I was among some 30 Tracyites embarked on a walking tour of historical Tracy buildings in the downtown area, a program sponsored by the West Side Pioneer Association.
As I looked around the nearly barren room with a high ceiling, images of the Rebekah drill team marching around the same room more than a half-century ago came instantly to mind.
I had been there in the late 1950s to take photos of the new officers of Samaria Rebekah Lodge, and the drill team performed as part of the installation ceremony. I believe the legendary Leone Barry was plunking away at the piano, never missing a beat, as she usually did for programs of many of Tracy’s fraternal organizations of the day.
My return visit Wednesday evening came as a surprise. As leader of the walking tour, I had expected to tell the history of what was originally the Odd Fellows Hall while standing on the sidewalk in front of the 114-year-old building, the oldest commercial structure in our town.
But several Moose Lodge members in our group had invited us inside to see the interior rooms. As we entered through the bar, we were welcomed by those there for taco night and started climbing the steep stairs past the second floor and finally into the third-floor lodge room.
The seldom-used room looked a bit worse for wear, but it still resembled the room I remembered.
Standing in the center, I told of its use for many years in programs of Sumner Odd Fellows Lodge and the companion women’s Samaria Rebekah Lodge, not to forget mentioning the Theta Rho Girls, too.
The Odd Fellows, who constructed the building in 1899 after an original structure of the same size burned in the massive fire of 1898, declined in membership and activity over the years and finally sold the building to the Moose in 1974. Within a couple of years, the Odd Fellows and their associated organization were gone for good.
The visit to the Moose Hall was the first stop on Wednesday evening’s walking tour of historical downtown buildings. It was a windy night, but the gusts didn’t really bother us on the tour.
I had no public-address loudspeaker or bullhorn, so I was constantly asked to speak louder, and I had to learn — after several reminders — not to turn my back on the group as I related the history of the building in front of us.
We made stops at the Ludwig brothers’ pool room and bar on East Sixth, next door at the restored Hotel Western; the Slack Building, later named the Clark Building, at Sixth and Central; and the original West Side Bank building on West Sixth.
Turning north on Central, we viewed the Tracy Town Hall, circa 1900, at a distance, and looked across the street at what is known as the Bank of Italy building at the corner of Seventh and Central.
Continuing north, we stopped in front of the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts on Central and the Bank of Tracy building at Eighth and Central before reaching the 1917 City Hall and Fire Station, restored to be the Roxy Hudson Fire Administration Building.
The city of Tracy’s commitment to restore the Grand and what was long known as “the fire station” has really enhanced the comeback of this part of town.
Heading north, we stopped in front of the storefront on the west side of Central just south of 10th Street that housed the Tracy Post Office from 1923 to 1937. I told of the 1928 armed robbery in the back of the building where the bandits, pointing a rifle at postal employees, got away with $26,000 being delivered to the Bank of Italy to take care of railroad payday.
Our final stop was the Tracy Inn on 11th Street. We gathered in the lobby, which I pointed out looks nearly the same as it did when the hotel, constructed as a community project, was opened in January 1927.
Finishing at the Inn was appropriate. It underscored that it was among the buildings that members of the Tracy community had banded together to construct in the past century-plus — buildings that over time have become community icons.
There will be more walking tours scheduled by the West Side Pioneers in future months and years. As we did Wednesday evening, Tracyites on those tours will have a chance to walk back in time to gain a clearer understanding of how the character of our town was created.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at email@example.com.