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Sweet, sweet Bernacchi Building

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POSTED May 1, 2014 12:27 a.m.

It sits in the northeast corner of Main and Yosemite, acting as the heart of town, reminding us where Manteca started. I’m told it once sat across from Joshua Cowell’s original homestead here in Manteca, a town he founded. It has had numerous inhabitants over the years from Wrigglesworth’s to German Glas Werks, Peggy’s to The Strop Shop, and a multitude of businesses long, long before my time. 

As a child of the MRPS Hall, it was a rite of passage to sneak down the alley and climb the stairs behind the Bernacchi Building to the roof – as I’m sure half the kids in town did. It’s safe to say this is the most recognizable building in town, one we’ve apparently all been in and on. One question still looms: What is upstairs?! Seriously, I have to know! And from talking with many others around town, they want to know as well.

How many of you have wondered about those two windows in the southwest corner of the building – the ones overlooking the center of town? My friend Tony Coit and myself often talked as teens of living in that corner apartment. We’d build a patio veranda, and on Saturday mornings as people shopped downtown, we’d wave from above like two self-appointed town Popes. Linda Aksland recently mentioned to me that I should get in line; that she has always wanted to move her office into that corner spot. That’s fine by me, as long as she doesn’t mind Tony and me sleeping under her desk.

I started to ask questions seeking answers to my quest.

It was Ralph McChesney that recently got my curiosity up regarding the buildings upstairs history. He’d posted a picture of it on a History of Manteca Facebook page. (And to those of you still on the “I’ll never Facebook” bandwagon, I say “See you soon, fuddy-duddy.”) The picture began a flurry of information being shared between the town’s elder statesmen – the progressive ones with Facebook. Ralph reminded us that Leo Bernacchi owned and operated a successful grocery/general store that once employed Mantecan’s Bruno Checci and Ken Hafer. 

Still nothing about the upstairs. 

Then Gary Ballard came to the rescue.

Gary joined in the informational pow-wow with some upstairs history. His parents Rupert and Virginia Ballard owned a hotel upstairs during the mid 1950s-60s – one that he and brothers Ray and John lived in during that time. It was known as The Marion Hotel. Finally I had someone with firsthand knowledge. He spoke of a place with 31 rooms that catered mostly to overnight truckers, which made perfect sense. In those days, the building sat at the crossroads of 120 and 99. I wonder what famous people had a bite to eat there on their way to or from Los Angeles. Ronald Reagan? Frank Sinatra? Antone Raymus? Gary even told a story of how he and his brothers raised a lamb on the roof, one that they’d walk to Library Park to let graze during the day. That’s Manteca to a T! His stories only further fueled my desire to see the upstairs on my own. Many people have reiterated my sentiment. We’ve all driven by the windows 10,000 times. It seemed that not only had few entered the upstairs; there was nary a photo.

I asked Linda Aksland, the acting property manager, what were the chances of me getting a walk-through of the upstairs. She said few and far between. Apparently the family that owns it has frowned upon the public visiting the upstairs. Whether for liability or just the desire to avoid the persistent hassle of people asking, I understood. But one thing became clear – I must see the upstairs before I die.

Let’s all make a massive leap. We all know what’s really up there – ghosts! I presume friendly ghosts, the ghosts of Mantecans past. I’m more than willing to play the part of Indiana Jones for our town and see what is up there. I speculate it’s now an elaborate series of mazes and booby traps – all dealing with Manteca’s history. A quicksand pit full of Spreckels sugar? A Pennebaker Field of landmines? And finally a room full of treasure, with the ghost of Joshua Cowell protecting it – offering up three Manteca questions for a chance to win the booty.

He’d start by asking me “Has Manteca ever had a female mayor?” I’d answer, “Yes, Trena Kelley” He’d attempt to throw me off with “Who scored the first touchdown in East Union history?” knowing my green and white allegiance prohibits me from speaking of that school. Fortunately, Larry Yamasaki is a family friend and I know of his 65-yard interception return to paydirt. The third and final question: “Who owned the City Cash store in the 50s?” Now, I’m stumped. But I pull out my cell phone and call my dad, “Curly and Buster Dowhower!” Joshua Cowell nods his head and hands me my treasure – the original Manteca High Tower Bell and a Ted Nuce world championship belt buckle – all while wondering what a cell phone is. I explain, and he asks if I can order him a pizza, asking me “Is Giovanni’s still around? I love those square pieces.” 

We split a pizza, and on my way out he asks one last question, “Why can we no longer turn left onto Main Street off of Wawona?” I just shrug my shoulders and say “Bad city planning, I guess. See you soon.” And that is the plan – seeing him soon. If anyone can help facilitate a walk-through of the upstairs, I’ll forever be in your debt … and I’ll tell Mr. Cowell you said hi.

Email me at

• • •

Daniel Teicheira Memorial Golf Tourney

The DT Memorial Foundation is holding its second annual golf tournament on June 14 at the Manteca Golf Course. Early registration has begun for this four-man scramble event. Prizes, raffle, and a silent auction are part of a day that includes a happy hour and dinner, along with a putting contest. If there is one thing I can guarantee, it is that a Teicheira will not win. You’d think with being built so low to the ground, my family would gain an advantage. Alas a series of short arms and large butts have ruined our swings. The DT Foundation has for the last 11 years granted scholarships to student-athletes, encouraging them to further their education at the college level. For more information, call 209.403.6893 or visit

 “It’s not Where ya do, it’s What ya do.”


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