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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stockton's Vintage Neon Signs

Stockton is the kind of place I love to visit on a road trip, and to many people that seems quite bizarre. To them, Stockton is a dusty, run-down old town best known for scorching hot temperatures. To me it is a living historical museum, filled with beautiful and old, if sometimes vacant, buildings, vintage neon signs, and old restaurants still serving up food the way they have for 40 years or more.

Like the other cities in California's Central Valley, the post World War II era saw an explosive growth of the suburbs in Stockton and an abandonment of the central city. Freeways were built at a rapid pace, diverting traffic from the old highway routes, and leading to declining business along those routes.

In Sacramento (see my guide to Sacramento's vintage neon signs), much of the historic downtown was demolished in redevelopment projects made possible by the ever-continuing growth of the state government and its need for offices. But in towns like Stockton, Modesto, and Fresno, benign neglect has allowed much of the cities' history to linger on.

In terms of roadside heritage, Stockton is along the route of the oldest transcontinental highway, the Lincoln Highway. Before the causeway was built between what is now West Sacramento and Davis, and before the recently-dismantled bridge between Vallejo and Crockett was built, the Lincoln Highway went south from Sacramento through Galt and Lodi to Stockton. It went through the heart of downtown Stockton, and then headed south through French Camp and and west through Tracy and crossed over to San Leandro and Oakland via the Altamont Pass.

Later, U.S. Route 50 followed much the same route before this portion of it was decommissioned in 1964. From Sacramento to Stockton U.S. Route 99 was cosigned with U.S. 50. In Stockton they split, and U.S. 99 continued south to Modesto and Fresno. U.S. 99 was also decommissioned in 1964 and is now CA 99.

I've organized my guide to Stockton's vintage neon signs in three sections, those along the old U.S. 99 route (including the overlap with U.S. Route 50), those along the old U.S. 50 route after it split from U.S. 99 and passed through downtown Stockton (I'm not sure of its exact route through Stockton until it reached the southern edge of downtown), and the rest of the signs, arranged by street name and number.

I hope to fill in details as time permits me to do more research, and luck allows me to stumble upon information on these old businesses. And I will be adding new pictures in the future. I'm posting this a little prematurely, as I have been frustrated about not having the opportunity to get back to Stockton under the right conditions to continue photographing after my car broke down on my last visit there nearly two months ago.

U.S. Highway 99

20090404 Albert's
6512 N. Highway 99

I didn't notice this sign when first canvassing the area. Later, I saw it from the other side of the freeway, and wasn't sure about it--it looked new. I finally checked it out and found a boarded up building and a parking lot with weeds growing tall through cracks. I'm not sure exactly how old it is , but it isn't new.

20090404 El Rancho Motel
5936 N. Highway 99
El Rancho Motel

20070923 El Rancho Motel

20010802 Arbor Motel
5864 N. Highway 99
Arbor Motel

The sign is long gone and the motel is now operating under the name Town & Country.

20090404 St. Francis Motel
5708 N. Highway 99
St. Francis Motel

I don't think you have to be Catholic to stay here, but it can't hurt.
20070923 St. Francis Motel

20090404 Port Motel
Port Motel
3020 N. Wilson Way

This is now a residential motel, and when I first explored the area, the sign had been painted over, and I couldn't read the name. But that paint has since faded, and I could read "PORT," but there seemed to be other characters. On the north side of the sign it is clear--there are anchors on either side of "PORT." There is a seaport in Stockton, even though it is well inland, but it's on the other side of town.

20051017 Cozy Motel
2903 N. Wilson Way
Cozy Motel

The address is listed as an auto court in the 1949/50 city directory, so it may have been the Cozy Motel since at least then. It for sure has been that since at least 1960. And look at how well maintained the grounds are in front--that indicates to me a mom and pop place with committed involvement from the owners.
20060308 Cozy Motel

20051017 Frontier Motel Motel
2639 N. Wilson Way
Frontier Motel

Obviously the neon sign was not originally made for the Frontier, and when they changed the name and put in the plastic sign, there seemed to be some miscommunication. So now it is the Frontier Motel Motel. As painful as it is for me to see old neon disappear, I sympathize with the owners--it's far more expensive to maintain than plastic, back-lit signs, and it's not like they have high profit margins. The neon part of the sign can't be older than 1950, when this address is listed as a private residence.

20051017 Hayes Garage
2226 N. Wilson Way
Hayes Garage

I went back to re-shoot this sign under better conditions less than 2 years later, but it was a little too late. I hope that the owner saved it as a memento when he retired. The sign looks like it dates from the 1930s to me, although the name has probably changed over the years. The 1960 Stockton Yellow Pages list this address as Ellis Garage.
20090329 The Far East
2211 N. Wilson Way
Far East Restaurant

What a beauty of a restaurant building, complete with a giant thermometer on top. Although there is a Chinese caricature on the sign that looks vintage (In 1960s Yellow Pages, all the Chinese restaurants have racist caricatures in their advertisements), it was not always the Far East. In the 1950s, this was the Rev-a-Lon restaurant, which sounds intriguing. I hope to be able to find out more about it some day.
20051017 The Far East Restaurant

20090404 Ninety-Nine Knotty Pine Motel
2160 N. Wilson Way
Ninety-Nine Knotty Pine Motel

Or just the Knotty Pine today. The motel dates back to at least the 1940s.
20060308 Knotty Pine Motel

20051017 Pacific Motel
1735 N. Wilson Way
Pacific Motel

20090329 Pete's Liquors
1702 N. Wilson Way
Pete's Liquors

I'm not sure when it was Pete's. Today it is the Liquor Barrel.
20051017 Pete's Liquors

20051017 Ye Olde Hoosier Inn
1537 N. Wilson Way
Ye Olde Hoosier Inn

This place was still open when I photographed its neon sign. I sure wish that I had eaten there. It is now closed, and the signage is gone.
20060308 Ye Olde Hoosier Inn

20051017 S & S Used Cars
830 N. Wilson Way
S&S Auto Sales
20060308 S & S Used Cars

20071104 Pete's Wilson Way Tire Co.
221 N. Wilson Way
Wilson Way Tire Co.

The interesting part, the top, is now gone. I guess it was probably for a different business.

