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Porterville at a Glimpse ~ 1950-1959

Growth and Change in the age of Baby Boomers
By Ted Williams, Information Technology Analyst

During this decade, young servicemen who served in WWII were starting new families, building new homes and starting new jobs.  To accommodate the increased demand for work, housing and other commodities, American industry expanded to meet peacetime needs.  People could afford single family dwellings and suburbia was born.  The US population was 151,684,000, the number of people unemployed was 3,288,000 or 2%; life expectancy for women was 71.1 years and men 65.6 years; the average (annual) salary was $2,992 and a loaf of bread was $0.14.  Also, a style of vocal-based rhythm and blue music called Doo-wop, which was developed in African-American communities in the 1940’s, achieved mainstream popularity in the 1950’s.  This style emerged from the streets of northeastern and industrial Midwest cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore and Pittsburgh.  Doo-wop would later be referred to as “rock and roll.”

Business Growth in Porterville

Porterville Developmental Center

Although Porterville was designated as an agricultural city, there was business growth during this decade.  The Porterville State Hospital opened for service on May 12, 1953, with 200 clients.  When Governor Earl Warren dedicated the facility, there was an estimated audience of 3,000 people and most Porterville businesses closed for the afternoon.  The total population at the facility reached its peak in 1957 with over 2,600 clients. The facility would later be renamed by the Department of Developmental Services to Porterville Developmental Center to better reflect the purpose of the facility that cared for individuals with developmental disabilities.

Employee Dining Room
PT Class of 1954
Aerial View

Sierra View Hospital

Also during this time, Porterville had increasing needs for local medical care.  The City was outgrowing the existing Porterville City Hospital located at Third Street and Cleveland Avenue which was only a 17-bed facility that serviced the needs of the whole community.  The Sierra View Local Hospital District was formed by a resolution of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors (in 1947) to address this issue.  On August 2, 1956, the State Department of Public Health advised the District that it would receive federal matching funds in the amount of $224,714.33 for the project.  In February of 1957, hospital construction began and was completed one year later.  The new 42-bed facility opened its doors on March 1, 1958.

sierra view hospital-old

Town & Country Market

Town & Country Market 
Teddy Wong in the Army

Another business that opened in Porterville during this decade was Town & Country Market.  Mr. Teddy Wong, a Chinese American businessman, moved from San Francisco at age 27 along with his brothers, Henry and Norman, and opened the grocery store in 1952.  The store covered three and a half acres and was originally where the Fashion Outlet store is today.  On April 1, 2011, I drove to Town & Country Market, hoping to speak to Mr. Wong’s daughter, Barbara Sue. I was directed to her by an employee and after introducing myself, I asked a few questions.  After several minutes, Ms. Sue asked, “Would you like to speak to my father?”  I said if he’s here and if it is convenient for him.  As we approached, I observed Mr. Wong working in the vegetable section, stocking greens.  After a brief introduction by Ms. Sue, he agreed to speak with me.  He gave me a tour of the facility and as we passed customers, Mr. Wong would greet the customers and they would reciprocate in kind.  I sat down with Mr. Wong and learned a lot about agriculture during the 50’s and that he attended Galileo High School in San Francisco.  He was drafted after high school into the army and he served his country in Europe during WWII.  Mr. Wong exemplifies the typical young serviceman coming back to America to pick up their lives and start new families in new homes with new jobs.  In Mr. Wong’s case he started a new business in our city in 1952.


PortervillePublicLibrary1953Porterville Public Library (aka The Carnegie Library) opened to the public on June 19, 1908.  On September 3, 1947 during council sessions, concerns were expressed over the conditions of the Library building.  A request was made to then City engineer Irvin H. Althouse to access the structural integrity of the facility and provide a report for the next council meeting.  Based on the report the council received, they decided to close the Library and temporarily move it to the Basement of City Hall.  The Library was demolished in 1949 and the council sought bids for a new facility.  On May 23, 1952 the Council accepts a bid from a Los Angeles developer for the amount of $58,800.  Construction began and on March 8, 1953 the new facility was dedicated.

