clearly is that I stayed in my seat and watched the movie twice. I’ve done that only one other time. Such was life in Stockton, California at the end of the fifties.

Blogs I Follow

Today, I’ve added another blog to follow. Jim Liska lives in southwestern Montana and has been a musician, a journalist (L.A. Times, Playboy, Downbeat Magazine), and a restaurant owner/chef. Needless to say, he writes beautifully. I could get lost in his prose. My only complaint is that he has no “Subscribe” button. He tells me that you just have to keep clicking on Try him out. I think you’ll like him.


48 Comments on “Stockton, California at the end of the fifties.

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