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Porterville at a Glimpse ~ 1960-1969

by Theresa Sheridan, IT Technician

vietnamThe 1960’s were a turbulent time for the United States. Tensions were rising in Vietnam, the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis were in the news, John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr. escalated the civil rights movement to new levels, the sexual revolution and “free love” took off in San Francisco and the first man landed on the moon.

At home here in Porterville things were a little more on the quiet side, but we were not without our share of events.

Porterville Celebrates Its Centennial

centennial wooden nickel_th
The Centennial Wooden Nickel

In 1961, Porterville celebrated its 100th anniversary with a year long celebration that united the town like none other. Every week, there were parades, street dances, concerts and shows on Main Street. There were days the schools dressed in period clothing , there was Church Day, Old time car day, and re-enacted shootings with burials.

The show to repeal women's suffrage was the center attraction and was taken all over the area to promote their cause to repeal the 19th Amendment that gave the women the riqht to vote. The show went to Kernville, Whiskey Flat, the Frog Jumping Contest in Angels Camp, Bishop, Sacramento and even a parade in San Francisco were among the highlights of the campaign. Eveyone was dressed in period costumes and a good suit of clothes could be worn all year long. All of the men wore beards and were called "The Supreme Order of Bushfaces" (SOB's for short). The women were called "DOLLS',
Divine Order of Lovely Ladies". The actions between the two groups kept the excitement going all year long.

Jack Letsinger lectured to many people in the park outside the Capitol building.
With the help of Senator Howard Williams, the group was allowed in the main chamber of the Capitol building to present their case.
The Porterville Dolls chat up a San Francisco Police Officer.
The group parades right up Market Street in San Francisco.
Lyle Atterbury was an outrider to make sure that no one interrupted the proceedings.
The recreated Mountain Lion Saloon became the headquarters for the "Bushfaces" & thecenter of activity.

State Senator from Porterville Passes Away

California State Senator J. Howard Williams Jr., a Porterville native, died on May 7th, 1962, after being hospitalized for about a week, following major chest surgery several months prior. A state senator for 16 years, he was an expert on California’s water resources and the Legislature had taken to calling him “Mr. Water” because of his expertise on the subject. Mr. Williams had been a game warden in the Hot Springs/Pine Flat area during the depression & he was well liked because he was personable, had a sense of humor and showed sound judgment. Upon his death, the Porterville Evening Recorder wrote “California has lost a statesman and Porterville today mourns one of its most illustrious sons.”

First Hispanic Elected to the Porterville City Council

gilbert_yniguesIn 1968, Gilbert Yñigues was the first Hispanic to be elected to the Porterville City Council. Originally from Texas, he lived in Bakersfield for 9 years before moving to Porterville in 1952. While living in Porterville, he joined the army and spent some time stationed in Germany. When he returned, he decided to run for City Council in 1966, against 6 other candidates. He lost that election but was voted in 2 years later when he ran again. Yñigues was instrumental in creating jobs for the Hispanic community and served as chairman of the Tulare County Fair and Commissioner of the Tulare County Housing Authority Porterville public projects for more than 17 years.

Porterville Horseshoeing School

While Porterville was not the only state in the country to offer a horseshoeing school, its reputation for producing top-quality farriers set it apart from the others. Waiting lists to enroll at the Porterville Horseshoeing School Inc. were common and students from all over the world – Canada, Mexico, Belgium, France and even Israel – traveled to our little town to attend. The school was founded in 1964 by Ralph Hoover, who was one of the most prominent farriers in the country. He taught horseshoeing at CalPoly for 19 years before opening up his school in Porterville. Hoover opened the school by converting a set of stables where his father, Owen, had housed his trick-riding paint horses. John Longley, Sr., the father of one-time City Manager John Longley, Jr., purchased the school in 1974 from Hoover’s widow, Peggy Bannister. Longley sold it in 1986 to a gentleman who moved it near Sacramento, where it later went out of business.

Porterville Museum

Evolving from a train station in 1913 to a bus depot in the 1950’s, and then to the Porterville Museum in 1965, it took 4 years to develop and build, with several local organizations helping out with its grand opening. State, local & federal funds, along with donations from local clubs including the Rotary & Lions Clubs, have contributed to supporting the museum over the years, but everything both inside and outside the museum has been donated by families and individuals in and around the Porterville area. Visitors to the museum can envision themselves in any era since Porterville was founded in 1861, with indoor and outdoor exhibits depicting scenes from an old dentist’s office, a 1940’s kitchen, a blacksmith’s shed, and a Civil War cannon.

