By DENNIS WYATT
If you head downtown to celebrate Manteca’s city centennial during the four-hour birthday bash that follows the 10 a.m. dedication of the latest mural next Saturday, May 19, you might want to exercise your legs a bit and take a walking tour.
There’s a quite a bit to see that you would miss either driving by in a car or sitting in traffic.
You’ll find more than 30 murals — Manteca’s million dollar public art project — plenty of history, and a lot of charm aimed at walkers from four plazas including one on Maple Avenue, two along the Tidewater Bikeway, and one along Maple Avenue plus a stunning transit center, a shady Library Park, and the library.
There are more than a few specialty shops, dining openings, ethnic groceries, services, strong traditional retail in the form of five furniture stores, as well as six financial institutions. And, yes, there are some problematic properties and issues but if you take a closer look you will find the good far outweighs the bad.
Among the highlights awaiting downtown:
OVERSHINER HOUSE: Located in the 600 block of West Yosemite, the home with the blue gables was built in 1913 by J.J. Overshiner. It was in part of his farmland that early Manteca real estate developers bought, dubbed it the Overshiner Addition, and sold lots of build homes. Overshiner sold the Manteca Grammar School board turned acres on West Yosemite Avenue for $1,500 in 1914 to build the original Yosemite. He also was on the original board of the Bank of South San Joaquin. The home was bought by the Cottrell family in 1939. It was sold as part of an estate more than a decade ago and is today sheltered from the street for the most part by extensive shrub growth.
POWERS HOUSE: Just west of the Manteca Museum at 600 West Yosemite is the home built by Ed Powers. After the dawn of the 20th century he turned Manteca into the “Watermelon Capital of the World.” He was a successful farmer, served as the first president of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau, played a key role in getting Spreckels Sugar to build a factory in Manteca, organized the Bank of Manteca, owned various businesses and developed Manteca’s first modern subdivision — Powers Tract— to provide housing for those returning from World War II and anxious to start families.
MANTECA MUSEUM: When completed in 1918, this building served as the First Methodist Episcopal Church and was “one of the finest” in Manteca. Today the structure at 600 West Yosemite Avenue is home to the Manteca Museum and its extensive collection. There is no admission charge. Hours are Wednesday and Thursday 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. as well as Saturday and Sunday 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
MANTECA HOSPITAL: Manteca’s first hospital was built here in 1919. Large enough to care for 30 patients, it was the beginning of the town’s health services. It served as a hospital until June 4, 1920. It now houses the HOPE Family Shelter.
OLDEST HOUSE IN MANTECA: This house is believed to be the oldest surviving home in Manteca. Originally located where the Overshiner home now is, it was moved here by J.J. Overshiner in order to make way for the current home. The late Ken Hafer conducted research that shows that part of that original home built over 110 years ago is incorporated into the current house at Willow and Oak streets.
SITE OF SOUTHERN PACIFIC RAILROAD DEPOT: The old Southern Pacific depot on the southeast corner of Yosemite Avenue and the railroad tracks.
MANTECA PARK: Now Library Park, Manteca Park was once the home of the Manteca baseball diamond. Home plate was at the northwest corner of the park, now covered by the library building. There are six murals at Library Park including one heralding its heyday as the summer gathering point to watch the town baseball team battle teams from other towns.
OLD CITY HALL: The two-story brick building on Sycamore Avenue was built in 1923 at a cost of $20,000. The 52 by 84 foot building not only housed the city clerk and city marshal offices on the first floor but also the post office along with the city jail and fire engine. The second floor was designed for council chambers as well as the dormitory and club room for the fire department. Even at that, there was space left over to initially lease four rooms to the San Joaquin County Health Department. Completed in January of 1924, it served the city for 54 years until the first phase of the current Civic Center at 1001 West Center Street was opened in 1978.
WILSON PARK: Named for Postmaster Joseph Wilson who played an instrumental role in securing Manteca’s first — and current — free-standing Post Office.
POST OFFICE: The Mediterranean-style structure cost $80,000 when it was built in 1939. At the time of its dedication speakers proclaimed it would serve the community needs for a century. A generation later it was expanded.
SITE OF THE CREAMERY: The Creamery was built in 1896 as a way for Manteca area dairy farmers to get their milk to the lucrative San Francisco market. The stop on the Southern Pacific tracks was initially called “Cowell Station” after Joshua Cowell. From 1938 to 1948, the Creamery made as much as 1,500 gallons of ice cream per day to meet the weekend demand. “Maneto Brand” was adopted as the Creamery’s trade name on such products ice cream, home-made syrups, buttermilk and butter. The Creamery closed its doors in December of 1965. There is currently a Mexican Restaurant at the location.
IOOF HALL: Built in 1913, the International Order of Odd Fellows Hall (IOOF) that is now the Manteca Bedquarters at Yosemite Avenue and Main Street is the oldest commercial building in Manteca. The ground floor space has been used as a library, post office, and for various retail stores over the years.
COWELL BUILDING: Built by Joshua Cowell, this building was once the home of Leo’s Grocery, which was one of the largest employers in town.
COWELL HOME SITE: The Bank of America stands where Joshua Cowell built his home in 1863 and lived there until his death in 1925. He is regarded as the “Father of Manteca” and at one point owned all of what is now Central Manteca. He was responsible for establishing the creamery and securing rail service. He owned various businesses, was the first to pursue development of an irrigation system, and served as Manteca’s first mayor. In early Manteca long before the city was incorporated the Cowell House parlor served as a community gathering point. Funerals were also conducted there.
EL REY THEATRE: This former theater held its grand opening in 1937 and burned down August 6, 1975 during a showing of “The Towering Inferno.” It was resurrected in 1998 as the Kelly Brothers Brewing Co. & Brickyard Oven Restaurant before closing six years ago.
CROSSROADS 1918 MURAL: The first mural of the Manteca Mural Society that is on the side of Century Furniture was dedicated in May of 2003 when Manteca marked its 85th anniversary as an incorporated city. The scene depicted is what you would have seen looking West into the 100 block of West Yosemite if you were standing in the middle of nearby Main Street in 1918. If you look closely there is a mural within the mural.
MANTECA WINERY/CANNING CO.: This was once the Manteca Winery. It was built by A. Baccileri in 1905. In 1914, the winery was expanded and became the Manteca Canning Company. Heavy competition forced it to close in 1964. Across the street is the location of the city’s first water works.