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Manteca growth & changing world: Are we really going to hell in a handbasket?
1950s downtown
Anything look familiar? Yosemite Avenue in downtown Manteca in the late 1950s looking east from Sycamore Avenue.

Sixty-seven years ago, the home I live in was one of the few on the southeast outskirts of Manteca.

Built in 1951, it was one of the first homes built in Powers Tract — the city’s first modern tract development.

It seems laughable today, but until then homes in Manteca were built by individuals that bought separate lots and not developers. Today such houses are called custom homes.

That first subdivision, though, was the part of  a new trend.

Manteca was growing.

And, believe it or not, it was growing much faster than today.

Between 1950 when the city had 3,802 residents and 1960 when the number reached 8,242 to roughly half the size of present-day Ripon, Manteca grew 116.7 percent.

That is almost 4½ times faster than the 24.4 percent growth rate between 2010 and 2020 that saw Manteca go from 67,096 to 83,498 residents.

It was the decade when the first trickle  of “pioneers” of the commute over the Altamont Pass started settling in Manteca.

New homes were selling for a then outrageous $8,000. Today some tract homes in Manteca are closing escrow for $950,000.

The Department of Highways installed the first traffic lights in Manteca during the 1950s at Powers Avenue and Highway 120 (Yosemite Avenue.) Today, Manteca is closing in on 80 intersections controlled by traffic signals

There were just under 90,000 acres of almonds planted in all of California. Of those 8,694 acres were in San Joaquin County.

Today, San Joaquin County alone has 109,200 acres of almonds. California, however, is now pushing 1.6 4 million acres of almonds.

The big thing in the fields around Manteca were root vegetables that resembled a cross between turnips and carrots and made potatoes feel as they were more the weight of peas.

They were sugar beets and hitting one that fell of a “sugar beet truck” on a rural road was akin to driving over a good-sized rock.

When it came to talking about the nuances of farming in the countryside, the sugar beet harvest dominated conversation in Manteca.

That’s because Spreckels Sugar was the top private sector employer. They were making plans to modernize the factory that stood where the Target store is today. The first two of ultimately four 15-story silos — the tallest structures ever built as well as ever imploded in Manteca — were a year away from breaking ground.

Some would argue they were different times. Idyllic, even.

Back then, no kid wore a bicycle helmet. Summer — when chores were done — kids were turned loose to seek adventure in the neighborhood whether it was playing hide and seek, a pickup ball game of some sorts, or just killing time.

If they were lucky kids could score four bits — that’s slang for 50 cents — to head to the El Rey Theatre to catch a Hollywood western, a Looney Tunes cartoon, and a second feature and still have money left over for popcorn and a soda.

It was common for kids to cool down in the summer heat using the irrigation ditches that crisscrossed the Manteca area on the edge of town.

World  War II, with its 70 million plus deaths worldwide, was in the rearview mirror. The Korean War — that triggered another shortage of consumer goods — was over but tensions were still high on the Korean Peninsula.

America was tiring of the disturbing noises coming out of Washington, D.C., via modern technology in the form of radio and TV that still lingered after the low-mark of conspiracy theories at the time — the Joe McCarthy investigations.

California started the decade with the 1947 to 1950 drought and ended it with the 1959 to 1960 drought.

In between there were a number of major floods.

It included the 1951 flood when levees along the San Josquin and Stanislaus rivers failed south of Manteca.

Ultimately 2,000 people had to flee. Some 125 blocks of Stockton were under as much as 6 feet of water for up to eight days. The area in Lathrop west of Old Highway 50 which is now Interstate 5 was completely flooded although there were on a few farm homes and not 40,000 plus people as there is today between Lathrop and Weston Ranch.

Fast-forward to the present.

The worst of the COVID pandemic is in the rearview mirror with 6.8 million deaths worldwide.

There are still tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

America is tiring — at least one hopes it is — of the non-stop drivel that seems to get louder with each passing day that is coming out of Washington, D.C., amplified by modern technology in the form of the Internet.

California started the last decade in the final year of the 2006 to 2010 drought, had another drought from 2011 to 2017 and ended it just before the start of the current drought started in 2020.

In between, there were the 2017 floods that was triggered when the drought ended with unusual storm troughs pounding the state with cooler temperatures and heavy precipitation that is suspiciously similar to the atmosphere rivers that seems to have  everyone all-a tither today.

There were homeless in Manteca in the 1950s.

Back then they were called hobos or bums. Most were passing through.

There was, believe it or not, a housing shortage in the 1950s as defined by the government.

As a result, many people were still living as extended families. Some rented rooms to “boarders”.

As for me, I was about to come into a world in a home in Roseville smaller than  the 988 square foot house I now occupy in Manteca.

It had two bedrooms and one bathroom. I was joining not just my mother and father but two brothers.

Before were able to afford to move into a larger home in 1963, my sister joined us.

Five people. Two bedrooms. One bathroom.

Today that would be considered impoverished by some.

It was built in 1948 and — as ironic as it might sound  — Zillow values it at $391,000, some $26,000 more than it does my home.  

I may not have anyone living with me, but a nearby neighbor in  a 1960s era home with three bedrooms has seven people under one roof.

The world has changed.

But at the same time in many ways, it hasn’t.

It’s something to keep in  mind when your social media is all-a Twitter with doom and gloom and it seems cable news TV shows and podcast are nothing but talking heads that somehow have managed to unplug their cerebral cortex every time they open their mouths.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at