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Farming, not commuting triggered 1917 boom
CD twilight

Manteca biggest growth spurt wasn’t in 1985 when 1,400 new homes bought by a tidal wave of Bay Area Transplants prompted the establishment of the 3.9 percent annual growth cap tied to sewer allocations.

It was 1917. People were being lured by the transformation that the South San Joaquin Irrigation District had made of the region by delivering surface water from the Stanislaus River watershed.

The district, founded in 1909, has actually started delivering irrigation water in 1913. The success farmers enjoyed with record and abundant crops year after year from 1913 to 1916 along with the new ability to plant orchards and vines due to stable water supplies quickly changed what was once considered farmland ideal primarily for alfalfa and wheat into one of the most fertile and bountiful growing regions in California.

The Christmas census in 1916 tabulated 567 residents living in the Manteca town site and in close proximity. Six months later, the population hit 1,250 as a great land rush of sorts was underway with farmland — depending upon its access to irrigation water — selling for $80 to $130 per acre. Advertisements boasted “no tract of land more than three miles from the railroad.”

By Sept. 15, 1917 the population had swelled to 1,250. It was pushing 1,300 people by Christmas three months later to translate into an annual growth rate just a tad over 120 percent.

The growth, though, was primarily on farms although the town site itself would swell to 200 people by the time incorporation occurred on May 28, 1918.

People lived in tents for months — and sometimes even up to a year — on farmland they bought taking care to get their livelihood up and running before building their houses.

The hustle and bustle of 1917 brought complains to the Board of Trade — the predecessor to the City Council — that downtown congestion was a problem. The board hoped motorists would “enter a gentleman’s agreement and not park your machines in front of Rawleigh’s billiard parlor so the auto stages will have space.”
It was pointed out at the time that downtown Manteca’s streets “at times were so congested that machines have to wait in order to pass between standing cars.”

There were 120 homes built in the Manteca area in 1917 to shatter all previous records.

And unlike in modern time when residential growth took place first and then commercial surge several years later, the two sectors grew simultaneously.

It was arguably the biggest retail growth period in Manteca history in terms of percentage of growth of commercial space including 2008 when about three-fourths of the 767,000-square-foot Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley was either underway or completed. There was 621 running feet of street frontage on Yosemite Avenue built in the first half of 1917 with town boosters noting, “it was all built in modern brick.” That nearly doubled the commercial space in Manteca.

The 10 buildings cost $122,500. That’s $300,000 less than what just one median priced existing home is selling for these days in Manteca.

Several of those building are still standing today including the two-story Pezzoni & Wells Building that was built at a cost of $16,000 and now houses Tipton’s at West Yosemite and Maple avenues.

The construction figure didn’t include the $2 million Spreckels Sugar factory or the $25,000 addition to the Manteca Cannery. For comparison, the Bass Pro Shops structure cost $20 million to build while the 500-room Great Wolf Resort is now being constructed at a cost of $180 million.

The Manteca Tobacco Shop owned by Jimmie Brawley was the transit hub of the day. They offered 16 jitney trips each way daily to Modesto and Stockton on the Red Star Jitney Line.

There wasn’t a car dealer in town, but Superior Motor Co. of Stockton was advertising in the Manteca Enterprise a Saxon Six — a big touring car for five people — that “you will find the same careful and workman-like attention that is characteristic of the higher priced cars” — for $995.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail