The Ripon Swiss Hall and the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco have plenty of things in common.
That connection is in practically every corner of the present-day building standing in the center of a spacious fenced-in acreage on North Manley Road just next door to Ripon’s Stouffer Park.
If the walls and floors and ceiling could talk, it would tell this story.
After renting halls from various organizations for several years, the pioneer members of the Swiss Club decided it was time to have its very own building. The enterprising members of the club learned about a great opportunity to acquire building materials in San Francisco at “a minimum price,” and acted quickly. The lumber they were interested in was from the site of the World’s Fair at Treasure Island. The club made the purchase and had the lot – most of the lumber, trusses, doors, hardwood flooring and other building materials from the World’s Fair – hauled to Ripon by the Joe Petrig hay trucks in Tracy.
The year was 1939.
Two years later, the all-volunteer crew made up of club members who built the dance hall and bar area completed the construction project and the new building was dedicated in 1941. The bidding for the member to officially turn the key to the new Swiss Hall door was won by Carl Ott, Sr. Nita Kaiser-Wagner won the title of Queen of the Swiss Hall for selling the highest number of tickets which were sold to help finance the building project. The other “two young ladies” who sold tickets were Ida Petrig-Williams and Germain Widmer-Imhof.
During the next decades, the building underwent several renovations and expansions. One such expansion explains why the wall between the dance hall and the kitchen-dining hall area has mullioned windows. When the dining hall and kitchen were added, the original building’s outside wall – windows and all – were left intact. Now, the wall does double duty as a gallery for the framed photographs of the club’s pioneer members who made the building possible.
Next to the dining hall is another spacious addition – the bar.
The men who made up the building committee have surnames that are familiar in the area today, thanks to the generations that came after them – Louie Blatter, Arnold Kaiser, Clements Ott Sr., Arnold Rothlin Sr., Joe Petric, and the master carpenter from Modesto, Louie Burch.
The dining room was added in 1953, and was remodeled in 1985 when a new commercial kitchen funded by the Kuche Kastli Kochbuch committee, was installed. Three years later, the club purchased a 1.1-acre piece of land next door where, in 1957, they built the caretaker’s house and garage.
The year 1973 saw the construction of the outdoor stage where many entertainments performed during the Schwingfests and Jodelfests – yodeling contests. In 1975, the club purchased an additional 3.91 acres to expand the parking lot.
The bare land on the north side of the property lining Stoufer Street that now belongs to the city was once a part of the Swiss Club. The organization decided to sell that part of the property in 2001 to a developer who wanted to use it for building residential homes. But an outcry from citizens concerned about a residential development at the entrance to the park prompted the city to step in and purchase the property.
Access to the grounds and hall is via a large wrought-iron gate on which hang a large sign that announces to the public this is a private property belonging to the San Joaquin Valley Swiss Club. Above it is the flag of Switzerland, its bold and bright red color and stark white cross in its center visually jumping out of its black iron backdrop.