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Manteca on the grow during 1970s & 1980s

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POSTED May 24, 2013 1:52 a.m.

Editor’s note: This is the fourth of a six-part series taking a look back at Manteca’s first 95 years as an incorporated city. Voters approved incorporation on May 28, 1918.

The dawn of the 1960s brought a new era of prosperity to California.

Manteca was no different.

Spreckels Sugar was expanding. New churches were under construction. The Maple Avenue post office was dedicated. Work on the new library was finished.

There were other changes as well.

The Creamery - which was the first seed planted to create Manteca - was closed in December 1965 and razed the following year for a service station on business Highway 120/Yosemite Avenue.

The creamery was built in 1896 adjacent to the railroad tracks where Regal Signs now stands.

It was the first business in what was to become known as Manteca.

 The original skimming station was converted to a partial retail operation in 1914 with a grand opening of Sept. 20 that year that offered Manteca  residents free ice cream.

The creamery was a popular fountain serving honest-to-goodness ice cream that was popular with locals and tourists alike. The end of the era came in December 1965.

The closing of the Creamery was one of the few negative developments in Manteca’s economy during the 1960s.

The Spreckels Sugar refinery underwent a major expansion in  1976 increasing daily processing capacity from 1,850 tons to 4,200 tons a year.

The lime kiln that was built south of the main sugar plant was the largest in the world at the time.

The Mediterranean-style main Post Office dedicated on March 25, 1939 amid words that it would “last for generations” only survived one just before it was enlarged.

The Maple Avenue office was emptied in  1966 and temporary quarters were leased on North Main Street.

Ten thousand feet were added including 3,000 square feet in the basement. Dedication ceremonies were held in November 1967.

The successful library election in 1959 meant the city could break ground on the West Center branch library structure in 1961. The new library was dedicated on Jan. 13, 1962.

As Manteca entered the 1970s, it started moving away from a heavy dependence on agriculture and government jobs started in the 1970s.

Spreckels Sugar was the biggest non-government employer when the decade started with 350 full-time and part-time jobs. The city had less than 10,000 residents.

Ten years later, Indy Electronics displaced Spreckels as the top employer as almost 800 workers were working in the electronics plant. Indy was part of the Manteca Industrial Park that sprouted in former fields along South Main Street.

The city’s population at the close of the 1970s was pushing 21,000.

The die had been cast for Manteca’s transformation into a bedroom community for Bay Area workers fleeing pricey housing markets in San Jose, San Francisco and other areas west of the Altamont Pass.

The 1970s was a time of visionary thinking by civic leaders. The focus was on the future and how best to prepare for it.

The Manteca Industrial Park was a joint effort of the city and civic leaders such as Ted Poulos and George Dadasovich who formed an authority to purchase the land and offer sites complete with streets, water and sewer to lure businesses such as Dana Corporation and Indy Electronics to Manteca.

The Civic Center at 1001 W. Center St. broke ground.  Center Street was extended from Walnut Avenue to Union Road. The city added the last nine holes to the golf course. Northgate Park was developed.

Downtown Manteca was at the pinnacle. Clothing stores were the norm. There were two shoe stores. Storefront vacancies were rare.

West Manteca got its first major shopping center when Kmart, SaveMart and Thrifty’s all signed on as major tenants for the retail complex at Union Road and Yosemite Avenue that has since been remodeled as the Manteca Marketplace.

But perhaps the single most defining event of the 1970s was the aggressive community campaign to lobby the California Legislature and the California Transportation Commission  to build the Highway 120 Bypass.

Traffic from Friday afternoons through Sunday night in Manteca was horrific. Traffic backed up for miles as Bay Area residents trekked to the Sierra and then returned at the close of the weekend clogging up Yosemite Avenue which doubled as the old Highway 120 route.

Residents at the time reported taking upwards of 10 minutes to cross Yosemite Avenue.

Civic leaders and the Manteca City Council mobilized. They plotted a strategy to enlist the Bay Area travelers to pressure the state.

Volunteers passed out leaflets to motorists backed up at the Yosemite Avenue and Main Street traffic signal.

They appeared on radio talk shows in the Bay Area and enlisted the help of newspapers in San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland and elsewhere to editorialize the need to build a Manteca bypass.

When the CTC agreed to state funding, little did anyone know that the fight had just begun. The Caltrans design for the original bypass was a route that alternated over a five-mile stretch from four lanes to three lanes to two lanes and back to three lanes.

The result was deadly head-on crashes from un safe passing maneuvers that quickly earned the Manteca Bypass the dubious title of “Blood Alley.” During a period of several months, the bypass was averaging a fatality a week.

Local leaders lobbied the state extensively to secure barriers down the center of the bypass to separate traffic and virtually eliminate head-on collisions.

SATURDAY: Manteca growth in the 1980s prompts city to adopt the San Joaquin Valley’s first growth just before recession hits at the start of the 1990s.

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