Hell’s Angels Come to Porterville

hells_angelsOn a Saturday night in 1963, members of the notorious Hell’s Angels decided to come to Porterville to check out a rumor that free beer was available in Porterville to members of motorcycle clubs. The rumor had evidently been started by Ivy Weathers, a local boy who had joined up with the Hell’s Angels, and by 7:30 pm, some 200 motorcycles had driven into town. The rider wore jackets identifying them as members of not only the Hell’s Angels, but of several other clubs including the Stray Satans, Satan’s Slaves, Galloping Geese, Comancheros and the Cavaliers. Traveling with them were carloads of wives, girlfriends & children.

Their reputation preceded them and Porterville residents took to the streets, upon hearing on the local radio station that they were coming into town. After creating a good sized ruckus in town and being asked to leave by then Chief of Police Francis Torigian, they instead laid in the street in protest and refused to leave. Porterville Fire was called into action and they were hosed down. At that point, most got on their bikes and decided to leave, but “about 75 others massed south of town at the old Sports Center, where they were surrounded by sheriff’s officers and highway patrolmen,” the newspaper reported at the time. By the time it was over, five men faced misdemeanor riot charges. They were released on bail: $52.50 each.

The Famous “Rock House” Closes

rock_houseIn its hay day, Porterville was known for prostitution, and one of the most prominent establishments was the Rock House, run by Nettie Smith, on the northwest corner of Olive Ave. & 2nd Street. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and the Rock House was closed for good in the mid 1960’s. Nettie & her manager Rose moved across the tracks to the east and re-established the business just south of the City Baseball Park.

When the Packer’s Baseball team came to Porterville, then manager Tommy Lloyd complained that he couldn’t get a left-handed power hitter to bunt as Nettie consistently gave away “free merchandise” if the ball hit her building.
In 1968, the Rock House was torn down to make a parking lot, as part of the city’s new Parking District. The girls moved into the Porterville Hotel for awhile, but John Stark soon put a stop to that.

Notable Local Info & Statistics

  • 1960 - Central alarm building constructed just to the east of the Cleveland Avenue Fire station.
  • In 1962 the population of Porterville was approximately 9,000.
  • By 1962, the number of acres of citrus in the Porterville-Lindsay-Terra Bella District was had increased to 56,969, while citrus acreage in the rest of the Southland was declining rapidly due to increased population.
  • 1964 - Second floor, 3,050 sq. ft., added to fire station at 40 W. Cleveland Avenue to house dormitory, kitchen and living quarters.
  • 1964 - Major Fire.  Assembly of God Church, 510 East Olive, $30,000 loss.
  • 1964 - Major Fire. Smith's Market, 175 W. Olive, $500,000 loss.
  • 1964 - Major Fire. Belleview School, $145,000 loss.
  • 1966 - Major Fire. Porterville Lumber and Materials, $150,000 loss.
  • 1968 -  The first World Ag Expo was held in Tulare, then called The California Farm Equipment Show and International Exposition.
  • 1968 – Parking District #1 was created to create more parking in the downtown area for shoppers.
  • 1968 - Jesse Given became Fire Chief.
  • 1968 - Airport Fire Control Jeep, 1953 Willy's, placed under control of Fire Department. (Presently Unit 18.)
  • 1969 - State of California engine, International 1,000 gpm pumper, replaced 1954 engine.

PHS 1960 Varsity Football Team

Gang Sue's
Gang Sue's popular restaurant & hang out
Main Street 1960
Main Street, 1960

1961 Kindergarten class dressed for the Centennial
Teen boys check out the sporting goods at a localsports shop.
bonanza_motors Jones Halmark

National Statistics

  • Population 177,830,000
  • Unemployment 3,852,000
  • National Debt 286.3 Billion
  • Average Salary $4,743
  • Teacher's Salary $5,174
  • Minimum Wage $1.00
  • Life Expectancy: Males 66.6 years, Females73.1 years
  • Auto deaths 21.3 per 100,000
  • An estimated 850,000 "war baby" freshmenenter college; emergency living quarters are setup in dorm lounges, hotels and trailer camps.

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