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Fear of losing heritage gave birth to Manteca museum
pic museum-trio
From left, Dale Johnson, Ken Hafer and Ron Howe talked about the early years of the Manteca Historical Society and Museum at Thursdays monthly program. - photo by VINCE REMBULAT

In early 1990s, the Manteca Historical Society was in need of a new home.

The non-profit group had outgrown the building at 214 Poplar Ave. – formerly the Christian Science reading room – after about a year.  Area historian Ken Hafer recalled a plan to purchase a portable unit for the original site.

At the time, the City of Manteca had one-time block grants that could be earmarked for the add-on project.  But those plans were nix due to lack of space.

“The portable had to be 10 feet away from the (existing) building,” Hafer recalled Thursday.

The 20th anniversary of the Manteca Historical Museum at 600 W. Yosemite Ave. will be held Sunday starting at 2 p.m. The outdoor affair will also recognize volunteers from throughout the years.

As long-time supporters of the museum, Dale Johnson, Ron Howe and Hafer were picked to share memories of those early years at the Manteca Historical Society monthly program meeting.

“In 1992, we looked at the (present location) church property,” said Howe. “It was the oldest church in Manteca with 8,000 square feet.

“I thought we’d never fill it – now we got things all over the place.”

The Historical Society was able to afford the Methodist church purchase but only after selling the Poplar Avenue site to the City.

 The old church was in a state of disrepair.

“The building was a mess,” Johnson said.

Hafer agreed, saying, “The roof needed work and the walls had dry rot.”

A new type of foam roof was installed, costing close to $6,000. “All we could do was cross our fingers and hope it was going to work,” Hafer said.

Johnson noted that gallons of discounted miss-mixed paint dumped into a garbage can were used on the walls.

That same coat of paint and roof are still in place after two decades. “(The walls) still look pretty good after all these years,” said Johnson.

According to Hafer, the museum wasn’t in the original plans. “We were looking for a place to keep records and artifacts,” he said.

Concerns about Manteca losing its heritage – Hafer pointed out the old Manteca High building, train station, and the El Rey Theater, as examples – were among the reasons to look into forming the Historical Society.

By 1991, the group had its first home and became an established non-profit organization. The first-ever board was also appointed with Hafer as president and Howe as treasurer.

“When we started, every little expense seemed like a mountain. I never thought we would make it,” Hafer said.

Johnson, a longtime photographer, remembered when he became involved.

“I got a call from Ken (Hafer) to serve for just one year,” he said. “Sixteen years later, I was still there.”