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Manteca Museum

It’s a blast from the past

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Manteca Museum

A 1930s barber chair is among the items on display at the museum.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED January 14, 2012 2:16 a.m.

Step over the threshold of Manteca’s first Methodist church and you will enter a world that will enchant and educate.

You will see how people cleaned clothes with muscle power and were thrilled with the technology.

There are samples of cutting edge engineering technology - a redwood municipal water main wrapped tightly with wire.

You’ll see fashion accessories that were once all the rage - button cuffs for dress shirts dispensed via a nickel vending machine from a drug store.

And there are what appear to be familiar scenes of Manteca captured a century ago when black and white film was cutting edge.

It’s all part of Manteca’s blast from the past. The Manteca museum at 600 W. Yosemite Ave marks its 20th anniversary in May. And by California standards, it is flush given the fact virtually all of the 5,000 items in the collection are from Manteca’s past along with 4,000 photographs.

This amount of history preserved for a small Central Valley town is rare.

And while it is a safe bet that most of the 90,000 people who have visited the museum during the past two decades are impressed, none are more impressed than people who are not long-time residents.

“People who have not lived here all of their lives are the ones most likely to come in.” noted Evelyn Prouty who serves as executive director of the Manteca Historical Society.

They appreciate the collection so much, they are typically repeat visitors.

One of Prouty’s favorite parts of the museum is the early 20th century parlor teeming with items that once graced households of Mantecans who have passed away. It’s right next door to a display that features an old-style barber shop chair and kitchen apparatus more than a century old.

The parlor contains two elegant sitting chairs and a love seat donated by the late Dora Mortensen. They reflect the elegance of a bygone era when furniture and the words “press board” were completely foreign to each other.

“I love the marble-topped tables,” Prouty said.

There are period lamps, a crank-arm phonograph, candle phone, and more.

 The parlor doesn’t hold the oldest furniture - nor the most unique.

Elsewhere there are two chairs from the 1880s that once graced the Castle home that still stands near French Camp and Castle roads. One of the chairs seems a tad odd, with a huge gap from the seat to the back rest. Once its purpose is explained, the chair design known as a “bustle” makes perfect sense. The large gap allowed a lady to hike up her petticoats – typically stiffened by wire – and stuff them out the back of the chair so she could sit like a lady.

The most unusual furniture isn’t the oldest. It is a desk from the House of Representatives that was used by the late John McFall. The Manteca native and former city councilman was once the third most powerful member of the House serving in the 1960s as the whip for the majority party.

His father Lucky McFall, for whom the VFW Post is named never saw his son. John McFall was born a week or so after his father died in France while serving America in World War II.

Prouty’s favorite photograph adorns the wall above the entrance to the parlor and kitchen. It is of a pair of boys - perhaps 8 years of age - posing with a small “house” they cobbled together out of scrap wood on the corner of Yosemite Avenue and Main Street. Attached to the house in the Little Rascals-style photo is a hand-painted sign reading “Hooper and Callander Contractors.”

You will find a segment dedicated to the City of Manteca’s history, including photos of the 29 past mayors ranging from Joshua Cowell - “The Father of Manteca” - to Carlon Perry. Willie Weatherford’s photo will be added when he is history in terms of his service as mayor.

There are displays depicting the history of the fire and police departments, the Tidewater Southern and Southern Pacific Railroads, and what is arguably Manteca’s most infamous building of all time - the El Rey Theatre.

“It is one of the most popular displays,” Prouty said in reference to a movie poster that was salvaged from a display case for the feature film the night it burned on Aug. 6, 1975.

The El Rey and Manteca are a question in the second edition of Trivial Pursuit. The question is, “What was splaying at the El Rey Theatre in Manteca, Calif., when it burned on Aug. 6, 1975?” The answer: “The Towering Inferno.”

The scale model of the old Manteca High is popular, not only with those who were old enough to go to class at the campus complete with a venerable bell tower.

“Teens are drawn to it,” Prouty said.” They can’t believe everyone went to one high school in Manteca and they almost always say they can’t understand why someone tore down such a beautiful building.”

There is a long list of the displays, including one of the phone companies complete with switchboards and phones from the old wall-mounted crank phones to an early mobile phone compete with its brick-sized battery pack.

The stage display - with a heavy emphasis on clothes of yesteryear - is changed periodically. There is also an annex museum that houses everything from farm equipment, sports memorabilia and metal pedal cars to packing crate labels from the Manteca Canning Company and other local fruit shippers and the city’s 1927 American LaFrance engine.

The oldest item in the museum is a portrait painted of Louisa Richmond Stickney in the mid 1830s as part a pendant. She married Noah Clapp and moved to Manteca in 1872.

When San Joaquin County decided to name a road after her in honor as her being among the early pioneers, they misspelled it.

It didn’t bother Louisa.

She was quoted at the time as saying the small lane with her name spelled wrong was never going to amount to much of anything anyway.

The road: Louise Avenue.

Dennis Wyatt
managing editor

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