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Catastrophic flood mars 1950s
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Editor’s note: The following is part of a series recapping Manteca history.


“Sleepy” and “tranquil” are adjectives historians could use in looking back on the 1950s in Manteca.

It wasn’t a time of earth-shattering events in the course of Manteca’s growth.

It was a time when Manteca High and its sports teams served as the focal point of the community. Cruising was gaining in popularity and Manteca was viewed as a small San Joaquin Valley farm town by those passing through from San Francisco en route to Yosemite Valley or traveling Highway 99 that served as the main route connecting Los Angeles and the rest of the Pacific Coast states.

A four-way stop with a suspended red blinking light at the start of the decade marked where Highway 99 and Highway 120 crossed at what is now the corner of Yosemite Avenue and Main Street. The Highway 99 freeway would take the traffic load off Main Street as 1960 neared.

The decade gave little inkling of what was about to happen in Manteca during the 1960s but there were signs of change on the horizon.

Two of the worst disasters in Manteca history - the flood of the winter of 1950-51 and a fire that devastated a large chunk of the central district in 1952 - occurred during the decade.

The 1950-51 disaster made the January 1997 floods that covered 70 square miles south of Manteca, damaged 700 homes and racked up $100 million in losses pale in comparison.

Unusually severe storms from Nov. 13 to Dec. 8 caused extensive flooding from the Durham Ferry/Airport Way bridge on the San Joaquin River to Bowman Road in French Camp.

Prime farmland was under water for weeks.

By January 1951, levees had broken on both sides of both the Stanislaus and San Joaquin rivers. Highway 50 west of Mossdale was closed for several weeks after flood waters washed away bridges. Flood waters came within four miles of downtown Manteca. The county hospital was threatened.

More than 2,000 people had been evacuated between Mossdale and French Camp. The same widespread flood today would force the displacement of over 10,000 people.

Stockton also suffered major flooding with 125 blocks covered in water for up to eight days with the water reaching a height of six feet in spots.

What was possibly Manteca’s largest fire in history started in the back of the Courtesy Market on Dec. 11, 1952 and quickly spread to the furniture store next door. The fire was first spotted by Dr. Robert Winters at the southwest corner of Center and Main streets. Winters ran two blocks to report it.

The grocery store, barber shop, Sadie’s Beauty Shop and furniture store sustained over $200,000 in damages or the equivalent of almost $1 million in 1999 dollars.

The 1950s also saw upheaval in the fire department when the City Council removed Chief Sam Hanna after 22 years when he refused to resign to make way for the department’s first full-time fire chief.