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A Decade of War and Triumph
By Anthony “Tony” Arellano, Library Supervisor
The cost of World War II cannot be summed up with death tolls, statistics, and financial numbers. The impact on America, and, yes, Porterville would be felt for generations. War’s coming and going brought tragedy and triumph, despair and hope, rations and riches. The stimulus of production demands would bring the U.S. out of the Great Depression and, in the end, usher in the decade of the American Dream. But war didn’t stop progress in Porterville, with determination, hard work, and a spirit of entrepreneurship many people continued to search for their American dream and some started businesses that would become synonymous with Porterville.
Porterville in the 1940s
Victor Cruz Trucking
Born in Porterville, Victor Cruz, Jr., started working in 1940, when he was 12 years old. He sold Liberty Magazines door to door, shined shoes for 5 cents and worked at the municipal golf course as a caddy earning his big pay of 50 cents for the day. With 25 cents he was able to go to the movies, buy a hamburger and a Coke and still had money left over which he gave to his mom. Victor started his own business with one truck.
Since 1913, the museum building has evolved from train station, to bus depot, to the museum. “We didn’t have to have a car or horse to get out of town anymore,” volunteer Helen Trueblood said. “We also didn’t have to go to Bakersfield or Fresno to take a train. We could go anyplace in the country.” The train station remained in operation until 1941, when the Orange Belt bus depot opened. It would become the museum in 1965.
Porterville’s municipal airport, like many other Valley airports, had its start during WWII. Called the Porterville Air Base or Satellite Airdrome, the facility was first used in 1943 when the U.S. Army Air Corps stationed an aircraft squadron at the site. The city took possession of the air base in August 1946.
Gray’s Air Conditioning, Inc.
In 1944, Earl V. Gray, a resident of Porterville since 1923 and longtime employee of the Southern California Gas Company started Gray’s Appliance and Service. Joined by his son Joe Gray, a partnership was formed and the company became Gray’s Air Conditioning.
In 1944, Frank and Eunice Myers came to Porterville from Tulare and established the Myers Funeral Service. Mr. and Mrs. Myers held firm to the belief that ALL people, regardless of social, ethnic, or economic circumstances, were to be treated with the same dignity and compassion as an immediate member of their own family.
John and Pearle Zalud
Pearle Priscilla Zalud (pictured, right) was, by most accounts, not especially involved in the city’s social and civic leadership circles. After Edwards’s death in 1922, Pearle Zalud and her father withdrew to the Los Angeles area to be with Annie. After John Zalud died in 1944, Pearle moved back to the Hockett Streethouse.
John Zalud is pictured at left sitting in the front room of his home on Hockett Street. He was 92 years old in this picture. His home was donated to the City of Porterville by his daughter Pearl Zalud. It is now the Zalud House Museum.
Young’s Commercial Transfer
During WWII, the United States government hired Young’s to haul agricultural produce into Fort Ord for the Army. After the war, in the late 40’s and through the 50’s, there was a great amount of growth and expansion in the agricultural industry, and the need for truck transportation boomed along with everything else.
“When the girls and I got on the train, the conductor asked where we were headed, and I said, ‘Porterville, California,’ like I was going somewhere special…He said he’d never heard of it; so we looked for it on the map. It wasn’t there.” “We made 75 cents an hour in the fields of Arkansas. When we got here, they were making about $1.25 an hour, or something like that. They increased the pay little by little until it was $2 and something an hour. That was a lot of money in those days.” During that time the family saved $5,000, enough money to buy a house.
Billou’s once stood on the corner of Putnam and Jaye Streets where the Roger S. Goode Cancer Treatment Center stands today. With sustained growth since 1946, Billou’s has grown to be among the top U.S. wholesale distributors in the lawn and garden industry. The business has come a long way from the days when Lawrence sharpened hand mowers for 75 cents or completely disassembled, greased, and rebuilt a bike for a dollar.
In January of 1947, a 250-watt radio station began broadcasting in Porterville. The building is a little larger, the wattage has increased and modern day technology has been added, but not much has changed at KTIP 1450 AM radio. “Except for one or two little exceptions,” said Moore, “it’s always been a small-town community radio station dedicated to serving the community. That is the beauty of the station.”
Sierra View District Hospital
The Sierra View Local Hospital District was formed by resolution of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors on October 21, 1947 for the purpose of bringing a modern medical facility to Porterville to serve the city and surrounding communities.
The Barn Theatre
The fledgling theater’s first show, “Petticoat Fever,” which opened on July 16, 1948, on a make shift stage constructed in an actual barn on Morton Avenue, with audience seating on lawn chairs outside on the grass. “In the opening summer season of 1948, the winter season of 1948-’49 and the summer of ’49, they produced 17 plays.”
