Roseville since 1960: a real boom-town

Expansion changes downtown landscape; high-tech industry brings economic diversity
By: Duke Davis Special to The Press-Tribune
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The population boom of the 1960s continued throughout the 1970s, forcing Roseville to expand. By 1973, all of Southern Pacific’s 21,000-car fleet was self-refrigerating. The need for the world’s largest ice plant was no more, and this local railroad landmark was torn down in the spring of 1974. The future of the railroad and its Roseville employees remained a constant matter of concern for years to come. Expansion throughout Roseville proved to be troublesome for the once thriving business-centered downtown. Additional threats to the downtown area’s future included completion of the first units of another shopping center for Payless Super Drugs Store in November 1974 and Albertson’s Supermarket in 1975. For a time, Vernon Street and Riverside Avenue kept pace with fast growing East Roseville, but by 1970, a good deal of the once bustling business shifted eastward. Gradually, long-time downtown businesses like Huskinson’s Drug Store, dating from 1916; Taylor’s Red & White Grocery, 1926; Wolf & Royer Hardware, 1926; J.C. Penney, 1930 and others quietly closed their doors and retired or moved to new locations. Thousands of munitions shipments passed through Roseville during World Wars I and II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars and Desert Storm without a single mishap. An exception to the rule, however, occurred on the morning of April 28, 1973 when a wooden floor on a munitions boxcar caught fire from brake shoe sparks. The fire resulted in a series of earth-shattering explosions causing $5.6 million worth of damage in Roseville and neighboring communities of Citrus Heights, Antelope and North Highlands. Miraculously no lives were lost but more than 100 people were treated for assorted cuts and bruises caused by broken glass and flying debris. As for building projects, high on the priority list was a new main library. The still serviceable but overcrowded Carnegie-endowed building dating from 1912 could no longer meet the needs of the growing community. Through the efforts of Congressman Harold T. “Bizz” Johnson, a $1.4 million federal grant for partial construction of a $2.1 million library was obtained from the 1976 Public Works Act. The city raised the additional funds needed through revenue bond sharing Roseville’s first female councilmember was June Wanish, who continued many years of community service when she was elected to the City Council in 1978. She subsequently became the first female mayor in Roseville’s history as an incorporated city dating back to 1909. Between 1960 and 1979 the city transformed itself from a railroad-oriented community to a city of growing economic diversity. During this period of continual growth, Roseville emerged as one of the ten fastest growing cities in Northern California. The population grew from 24,347 people in 1980 to 74,2234 in 2000. The rapidly growing customer base attracted many of the country’s top corporations, which located here in the 1980s and 1990s. A good deal of new economic development centered on “high-tech” industries, including such high profile companies as Hewlett-Packard and NEC. The 500-acre Hewlett-Packard site, established in 1979, manufactured and marketed a wide variety of the company’s computer and networking products. Since then, the company has expanded its Roseville operations beyond the main Foothills Boulevard campus to include facilities at Blue Oaks Boulevard and Industrial Avenue. NEC Electronics, which has worldwide sales in excess of $43 billion, moved into Roseville in 1983 with an initial investment of $100 million. Of the many new industrial developments that located in the Roseville area in recent years, Pride Industries, a multi-faceted organization provided job opportunities for people with mental or physical disabilities. Founded in 1966 in an Auburn church basement, Pride has continually expanded and by 1999 employed about 1,100 workers, making it the fourth largest manufacturing and service industry in the Roseville area. As a result of the expanding and diverse Roseville economy during this time city growth migrated beyond traditional city boundaries. Douglas Boulevard grew from a dusty two-lane country road, called Rocky Ridge Road, into a vital link in Roseville’s business, commercial and everyday life. Much of today’s busy Douglas Boulevard was once part of the vast Johnson sheep ranch. William Johnson, born in the former Mormon Island mining camp now deep under the waters of Folsom Lake, purchased his first piece of Roseville area property in 1905 on which he raised sheep, and by 1918, Johnson Ranch had grown to 2,000 acres. Additional land was purchased in 1927 and the final parcel, the former Brown Ranch, was purchased in 1941. Today, modern office buildings occupy pastures where Johnson’s sheep once grazed. Another success story of the east Roseville area has been development of the Roseville Automall on North Sunrise Avenue. Roseville Automall dealerships began opening for business in late 1989 with eight major dealers and 12 vehicle franchises. Parks are also an important part of what makes Roseville the city it is and among Roseville’s many public parks is the 152-acre Maidu Regional Park. Dedicated on Sept. 22, 1987, Maidu Park includes Maidu Community Center, the Maidu Branch Library, sports courts, ball fields, children’s playground and the Maidu Indian Village, where a Maidu Interpretive Center opened in early 2001. While the economy was booming and job opportunities increased in many local business sectors, the railroad – long the dominant force in Roseville’s economy – experienced a period of decline before rising to new heights in the late 1990s. The general public first became aware of local rail operations’ ongoing decline back in 1972 when passenger traffic was discontinued and the venerable old depot was demolished. Further shock set in the following year when the PFE Ice Plant closed and was torn down. Over the next 10 years, intense competition with the trucking industry and mergers of several smaller railroads further threatened Southern Pacific’s viability. In 1983, Southern Pacific embarked on an economic move to merge with the Santa Fe Railway. Some operations merged and a holding company for the two railroads was created, pending approval by the Interstate Commerce Commission. The ICC delayed its decision until 1986, only to then reject the merger claiming it would create a monopoly. The holding company was ordered to sell one of the railroads. During those years when the ICC deliberated, Southern Pacific did little to modernize its equipment and operations. With