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Bing was sweet on Manteca, John Steinbeck wasnt
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Bing Crosby liked Manteca.

John Steinbeck didn’t.

The man who recorded the song that was the No. 1 seller for decades — “White Christmas” — made a ritual of stopping off at the old Manteca Creamery on his way to and from his vacation home above Sonora. He was sweet on the ice cream that was made fresh at the creamery that once stood where Athens Burgers is today in downtown Manteca.

Steinbeck’s time in Manteca was more sweat than sweet.

The author of classics such as “The Grapes of Wrath”, “Cannery Row”, and “East of Eden” labored at Spreckels Sugar in 1924.

Steinbeck worked on Spreckels Sugar’s Coastal Empire ranches and plant laboratory around a wide spot in the road known as Spreckels, just three miles south of Salinas, that served as his inspiration for “Tortilla Flat.”

He was sent to Manteca to work in the Spreckels plant that once stood right around where the Target Store is now along Spreckels Avenue. He boarded in the Spreckels Club House, located where the 177-home Curran Grove neighborhood was built. Curran Grove, by the way, was named after a popular manager at Spreckels Sugar.

Steinbeck worked 12-hour days in the warehouse stacking 100-pound bags of sugar before moving to the factory where he worked on the melter station.

Steinbeck’s famous temper didn’t take to well to working long hours in the valley heat. He ended up getting in a fight.

While Steinbeck’s stint at Spreckels Sugar helped shape his voice when he started writing books, the wealth processed from sugar beets in Manteca, Spreckels, Mendota, and other plants, such as the one near Clarksburg in the Delta helped build San Francisco.

Newspaper publisher and railroad executive Claus Spreckels founded the company in 1881. It quickly became the largest supplier of sugar in the United States thanks to the fact Spreckels also was a major industrialist in Hawaii where he dominated the sugar trade starting in the mid 1860s.

He also was the president of the San Francisco and San Joaquin Valley Railway from 1895 to 1901, when it was sold to Santa Fe Railway. The line is credited with easing the chokehold Southern Pacific Railroad had on farmers with exorbitant shipping prices. The line today is Santa Fe’s main Northern California route.

His son Adolph and wife Alma built a mansion covering an entire block in San Francisco at 2080 Washington Street. It was the home of prolific romantic novelist Danielle Steele before she sold it several years ago and moved to Paris.

Adolph Spreckels had a key role in the development of Golden Gate Park. He was a member of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission that convinced the city to build a windmill 300 yards from the ocean to take advantage of winds to pump water for the 1,017-acre park’s irrigation system in 1901. It was what made it possible to create the lush urban forest that is today Golden Gate Park.

Spreckels Lake at Golden Gate Park - which is located on the northern side of the park near 36th Avenue - is named in honor of Spreckels Park.


This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.