The Farm Tribune’s editor, Bill Rodgers, suggested that Porterville needed a community fair to bring people together and allow local ranchers and youth to show off their prize livestock. In 1948, in conjunction with the annual Patron’s Day, the first annual Tulare County Junior Livestock Show and Community Fair was held, and a tradition was born. In 1949, the fair became a two-day event. The Fair soon moved to the municipal ball park after a year at the Rocky Hill arena. After 60 years, the Porterville Fair would find its new home at west Teapot Dome.
Initially name the "Porterville Free Library", this was a Carnegie funded Library. This building was torn down in 1949 because the foundation was unstable. The library was on the southwest corner of Main Street and Thurman Street.
Mary Crow Faggart recalls her life in Porterville in the 1940s while her husband was in the Military.
How we got by, really, was that my husband bought an old De Soto…there were three or four Porterville boys, one out at Ducor, that were fortunate enough to be that close to home, and he’d bring them home on weekends… they paid him a little bit, of course. So, he always had a little bit of money to leave me…My folks being ranchers gave us eggs and milk and vegetables and things, you know, so we did all right.
Well, my father was on the board out at Terra Bella to give out the stamps and things like that. My mother-in-law, Grace (Ritchie) Faggart, was what they called a spotter. Certain days of the week they would go to this certain place and they listened for and looked for unusual airplanes. If they did see anything, I don’t know if they ever did, but if they did, then it was reported.
Well, agriculture was in great shape because it was needed. The oranges were a good price and the wheat; I think the wheat was a good price. There was a dairy in Terra Bella. Well they, of course, just went right on. Terra Bella and Porterville are really all I know. Strathmore and Lindsay and all those towns were just about like Porterville, just going along about their business.
We were still in our little house on "D" Street. That’s where we stayed that whole time and then a couple of years after my husband got back; he went right back to his same job and everything. He even became a partner in the business. It was the Tom Spear Automobile Agency, Dodge and Plymouth.
Well, we lived almost in the heart of Porterville. The city library was the hub of everything, that’s where the draft board was and that’s where we even got our driver’s license…then when VJ Day came, we celebrated the end of the war, right after the bombing of Hiroshima. All of us congregated down on the lawn of the library. That was only about two blocks from where we lived…I remember I walked down to the library, oh it was a happy time, everybody was very jovial, and I had my little boy, he rode his tricycle down there. We all just congregated you know, and sang songs, patriotic songs and so on. So that was really a happy time at the end of the war. Of course, it was a while yet until our husbands got home and so on.
We lost quite a few young boys on the Anzio Beach Head. Yeah, Porterville really took a hit on the losses in World War II. It was very sad. We all banded together about those things. Yes. I can’t think now how many people Porterville lost, young boys, but it was more than the national average, you know, we were among the highest. I guess our boys were just about the right age is the reason. I think most of them had volunteered, had enlisted. Yes, a lot of families were really affected.
- June 3, 1940 - The United States government approves a sale of surplus war material to Great Britain.
- The 1940 census indicated a United States population of 132,164,569. This represented an increase of 7.3% since 1930, the lowest rate of increase in the 20th century.
- December 7, 1941 - The attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. One day later, the United States of America declares war on Japan, officially entering World War II. On December 11, 1941, the United States declares war on Germany and Italy, responding to their declaration of war against America.
- June 20, 1942 - The development of the first atomic bomb is signed into agreement between the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
- June 6, 1944 - The Normandy Invasion, D-Day, occurs when one hundred and fifty-five thousand Allied troops, including American forces and those of eleven other Allied nations.
- May 7, 1945 - The unconditional surrender of Germany at Reims, France concludes the military engagements of World War II in Europe.
- August 6, 1945 - President Harry S. Truman gives the go-ahead for the use of the atomic bomb with the bombing of Hiroshima. Three days later, the second bomb is dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. On August 15, Emperor Hirohito of Japan surrenders.
- January 24, 1946 - The first meeting of the United Nations general assembly occurs after its founding on October 24, 1945 by fifty-one nations.
- April 30, 1948 - The Organization of American States was founded by twenty-one nations to provide a mutual security pact after World War II.
- April 4, 1949 - NATO, the North American Treaty Organization, is formed by the United States, Canada, and ten Western European nations.
- Porterville – A Century of People, Places & Events – The Porterville Recorder
- All other photos courtesy of San Joaquin Valley Library System
- California Council for the Humanities California Stories Initiative "Years of Valor, Years of Hope: Tulare County and the Years 1941-1946" (http://www.tularecountylibrary.org/yov/index.htm)
- America’s Best History (http://americasbesthistory.com/abhtimeline1940.html)
More Porterville photos from the 1940s