Music and Entertainment (Back to the Future)

bshaffer bshaffer_studio_band
Buck Shaffer Studio Band

Porterville Highschool Band

The 50’s saw the birth of Rock ‘n Roll.  This form of music was very popular with young people and record companies saw big profits in promoting it.  Little Richard is considered the architect and Elvis Presley is considered the King of Rock and Roll.  Porterville had their unofficial “Mr. Music” Buck Shaffer.  Mr. Shaffer was born August 6, 1921, in West Virginia. He developed an interest in music at an early age and decided this would be his future career.   Mr. Shaffer was influenced by big band music and patriotic march songs.  He later took to the alto saxophone and performed in swing bands and clubs and later put himself through college playing music.  In 1953 Mr. Shaffer met with then superintendent and principal Charles Easterbrook in Los Angeles about coming to Porterville and building a band music program.  Mr. Shaffer came to Porterville to see the area. However, he did not like the remote stretch of road on highway 65 to Porterville.  Reluctantly he decided to drive by the school and when he saw the two story facility with big columns, he was impressed and the rest shall we say is history.  Under Mr. Shaffer’s direction the Porterville Panther Band was one of the first bands in California to appear on television.  Other appearances included Squaw Valley Winter Olympics, the Seattle World’s Fair, multiple Rose Parades, Disneyland appearances and a performance at Carnegie Hall in New York.  The Porterville museum has a wax figure of Mr. Shaffer in band uniform, and across from City Hall in Centennial Park a clock is dedicated to him.

Notable Local Events

  • 1950 - Major Fire: Commercial Tire Co., Main & Orange, $175,000 loss.
  • 1950 - 2nd Mack 1,000 gpm triple combination pumper purchased for the Fire Department.
  • 1952 - Tehachapi earthquake: Resulted in many of the beautiful buildings in Porterville being destroyed, including the stately high school building.
  • 1952 - Major Fire: Bank of America, Main & Mill.
  • 1953 - Major Fire: B & J Feed Mill, 101 Walnut, $92,500 loss.
  • 1953 - Plano Street Bridge: The new Plano Street Bridge over the Tule River opened on May 12th.
  • 1954 - State of California, Office of Emergency Services, GMC 1,000 gpm pumper Civil Defense truck stationed at Porterville Fire Department.
  • 1958 - Major Fire: Glenwood Hotel, $16,000 loss.          
  • 1958 - Major Fire: Berkshire's Café, 400 N. Main Street.  This fire spread to and destroyed three other stores, $140,000 loss.

Important Historic National and Cultural Events

  • 1950 - Pres. Harry Truman (‘til 1952) approves production of the hydrogen bomb and sends Air Force and Navy to Korea in June.
  • 1951 - Transcontinental television begins with a speech by Pres. Truman.
  • 1953 - 1961 Dwight D. Eisenhower is president.
  • 1952 - The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952 removes racial and ethnic barriers to becoming a U.S. citizen.
  • 1953 - Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are electrocuted for their part in W.W.II espionage.
  • 1953 - Fighting ends in Korea.
  • 1954 - U. S. Senator Joseph McCarthy begins televised hearings into alleged communist  activity.
  • 1954 - Racial segregation is ruled unconstitutional in public schools by the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • 1955 - Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
  • 1955 - The American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizatio   merge, making the new AFL-CIO an organization with 15 million members. Dr. Jonas Salk developed a vaccine for polio
  • 1956 - The Federal Highway Act is signed, marking the beginning of work on the  interstate highway system.
  • 1958 - Explorer I, the first U.S. satellite, successfully orbits the earth.
  • 1958 - The first domestic jet-airline passenger service is begun by National Airline between New York City and Miami.
  • 1959 - Alaska and Hawaii become the forty-ninth and fiftieth states.


Notable Local Events
Chamber Commerce Volunteers 1950
Chamber of Commerce Building 1950
Chamber Volunteers 1950
City Hall 1950
Main Street 1951
Main Street 1951 2
Porterville Parade 1950's
Neighborhood Kids Porterville 1957
Fire Dept 1950
Porterville Theatre 1950
Porter Theatre Stage
Porterville Potato Plant 1950
Porterville High School 1950
Porterville College 1950
Shell Station 1950

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