In a continuing look at Oakdale’s history through this special summer series, brother and sister Hal Walther and Emlynn Falk gave some insight on their family’s history recently at the family’s house, built by their parents and grandfather in 1949.
“We grew up here,” Falk explained. “My mom drew up and designed the plans and my grandfather and my dad built it. My husband and I bought the house from my parents, so we don’t want the house to go out of the family.”
The Walther family planted their home in one of the first neighborhoods in Oakdale, which reportedly ran from Poplar Street to North Street, and Third Avenue to Oak Street.
“This area here is where everybody lived, in this wonderful, concentrated area,” she relayed.
Falk and Walther went on to reminisce about how the superintendent of the schools, doctors in town, and many others were all facets of the neighborhood.
“And when we were growing up, none of this was here,” Falk said of the busy streets. “There were horses across the street, a nursery on the corner ... they had cattle behind the museum and we’d try and run across the pasture — we wanted the cows to chase us and see who could run the fastest.”
River Avenue, the steep road leading down to the river, was declared off limits by parents, forbidding their children from riding down because the decline led straight to the river. Naturally, Walther and Falk still adventured out there on their bikes until a friend “took a header” going down the hill and scraped up her face, broke her arm, and had to pick gravel from her skin.
“Of course we were all grounded for life when that happened,” Falk laughed.
There were plenty of less dangerous pastures that surrounded Walther and Falk as they grew up, making inner Oakdale feel like it was still living in the country. Soon, more homes began to spring up. John Coppetti, the siblings’ maternal grandfather, helped build and remodel a lot of the houses within the neighborhood.
The Coppetti side of the family immigrated from Capannori, within the province of Lucca, Italy in 1904. Falk added that a lot of the Italians in Oakdale came from that same San Ginese area and many found themselves living on Rodden and Orange Blossom roads.
John Coppetti was a foreman out on Rodden Ranch, and his wife, Emma, helped cook for all of the workers out on the ranch, putting in all the work to slaughter the hogs and kill chickens to make sure everyone had something to eat.
Later on, Falk reported that John and his brother helped build the H-B building. It was there that John and Emma ran their own hotel—the Coppetti Inn, also referred to as the Yosemite Inn. After they sold that business was when the carpenters of the family started helping build up Oakdale homes.
On the other side of the story is the Walther family, who came to Oakdale from Prussia in the mid-1860s. The family initially started out as farmers and ranchers, but Phillip Christian Walther – the siblings’ paternal grandfather – made his mark as a blacksmith and wheelwright.
“He was supposedly the best horseshoer around,” Falk expounded. “He could shoe the worst horse that there was ... though, he got kicked a few times,” she added with a laugh.
The pair’s father continued the family business and started Walthers Body & Fender Works, an auto body repair shop that was located at 133 N. Third Avenue, where the parking lot is in front of Rivi’s and Suzey Belen’s.
“It burned down in ‘49,” Walther specified. “(My dad) was home for lunch and looked out the window and saw the smoke. There was a plumber shop down there at lunch time and a guy left something burning and it burned down the shop.”
“At the time, Oakdale had a volunteer fire department,” Falk continued. “Oakdale was separated into sections and if you heard one long and three short whistles, that told you the section of the fire. All the volunteer firemen would grab the truck and go put out the fire — that’s what your fire department was then.”
Walther and Falk continued to explain that the whole neighborhood rallied around their dad to help how they could. Families came, tools and all, to help rebuild after the fire. In fact, their father’s name may sound familiar because of how large a presence he had in the community. Harold Walther, along with building a flourishing business, was a city councilman and eventually mayor of Oakdale for a time. Before this great success, he eloped with Dorothy Coppetti, and eventually had Hal and Emlynn, intertwining the Walther and Coppetti legacies.
The business then continued to run for dozens of years more before they eventually shut down. Truly, the town that Walther and Falk grew up in has morphed and changed around them as they’ve settled down to have their own children and grandchildren.
“Do you know where Chase and the Bank of America is? Well, that was our wonderful theater where my mother was an usherette, and an ice cream parlor,” Falk detailed. “On the corner was a service station and on the wall of the building, they had all the names of the local young men that went to war. It was just so unique, lovely.”
Walther and Falk had plenty of stories to tell about growing up in Oakdale and their family’s history — stories about hiding barrels during the prohibition, the Almond Blossom Festival, and vignettes of local businesses. However, one theme that was weaved into their chronicles was the fact that Oakdale has changed drastically since they were young, as any town would.
“Just drive through Oakdale and see all the different architectures,” Walther suggested. “And you can see the difference between the old and the new.”