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Porterville at a Glimpse ~ 1930-1939

The Great Depression

by Jason Biagio, Public Works Dept.

With the Stock Market crash of “Black Thursday” America and her citizens were ushered into an era of economic crisis, financial hardship and societal upheaval. Gone were the days of carefree living. Joblessness and soup kitchen lines became the norm. In stark contrast to the “roar” of the ‘20’s, families were sent packing and moving westward in search of work and a new lease on life. Survival became the key focus. Porterville and the surrounding areas of the San Joaquin Valley saw significant immigration, no doubt attracted by the prospects of agricultural employment and inexpensive land. This sustained population growth continued well into the 1940’s likely due to the impacts of the Central Valley Water Projects and the heightened output of farming during World War II.

Migrant Camps of the 30's
MigrantCamp5 MigrantCamp4 MigrantCamp3
MigrantCamp1 MigrantCamp6 MigrantCamp2

Smith’s Complete Market

The citrus world wasn’t the only thing blossoming during this economic downturn. The Smith brothers (Howard and Lawrence) gifted in determination developed “Smith’s Complete Market” after they were not satisfied to merely run three successful fruit stands in Lindsay. The market went on to survive a fire, strikes, and even other markets.

Not all bad in Porterville

Entertainment and diversions were abundant in Porterville during the Depression. Continuing the trend started just a decade prior, Monache Theater continued to be a popular escape. The Golden Era of Hollywood brought people respite from the daily toil and turmoil. In addition to enjoying the visual arts, patrons could also try their luck at winning cash - $50 and more – in drawings held at the theater.  According to anecdotes by Darla Welles contained in “Porterville – A century of people, places and events”, other games were played similar to bingo whereby individuals could win prizes paid out in silver dollars. 
Notable “Landmark” Buildings Constructed
The economic downturn did little to stymy the construction of town landmarks. The original fire station as designed by W.D. Coates was erected in 1937 (photo, left). The first phase of the permanent City Hall (291 N. Main St., pictured in page header, top) as designed by Fred L. Swartz was completed in 1939. Both structures are excellent examples of period “Art Deco/Art Moderne” styling and indicate a departure from the “Victorian”, “Beaux Arts”, and “Craftsman” designs that dominated much of the landscape. These forward looking buildings have become architectural hallmarks of the downtown.

The Zaluds

John Zalud1935
John Zalud, 1935

Following the tragic death of his son Edward, John and his daughter Pearl moved back to Los Angeles to live with his other daughter Annie. The three would live together for the next 20 years.  The Zalud home in Porterville was closed up, and John and Pearl would return to Porterville once to twice a year, either in the spring or fall, to check on the house and garden. The splendor of the garden served as a visible reminder that even amidst dark times, America, like the roses would bloom again.

Porterville Timeline:

  • 1930 – Headquarters for the Sequoia National Forest located to Porterville.
  • 1931 – “Panthers” Mascot selected by PUHS student body. Congress declares “The Star Spangled Banner” as the National Anthem.
  • 1933 – 21st Amendment to the Constitution is ratified repealing the 18th Amendment and ending Prohibition. Ground is broken for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • 1935– Start of the Central Valley Water Project, (eventually brought surplus irrigation water to this area).
  • 1936 – Opening of Main Street, north of Morton Ave., out of town.
  • 1937 – Golden Gate Bridge Completed and opened. Walt Disney produces first full length animated movie (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). Fire Station No. 1 constructed.
  • 1938 - Volkswagen “Beetle” makes debut.
  • 1939 – Ken Billingsley opens first automobile dealership in Porterville. City Hall is constructed.

Armistice Day Parade 1936
Porterville High School, 1936
First Congregational
Church Fire Damage
Olive Street School, 1930
Pioneer Hotel, 1930
Porterville Police, 1930

US Facts for the 1930’s:

  • Population: 123,188,000 in 48 states
  • Life Expectancy: Male, 58.1; Female, 61.6
  • Average salary: $1,368
  • Unemployment rises to 25%
  • Huey Long proposes a guaranteed annual income of $2,500
  • Car Sales: 2,787,400
  • Food Prices: Milk, 14 cents a qt.; Bread, 9 cents a loaf; Round Steak, 42 cents a pound
  • Lynchings: 21
  • By 1939, 80% of household own at least 1 radio.


  • 100th Anniversary Porterville High School, 1896-1996, A Century of Pride and Tradition
  • Main Street Porterville – Jeff Edwards
  • Zaluds of Porterville – Jeff Edwards
  • Porterville – A Century of People, Places & Events – The Porterville Recorder
  • Migrant farmer photos - Library of Congress - U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs (
  • All other photos courtesy of San Joaquin Valley Library System

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