Second Thoughts: Search for the mystery service sign
by Jon Mendelson
Apr 20, 2012 | 2949 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Back in March, several of the city’s service clubs pitched an idea to enliven Tracy’s western entrance.

Complete with the symbols for the two Rotary and Lions clubs and the town’s Soroptimists chapter, the free-to-the-city welcome sign would make Tracy one of hundreds of towns and cities across the country that advertises the do-gooders who live within their limits.

It’s a good idea, but not a novel one.

According to longtime residents, Tracy used to display such a sign near at least one of its major entrances.

Problem is, no one seems to know when it disappeared, nor what happened to it.

Plenty of people remember a sign with the Rotary, Lions and other symbols greeting motorists traveling into Tracy on 11th Street.

Breakfast Lions member Walter Gouveia is the first one who told me about the mystery sign — or signs. He said that there was at least one on the eastern edge of Tracy, but that it disappeared years ago.

He and others also alluded to the possibility of a marker on the city’s western border.

Tracy Public Works Director Kevin Tobeck confirmed part of Gouveia’s story. He supposed the sign once stood near the now-empty Capitol Furniture building near the corner of 11th Street and Chrisman Road, just east of town.

“The general consensus is that we all knew it was there; we’re just not sure,” Tobeck told me. “We know it was out there somewhere.”

A cursory examination of the 11th Street shoulder revealed nothing. Tobeck’s own trip to the alleged scene of the sign proved fruitless, too.

I called San Joaquin County, thinking

the sign might have been torn down during a widening of the road, if it stood on county land.

I secretly hoped parts of it were sitting in some neglected corner of a corporation yard, waiting to be unearthed by a south-county treasure hunter.

But Nagi Zari in the public works department reported that no one had heard any tale about the welcome sign.

Not even the Tracy Historical Society had tangible proof. Ellen Opie, who is busy scanning the society’s archives into digital format, said no photo of the sign had so far turned up.

I struck out again with Gary Knist, who has published a book about the old Lincoln Highway, now known as 11th Street. I figured that if anyone knew about signage along that old road, it would be Knist, but his expertise lies farther back in history.

Sensing my treasure hunt had hit a dead-end, I turned to the deepest repository of Tracy history I could think of — the Press’ very own Sam Matthews.

He turned out to be this quest’s Tim the Enchanter.

Tracy’s living encyclopedia (and I say that with admiration) referred me to Dick Hastie, former mayor and member of the Junior Chamber of Commerce. Not only did he confirm that the service-club sign once greeted local motorists, he shed light on its origin story.

According to Hastie, the Chamber of Commerce erected the marker in the mid-1970s near where the Sugar Cut railroad tracks cross MacArthur Drive, on the west side of the 11th Street bridge in front of the old Heinz Co. building.

“It was up there for, I’d guess, 15 or 20 years,” he told me, though he wasn’t certain when or why it was torn down.

I took a second look-see for the sign on Hastie’s advice, but couldn’t find any solid evidence of where it once might have been.

My guess is there’s no trace of that old sign left to find.

But that’s OK. Tracy should soon have a new marker that shows off the city’s spirit of service.

And just one thought on that new sign: The designers better make sure there’s enough room for future clubs to add their symbols, because this one’s liable to stand the test of time a bit better than the old one.

• Second Thoughts is an opinion column by Editor Jon Mendelson. Share your thoughts by emailing
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