Tracing Tracy Territory: Three-quarters of a century in Tracy
by Sam Matthews
Nov 16, 2012 | 2621 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Looking through back copies of the Press the other day, I turned to November 1937 for news of 75 years ago to be included in the Twice Told Tales.

And there before me was a full-page ad announcing the opening of the Federated Store by H.F. Matthews. I was suddenly reminded that this is my 75th anniversary, too.

It was in mid-November 1937 that I came to Tracy, and memories of that major milestone in my young life still flash through the hard drive inside my skull.

My dad had come to Tracy from Ontario, San Bernardino County, in October to open a clothing store on Central Avenue. He had been the business manager of daily newspapers in LeGrande, Ore., and Ontario and decided, after his majority partner had died and the widow had taken over, to try his hand at retailing.

The Federated Store he opened was where the 12 Monkeys tattoo business is now. It was a Butler Bros. franchise that could be described as a working man’s clothing store, with a full stock of bib overalls for Tracy’s railroad workers and stacks of Levi’s for farmers.

Anyway, my mother, brother Tom and I followed my dad by a month and arrived in Tracy in the family’s 1937 Ford two-door in the middle of November.

I can still recall the long ride north from Ontario and traveling through the many San Joaquin Valley towns.

When we came over the 11th Street overpass, the view of Tracy spread out before us. Apparently, it impressed me, as I leaned forward from the back seat to look onto busy 11th Street, lined by restaurants, garages and service stations. My mother recalled that I said, “Hey, this looks like a great town.”

As we turned south from 11th Street on Central Avenue, we spotted my dad walking along the sidewalk. He showed us to the Tracy Inn, where we had a room on the back side.

In Ontario, I had gone to kindergarten in a new school with open hallways and plenty of green grass. As I looked out the window of the second-floor hotel room, I stared down on old Central School, with rough concrete walls painted gray and hardly any playground at all. And it was raining. I wasn’t quite sure I liked what I saw this time.

A few days later, we moved out of the hotel into a rental house on Lowell Avenue, just west of Parker Avenue. It was one of four identical houses owned by “Mr. Warner,” who operated a grain warehouse on Sixth Street.

A small, two-bedroom house on an unpaved street was a far cry from where we had lived in Ontario, which in the 1930s was a quintessential Southern California town with wide streets (pepper tree-lined Euclid Avenue was a half-block away) surrounded by orange groves.

The same day we had moved into our new home on Lowell Avenue, another family moved into the rental house next door. Don and Irene Dunwoody and their young son, Jim, had come from Milwaukie, Ore., near Portland. Don was the new boiler-maker foreman at the Southern Pacific roundhouse.

Tom, Jim and I were quickly enrolled in Central School, then on Central Avenue about where the Tracy Thai restaurant is now. We walked there from “way out in Parker Acres.” A friendly cop, Evan Wyman (later police chief), was there to usher us across busy 11th Street — then part of Highway 50 — before and after school.

My new school was a lot different from the Ontario school, but like most kids that age, I adapted. I was in Mrs. Ford’s kindergarten class in the basement of the school.

A year later, new Central School was opened at Parker and Eaton avenues. That made our walk from Lowell Avenue to school a whole lot shorter. And Mrs. Schulenberg’s first-grade classroom with brand-new desks and large open windows was a big improvement over the basement of the old school.

Yes, I must have agreed by then, my first impression of Tracy coming over the overpass was the right one: Tracy is “a great town.” Here I am three-quarters of a century later, and I still feel the same way.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at
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