In 1975, the old El Rey Theatre in Manteca was gutted with fire.
Ironically, the movie playing at the time was none other than “The Towering Inferno.”
Today, the historic Art Deco style building on Yosemite Avenue is Kelley Brothers Brewery. A poster of the Irwin Allen disaster film featuring an all-star cast led by Paul Newman and Steve McQueen is displayed at the Manteca Historical Museum as a link to the El Rey’s glorious past.
Located at 600 W. Yosemite Avenue, the museum is a cornucopia of information about the city’s rich history.
Take Joshua Cowell, for starters. He’s considered as the Father of Manteca. In 1861, he crossed the plains and settled in the area currently occupied by Bank of America at the corner of Yosemite Avenue and Main Street.
But before that, Manteca’s water system coupled with the rich soil and good climate made life habitable, according to Marie Pasquinelli.
She and Alice Hafer work as volunteers on most Wednesdays. The Manteca Historical Museum – the building itself was once the Methodist Episcopal Church – is open from 1 to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 1 to 4 p.m. on Thursdays and Sundays.
Group tours are available via appointment.
Many who stop by are local. But some of the recent guests, based on the visitor’s sign-in log, came as far as Canada, West Virginia and New York.
Pasquinelli once worked as a telephone operator in the Bay Area. No surprise that she’s fascinated by the donated San Joaquin Telephone Company’s 1957 switchboard used back when Manteca’s population was in the 8,000s.
But for younger visitors, this piece of communication equipment can be regarded as ancient artifact compared to today’s digital technology.
Milo Candini once played with the “Whiz Kids.”
That’s the name given to the Philadelphia Phillies team of the 1950s because of the youth on roster.
Candini, who was in his 30s at the time, was a right-handed pitcher from Manteca and was nearing the end of his eight-year career in Major League Baseball.
He played mostly for the Washington Senators, compiling a 26-21 record with 183 strikeouts and a 3.92 earned run average. In 1950, Candini, who has an area in the museum in his honor, had a 1-0 mark, 2.70 ERA, and 10 strikeouts in his lone season with the Phillies.
Various parts of the museum are dedicated to those who served their country.
The Duran brothers – five in all including Anthony, Richard, Alfonso and Ralph – fought in World War II, and a piece containing five blue stars representing each brother that once stood prominently in front of the Duran family’s Manteca home was saved for the museum.
Some Mantecans were casualties of war.
Most know of Brock Elliott, who, as the first from here to be killed in Vietnam, has a school named in his memory. Gone but not forgotten are Angelo Ponzio, who died in 1942 in the Battle of Bataan, and John Rocha Machado, who lost his life in 1944 at Surigao Strait in the Battle of Leyte.
Many postcards, letters and photographs donated by families of soldiers can also be seen at the museum.
The desk once belonging to John J. McFall is the proudly featured near the entrance of the museum.
He’s the U.S. Congressman from Manteca who held the office for 11 terms. In 1948, McFall started public office as Manteca councilman and, in 1951, was elected to the state assemblyman.
Willie Weatherford, Manteca’s current mayor, was once Manteca’s Chief of Police. His photo along with others who served in that role can be found in the display for law enforcement.
In addition, the museum has model replicas of what the old Manteca High, Lincoln School, and original two-story Yosemite School – Manteca’s first ‘in town’ school built in 1914 but destroyed by fire in 1948 – once looked like years ago.
For more information, call (209) 825-3021 or log on to www.mantecamuseum.org.