the future of local railroad operations in doubt and increased job opportunities offered by new industries locating in Roseville, many turned away from the railroad. Much of Roseville’s expansion and growth came under the direction and leadership of City Manager Allen (Al) Johnson. During Johnson’s 15 years as city manager Roseville experienced vast growth. A list of achievements accomplished during his tenure include formation of public-private partnerships for the construction of the Roseville Automall and Galleria at Roseville, expansion in business developments (creation of 35,000 jobs, continuous investment by NEC, and addition of millions of square footage of commercial, industry and business-professional space), City infrastructure (cities-county Highway 65 Joint Powers Authority financing, South Placer Wastewater Authority, Corporation Yard, Civic Center, three fire stations, the police station, and the Pleasant Grove Water Treatment Plant), and numerous recreational and educational opportunities (construction of 32 parks, the Roseville Aquatics Center, Maidu Community Center, Maidu Interpretive Center, Maidu Branch Library and the Woodcreek Golf Course. While the city of Roseville began down a path toward full maturity in the 1980s, the fruits of its labor were fully realized in the 1990s. Roseville experienced a technology boom when companies such as Hewlett-Packard and NEC opened up venues within the city. Continued growth in the industry throughout the 1990s pushed Roseville toward the new millennium. By 1999, Hewlett-Packard employed more than 4,400 workers at its North Roseville locations making it the number one employer in Roseville and Placer County. By 1992, NEC’s Roseville investment had grown to $1.2 billion. Sutter Roseville Medical Center opened in June of 1997 and Kaiser Permanente’s hospital opened in 1998. University of California Davis satellite primary care clinics and a host of other clinics, convalescent hospitals, regional medical centers and retirement homes also joined the Roseville health services community. Growth in West Roseville reached a high point in 1997 when nearly half (47 percent) of all housing started in Placer County during that year took place in Roseville. The Del Webb Sun City Roseville project alone accounted for 25 percent of this growth. On Dec. 15, 1993, the city of Roseville granted approval for a Del Webb retirement community on 1,200 acres of the historic Fiddyment Ranch, making it the first Del Webb retirement community to be undertaken outside of traditional locales like Arizona and Palm Springs. Ground breaking for the 1.1-million-square-foot Galleria at Roseville took place on Sept. 2, 1998. Galleria was officially opened to the public on Aug. 25, 2000. A major concern facing every city council during the past 30 years has been how to maintain the small town neighborliness, which has made Roseville such an envied place to live. Particularly attractive to many young families moving into the area has been Roseville’s school system, which has more than kept up with dynamic growth patterns. Recognizing how quickly open space in South Placer County was disappearing, the city followed an aggressive policy to develop a wide variety of neighborhood parks and playgrounds as well as miles of bicycle and hiking trails along streambed greenbelt areas. The city mandated that there must be nine acres of parks for every 1,000 residents, twice the amount required for other cities of comparable size in California. . The private sector also has played an important role in the recreation/entertainment field of Roseville. In recent years two multi-screen theater complexes, an ice skating rink and Golfland/Sunsplash have been completed. Roseville Telephone Foundation, the non-profit arm of Roseville Communications Co., is one of many local organizations devoted to community enhancement. Established in 1992 as a vision of the late RCC chairman Bob Doyle, the foundation had, by the end of 1999, contributed nearly $800,000 to help children, families and the elderly in the Roseville, Antelope, Granite Bay and Citrus Heights areas. For its efforts, the Roseville Telephone Foundation was awarded the 1999 “Beyond the Call” Community Service Award by the United States Telecom Association. Other long-time service clubs like the Lions and Rotary clubs, Soroptimist International and the Women’s Improvement Club have a long-established tradition of contributing to the betterment of the community. Further disillusionment about railroading as a career occurred as late as 1993 when, as part of a restructuring movement, Southern Pacific announced that 102 positions at the Roseville yards would be transferred to Denver and elsewhere. Some accepted the inevitable and moved to new locations. Many debated the railroad’s future in Roseville. Just as Southern Pacific seemed to be turning things around, it was announced the company had been sold to Union Pacific. The sale signaled the end of the Southern Pacific name, an American fixture since 1865. The company would have combined revenues of $49.54 billion making it the largest railroad in the United States. Roseville, with its future as an important railroad center threatened only a few short years ago, would be one of the biggest winners from the merger. The public soon learned Roseville was earmarked to become the major Northern California hub for the largest railroad in North America. The merger of Southern Pacific and Union Pacific railroads under the Union Pacific banner was officially approved in 1996. Work began the following year on the largest expansion in Roseville’s history. As the twentieth century wound down, Roseville found itself in the midst of the greatest economic boom in its 135-year history. Its economy was strong and growing stronger every day with ample job opportunities. With the new Galleria at Roseville serving as the catalyst, demand for office and retail space multiplied many times over. By the end of 1998, Roseville and nearby Rocklin had a combined total of 1.4 million square feet of office space. Roseville’s total alone in 1999 added up to more than 2 million square feet. New subdivisions, including affordable housing for low-income families and senior citizens, were added along with executive-style homes and hotels catering to the business and traveling public. A September 1999 study prepared by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments estimated that Placer County’s population will double between January 1997 and July 1, 2022. More than half of this growth was expected to occur in Roseville which, if projections are correct, will grow by 50,347 new residents by year 2022, an increase of 76.6 percent. This growth will present both opportunities and challenges for Roseville in the years ahead.