If one digs through the archives of the Riverbank museum one will find some interesting information regarding how the city of Riverbank was originally designed. Some pictures of the town’s early days may raise some eyebrows as well.
An early map of the city produced by the Guy M. Rush Company shows the original town plots, railroad buildings and other information one might expect to find. One surprise comes in looking along the left side of the map. Close to the intersection of First and Santa Fe streets, two very small squares show that the original placement for the town’s railroad station was west of the intersection of the two aforementioned streets. To the north of this the map shows that the city was supposed to have a Harvey House built. These buildings were built along the Santa Fe tracks to provide restaurant and hotel services to those travelling by train. Another surprise comes in looking at the width of certain streets such as Santa Fe and Third streets. If one studies them closely, one will find that they were designed to be wider than the other city streets. One can also observe this even by driving along them today. Some say the streets were wider to accommodate the county stage that came into town, others because the city was originally intended to rival Los Angeles. Whatever the reason, the streets are very different and add an amount of scenic interest to the city.
A picture in the early businesses file of the museum’s archives also deserves a second look. The picture shows this same intersection looking eastward into town. Here, the surprise comes in the number of second story buildings there were in the town at the time.
Far back in the picture, near the intersection of Second and Santa Fe, one can see the Callandar Building, which contained the St. Elmo’s Hotel on the top floor and a few shops on the first floor, most know this building today as the Masonic Hall, but in the picture, along the right side, are more two story buildings that do not exist today. One of these is the Idle Hour Café and Billiards Parlor. In the picture, a wood frame building can be seen with a huge sign advertising the building’s main entertainment which was on the second floor. Two bay windows also stick out over the street. To the east of the billiards parlor one can see the Riverbank Cash Shoe Store. The entire block between Santa Fe and Stanislaus and First and Second streets was a very busy business block in the city’s early days. Along Second Street the Jackson family, one of the city’s earliest residents, had several businesses, including a hardware store, insurance office and a restaurant/hotel.
So, what became of Riverbank’s early design and why do some of these buildings no longer exist?
It is hard to say why the design of the town changed but perhaps one reason why the train station was originally located at the intersection of First and Patterson may be because it was also close to the intersection of the main line and the ‘y’ track that went into Oakdale. At present there is no known reason as to why the plans for a Harvey House in the area were abandoned. Perhaps, someday, someone’s digging in the state archives, or those of the California Railroad Museum will reveal something. Time will tell. For now, it remains a mystery and what about another mystery? What happened to the buildings in the picture we mentioned that were in this thriving early business block? Why are they not around today?
On August 29, 1913 a fire broke out in the Idle Hour Café. The early fire department did its best to respond to the blaze, using a water tender to attempt to put the fire out from the railroad tracks. The fire hose they were using was not long enough to be of much assistance. Most of the early business block was destroyed by the unstoppable fire. Ironically, the following morning, a new and longer fire hose was delivered to the town.
There are other mysteries and interesting stories to explore regarding Riverbank’s early days. Some will be explored here in further articles. Others, you may explore yourself at the local museum.
Next time: Two of Riverbank’s unsolved mysteries surrounding the First Bank of Riverbank.
(Editor’s note: This new historical column will be provided on a periodic basis by local resident and history buff Glenn Ditman.)