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Mantecas towering contribution
Doomed water tower image part of rest stop
water tower
The orange-tinted photograph of the Manteca water tower, taken by Manteca resident Laura Scarborough, is one the towers featured in one of the 24 historical display panels at the Philip S. Raine rest stop south of Tulare along Highway 99. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO The Bulletin

Manteca’s iconic water tower could come down any day. That’s by virtue of the Manteca City Council’s unanimous vote a few years ago that condemned its fate to death by demolition.

But if – and when – the Wetmore Avenue sentinel does bite the dust, a rest area in Tulare County will guarantee its immortality. At the Philip S. Raine pit stop for motorists on southbound Highway 99, an orange-tinged Manteca water tower graces one of the two-dozen large panels that tell the history of the San Joaquin Valley. Each panel focuses on a specific theme. “Water Towers” is one of them. The photographs include the water towers in Ripon, Dinuba, Atwater, Modesto, Pixley and the teapot-shaped pride of Kingsburg.

The photograph of the water tower in Manteca was taken by resident Laura Scarborough. She said the photo was taken in the early summer of 2008. She explained that the picture’s orange tint is not the result of Photoshop or a photographic fluke. The color, in fact, is part of the historical background of the edifice and the valley.

“At that time, there were several wildfires burning that filled our valley with a lot of smoky air,” recalled Scarborough, a registered nurse who is also a blog writer and a photographer.

“”It wasn’t fun for any of us (especially my son who lives with chronic lung disease) but the smoke-filled air proved to be a great filter at sunrise and sunset. I noticed, driving by the water tower while taking my youngest daughter to her dance classes, how the sunset cast an orange glow off of the tower. So I pulled over and took a few pictures of it. It reminded me of an article I read in the Bulletin in the past where there was discussion of  painting the tower orange in honor of Manteca being one of the ‘pumpkin capitals’. I played a little with the saturation of the shot and shared it on my blog, Adventures In Juggling, ‘would be a waste of paint.”

It was that blog post which led to her photograph being part of the $8.5 million make-over of this rest stop, named in honor of a former chief of the Division of Highways, which opened in 2012. Chris Brewer, a historian from Visalia, came across Scarborough’s blog post and then contacted her, explaining what he wanted to do with the picture.

“(He) thought my shot would be perfect for the project that would depict Central Valley life along (Highway) 99,” she said. “He asked me for permission to use the photo and I agreed thinking this certainly was a great project and would put Manteca in a good light.”

Then she promptly forgot all about it as she, like so many busy women who juggle home and work plus community volunteerism (she is on the board of directors of the Sierra High School Sober Grad, among other things), got caught up with the demands of everyday life.

She never did know what happened to her water tower photograph until she was contacted by the Bulletin.

“I’m thinking, the next time I have to take my son down to Children’s (Hospital) in Madera or my youngest daughter to an audition down in LA, I will make a point of stopping at that rest stop and checking it out,” said an excited Scarborough.

Valley history – the

land, the people

The rest area’s beautification project is like an art gallery and historical textbook rolled into one. The panels are displayed along the paths to the restrooms. Some of the images are vivid paintings of almond and peach blossoms and colorful crops in the valley. Historical texts accompany the images on the panels. The text on the water towers panel reads in part: “Water towers provide extra water storage for a town’s water supply…. Besides their obvious usefulness, water towers also serve as huge ‘billboards’ for towns – or even an opportunity to make a statement about what’s important locally.”

Each photograph is accompanied by a caption. The one for Scarborough’s photograph reads: “The Family City” and the unofficial “Pumpkin Capital of California,” Manteca is also home to many art murals.

“Water Wars: Battle for a Scarce Resource” is the topic of another panel. One of the accompanying photographs is that of an artesian well that was once a common sight near the central part of the San Joaquin Valley, according to the caption which adds, “As groundwater levels receded, artesian wells diminished and pumps became necessary.”

Another panel is “Voices of the Valley, Stories from the Heart” which features the photographs of the late United Farm Workers founder and labor leader Cesar Chavez, country singer Buck Owens, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Saroyan.

If you do get to visit this rest stop, don’t forget to look down. Etched on the concrete walkways are some of the valley’s historical highlights. “Gold is discovered in the American River setting off the Gold Rush, 1848,” reads one. Another reads, “Swamp and Overflow Lands Act encourages settlers to drain and divert water into irrigation canals, 1852.” And still another: “Butterfield Overland Mail comes to California, 1858.”

Manteca water tower destined

to be a historical has-been?

Is the Manteca water tower destined to be a historical has-been?

While the council has made its unanimous decision to demolish the structure that is physically lording over the downtown section between Wetmore and the Union Pacific Railroad off South Main Street where several city departments are now located such as the corporation yard and the state-of-the-art animal shelter, there are residents like Ben Cantu, a former city planner, who have not given up hope of rescuing the tower from its literal downfall.

“That’s what I’m working on. There are still things that can be done. (The council members) can always change their mind. We’ll just keep moving forward and hopefully, someday, get them to change their mind, or something else can come up,” Cantu said.

He thinks the water tower, which is now empty, is structurally sound. An engineering structural analysis has been done as ordered by the city that determined the tower was not safe enough to withstand a  major earthquake when filled with water. Still awaiting completion is an environmental testing to determine if there’s asbestos in the structure that needs to be removed prior to demolition.

The city has recommended removal of the water tower since it can no longer be used for its intendedpujrposes plus there is a need to expand the municipal corporation yard.

Scarborough said she has heard about the water tower being not up to standards for earthquake safety.

“Granted this area doesn’t experience as many temblors as the Bay Area, but having lived in and worked during the Loma Prieta (earthquake), I’m all for earthquake safety,” she said expounding on her thoughts about the impending fate of the Family City’s old water tower.

“I have read USGS experts suggest that if and when the ‘big one’ along the Hayward fault strikes, it will be a far greater force than Loma Prieta in 1989 was and we will be vulnerable. I would hope structures as tall as the water tower or the hospital where I work will be up to standard before such an event were to take place. Still, it would be sad to see the tower come down,” she said.