Tracing Tracy Territory: Downtown plaza is place it all began
by Sam Matthews / TP publisher emeritus
May 04, 2012 | 2825 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
 The 1910 Tracy Street Fair on Oct. 20 to 22 took up Sixth Street and Central Avenue, where the new downtown plaza has been opened. Press file photo
 The 1910 Tracy Street Fair on Oct. 20 to 22 took up Sixth Street and Central Avenue, where the new downtown plaza has been opened. Press file photo
Tracy has returned to its roots — where it all began 134 years ago.

Tuesday’s dedication of the Downtown Plaza at Sixth Street and Central Avenue moved the focus of community attention back to where the town was established in 1878 by the Central Pacific Railroad.

The corner of Sixth Street and Central Avenue was the crossroads of the new town where two railroad lines connected. Across one set of tracks in the switching yard was the railroad depot, and Tracy’s first businesses, housed in woodframe buildings, lined unpaved Sixth Street on both sides of Central Avenue.

At the corner on the northeast corner of Sixth and Central, where Tuesday’s dedication ceremonies were held, was the original Tracy Hotel, and across Central Avenue at the other corner was Philip Fabian’s general store.

Central Avenue, which dead-ended at the Front-and-Central corner, had only scattered buildings, homes and churches extending as far north as “the county road’ — later renamed 11th Street.

As Mayor Brent Ives mentioned Tuesday during his dedication talk, the dedication ceremony and tonight’s Cinco de Mayo fiesta in the new plaza aren’t the first community events held on the corner.

In October 1910, three months after the city of Tracy was incorporated, Tracy staged a street fair on Sixth Street, extending east from Central Avenue.

From reports in the Tracy Press, the fair was a major success, attracting a large number of townspeople. Tracy’s population then was just about an even 1,000.

The accompanying photo shows a view of the street fair, looking east from Central. It was obviously a lively event, judging from the theater tent in the photo at right that featured “Thelma, the most perfect formed woman in the world!”

In downtown Tracy, no less.

Dropping a ‘U-y’

And we can’t forget that until the 1970s, Central Avenue dead-ended at Sixth Street. That’s where local youths “dropped a U-y” — making a U-turn — while “taking the drag.”

Local insurance broker John Frerichs was a member of the Clutch Burners auto club in the late 1950s, when making that U-turn was part of the cruising ritual of the era.

After heading north on Central, the guys (and some girls) turned east on 11th Street and made it to Tracy’s Drive In, next to where Ralph’s Club is now. From there, they went west on 11th to check out the A&W Rootbeer stand and then made a turn around a service station at the southeast corner of 11th and Tracy Boulevard, heading east back to Central.

When not taking the drag, the car guys went on poker runs, gathered for a beer or two and even did some drag racing, mostly on MacArthur Drive from Grant Line Road north to Delta Avenue.

The club died in the 1960s, but John and five friends brought it back to life in 1980, this time concentrating on hot rods and restored cars and trucks. Those friends were Allen Cossey, Larry McDonald, Tom Buettner, Gary Hyman and Russ Vital.

The annual car show was inaugurated in 1991. John is no longer a Clutch Burner, but other club members are staging the modern-day version of the car show, “A Picnic in the Park,” this Saturday in Dr. Powers Park.

Charred memories

Flames that destroyed a home April 22 at the San Joaquin River Club southeast of Tracy carried some childhood memories of a well-known Tracyite with them.

That well-known Tracyite is Mayor Brent Ives. It was his boyhood home that burned to the ground, the home where he lived while attending New Jerusalem School and later Tracy High School.

After the fire, Brent and wife Lynda drove out to the River Club to view what was left of the house, which residents believe was vacant when fire struck. It was a sad sight for them.

Ashes, charred rubble and a brick chimney were all that remained. Brent’s mother, the late Betty Ives, would have been devastated by the loss of her longtime home.

Hazardous hips

There seems to be an epidemic of fractured hips these days. John Serpa, the retired Tracy police captain long active in veterans affairs, fell at home and underwent surgery.

John is now a patient at Tracy Convalescent hospital. His roommate is B.R. Costa, a retired dairyman, who also broke a hip but escaped surgery.

And, finally, my brother Tom broke his right hip last week at home, underwent surgery and is back home after spending a few days in Sutter Tracy Community Hospital.

By the way, John Serpa told me that because of the hip injury, he will be unable to install officers of Tracy VFW Post and Auxiliary later this month. This will be the first time since 1952 he has been unable to officiate.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at
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