The middle years of Roseville

By: Duke Davis, Roseville Historian
-A +A
By December of 1930, some 200 heads of families in Roseville were out of work due to the “Great Depression.” As the community’s leading employer, Southern Pacific Railroad decreased its work force of 1,360 to 1,128 employees. A year later (December 1931), Southern Pacific announced it was cutting wages by 10 percent. The city inaugurated emergency measures in hopes of alleviating hardships. Part-time work, when available, was channeled through the Employment Relief Committee. Shortly after establishment of the Committee, a charity store opened in a space donated by Fred L. Forlow. The Forlow Building charity store served as a clearinghouse for food and clothing donated to the less fortunate. By March of 1931, some 30 needy families received regular assistance. With little cash on hand, local merchants like grocers H.T. Miller, Will Taylor and druggist E.B. Huskinson carried their customers and friends on the books. When the Depression finally ended, many merchants burned outstanding bills. A Federal Employment Office was established in Roseville in October 1934, and between May 1935 and May 1936, some 2,036 people were put to work. Unskilled laborers were paid an hourly rate of 45 cents. During the next few years, Works Project Administration and Public Works Administration appropriations were used to pave miles of city streets and provide curbs, gutters, storm sewers and other municipal improvements. Roseville’s infrastructure today includes the city’s main post office (1935) and a two-story addition and remodeling of today’s City Hall Annex (1936). Municipal improvements continued to progress in spite of the Depression. The now uniformed Police Department reorganized and expanded in 1931 with Russell Carter appointed Chief. The following year (1932) the city took over the garbage system and provided service for 50 cents a month. Then, after extensive negotiations with the Roseville Water Company, the privately-owned company sold out to the city in 1934 for $185,000. Despite the constant challenge of making a living during those dark Depression days, Roseville’s citizens somehow found time for a bit of recreation. Movies were a popular Depression-era pastime where, for a brief hour or two, one could escape the problems of the day in air-conditioned comfort at the Roseville Theater. For 25 cents, (10 cents for the children), moviegoers could watch a double bill, a newsreel, a short feature and a cartoon plus a preview of coming attractions. In October 1940, a notice appeared in the Roseville newspaper stating that all men between the ages of 21 and 35 must register for military service with city clerk/draft board officer Raleigh Terry. Local bank clerk Joseph E. Morrish was the first Roseville man to be called up for service. With so many men gone, women and high school students filled gaps in the labor shortage. Roseville High School offered classes in defense-related occupations and allowed students to leave 6th period classes 15 minutes early to catch the local bus to nearby McClellan Field where they worked the 4 p.m. to midnight swing shift. Between 1941 and 1942, no major building activity was reported. But, approximately 1,000 new residents had moved into Roseville. Housing problems soon became acute. As a result, in March of 1942, ground broke for a $68,000 housing project with 20 homes opposite Woodbridge School. Shortly thereafter (September 1943), work started on 32 homes for war workers in the Forest Oaks and Sierra Vista tracts. Several new businesses were started or renovated during the 1940s such as Roseville’s Frozen Food Bank (1945) located on Atlantic Street operated by W.F Myers and A.F. Newell. The Food Bank eventually began to operate under the firm name of Roseville Meat Company. However, the most important business operated by far was Denio’s Roseville Farmers Market and Auction. Started in 1947 as a sideline to a stock auction business, Denio’s has evolved over the years into a nearly 70-acre complex containing hundreds of concession stands, booths, shops and eateries which cater to thousands of visitors each weekend. With the possible exception of the railroad, Denio’s was the one entity most closely identified with Roseville during this period. In 1947, the local volunteer fire department, a fixture since 1910, was replaced by a Municipal Fire Department with Peter Badovinic as Fire Chief. Badovinic, had lived in Roseville since 1929 where he served the city as a police officer, building inspector and fire chief for a total of 22 years. While the city of Roseville was primarily concerned with winning the war during the first half of the decade, farsighted city fathers laid the groundwork for peace and resolving municipal problems put on hold during the war. As early as May, 1944, the City Planning Commission laid out an impressive wish list of post-war projects to be tackled. The list included improvement of the entire municipal electric system; improvement of the city reservoir; establishment of new sewers in the Elm Court District; purchase of new fire trucks and other firefighting equipment; completion of curb, gutter and storm drains throughout the city; grading and resurfacing of Douglas, Vernon and Church streets; construction of a new vehicular bridge at Folsom Road and Dry Creek; construction of a railroad underpass to connect the North and South sides of town; and acquisition of property along Dry Creek from Riverside Avenue to 300 feet above Folsom Road for a future city beautification project. The 1950s would also see the greatest expansion in Roseville’s railroad facilities. In April of 1951, Southern Pacific undertook modernization and expansion of its Roseville operations. At the start of this revolutionary decade, only seven diesel units operated out of Roseville. But by the decade’s end, more than 400 main line diesel locomotives were in service. Roseville was now one of the more important diesel centers in the country. Roseville’s PFE Ice Plant, the world’s largest artificial ice-making plant, underwent revolutionary changes during this period. The plant mechanized in 1953 to incorporate features that doubled the speed of operations. By the end of the 1950s Roseville had become one of the most modern computerized railroad operations in the entire nation. This change, however, was not all good for local railroad employees. Completion of Roseville Community Hospital in 1952 followed by the Folsom Dam in 1955 and the Roseville Freeway (Interstate 80) the following year gradually shifted the population from downtown Roseville to what would soon become known as East Roseville. Vernon Street would retain its long-time position as Roseville’s business center but, bit-by-bit, once-thriving businesses would be diverted to modern shopping centers springing up along Douglas Boulevard, Harding Boulevard and Sunrise Avenue. In the 1960s there was no scarcity of jobs in Roseville, particularly on the railroad, which was enjoying increased business supplying the basic needs of California’s burgeoning population. On an average midsummer day, some 8,000 freight cars or more would pass through the highly automated Jennings Yard. Behind this façade of prosperity, however, lurked serious problems for the railroad’s future. A steady decline in railroad passenger traffic due to increasing competition from automobiles, buses and new jet airplane travel ended Roseville’s role as a railroad passenger terminal. As business in the railroad business waned, the single most important addition to Roseville’s expanding business district since the mid-1920s was Roseville Square Shopping Center, which commenced construction in early 1961. With so many changes the city was no longer just a railroad town or only a bedroom community for Sacramento. Roseville had become an independent, largely self-sufficient city, fully in control of its future. Information courtesy of Leonard "Duke" Davis and the city of Roseville. .