20051017 Economy Inn
339 S. Wilson Way
Economy Inn Motel

20070923 Stockton City Motel
1022 S. Wilson Way
2007 Stockton City Motel

20090404 El Camino Motel
1506 Mariposa Rd.
El Camino Motel

This motel has some nice features, although some are poorly maintained. I like the landscaping, the white picket fence, and the posts on either side of the driveway that used to have nice lanterns on top.

1872 Mariposa Rd.
Ranch Coffee Shop

Established in1955, according to the sign.

20070923 Sno-white, Stockton
2040 E. Mariposa Rd.
Sno-white Drive-In

There used to be over 200 Sno-white Drive Ins up and down the Central Valley. I have eaten at a couple that are still in business under that name, and several more operating under different names now.

20090509 Griswolds Nest Market
Marpiposa Rd. and Farmington Rd.
Griswolds Nest Market

When there was a building to go with this derelict sign, it was probably listed on Farmington Rd., although it's very close to the corner of Mariposa Rd., which is now CA Business 99.

20070304 Valli Motel
3206 S. Highway 99
Valli Inn Motel
20080912 Valli Motel

V&P Trailer Court

Right across the freeway from the Valli Motel is the V&P Trailer Court, with a sign in the shape of a U.S. highway shield, and, on the south side of it, the old 99 visible. It took me quite some time to get around to finding my way to this sign and photographing it, and when I did, their were tree leaves obscuring the bottom half of it. I'll have to wait and photograph it again in winter.

20090404 Sierra Motel
3416 S. Frontage Rd.
Sierra Motel

This must have been a prime location when the motel was built. Now it's obscurely located, and pinned right up against the freeway onramp.

U.S. Highway 50

20090129 Travo-Tel Motel
2305 S. El Dorado St.
White House Motel

Formerly the Travo-Tel Motel, as the sign still indicates. I was just floored when I saw this beauty for the first time. Here's what it says in the 1960s Yellow Pages about the motel:


Well, if it's good enough for Duncan Hines, it's good enough for me.

20090129 Golden Star Cafe
2121 S. El Dorado St.
Golden Star Cafe

As I was exploring the old US 50 route on the southern edge of town for the first time, I was taken aback to see this sign, as I have a photo of it from 2001, and yet I was sure I had never been in that area before. It's likely that it has moved, as the restaurant has an address in another section of town in the 1960 Yellow Pages.

20090129 Thrifty Klean Center
1661 S. El Dorado St.
Thrifty Klean Center

I'm guessing this sign dates from the 1960s.

20090706 Alhambra Motel
1565 S. El Dorado St.
Alhambra Motel

20090129 Budget Motel
1501 S. El Dorado St.
2009 Budget Motel

Originally the Ly-In Motel, from the 1950s.

20090129 Capitol Furniture
SW corner S. El Dorado & Clay
Capitol Furniture

The Rest of Stockton

20090805 Alex Floral Co.
33 N. American St.
Alex Floral Co.

A nice sign on a fabulous building. I've yet to get to in in the right lighting conditions.

20010605 Stockton Hotel Merrill
28 S. American St.
Hotel Merrill


200104 Hotel St. Leo
39 N. California St.
Hotel St. Leo

I'm pretty sure this sign is long gone, so I'm stuck with this lousy photo of it from 2001.

20051017 Delta Pumps
646 S. California St.
Delta Pumps

20090404 Odd Fellows
1200 N. Center St.
FLT Charity Lodge No. 6, International Order of Odd Fellows

A lovely sign obscured behind trees.

20090329 Mandy's Burgers
147 E. Charter Way/Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Mandy's Burgers

746 E. Charter Way/Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Billy Jack's Used Tires

20090129 Super Save Market
39 W. Charter Way/Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Super Save Market

This is one of the most beautiful things I have seen in my life.

20090129 Delta Liquors
519 W. Charter Way/Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Delta Liquor

Formerly Jimmie's Liquor and Sport Shop

20090329 Uruapan Carniceria
549 W. Charter Way/Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Uruapan Caniceria

Obviously it was formerly the Delta Market.

20090129 Skibo's Machine Works & Weld
2159 E. Fremont St.
Skibo's Machine Works & Weld

Formerly Womble Bros Garage. I would have liked to have seen "Womble" in neon.

20090129 Fremont Center
2505 E. Fremont St.
Fremont Center

A 1940s era shopping center.

20090706 Affair with Hair Beauty Salon
218 W. Harding St.
Affair with Hair Beauty Salon

20090404 Canepa's Car Wash
642 N. Hunter St.
Canepa's Car Wash

200104 Fox Theatre
242 E. Main St.
Bob Hope Theatre

Formerly the Fox Theatre. I've been meaning to run down to Stockton on a night the theater is open and get a shot of the sign lit up for more than 6 months now.

20071103 Bank of Stockton
301 E. Main St.
Bank of Stockton

Formerly Stockton Savings & Loan. I would guess the sign dates from when it changed names--1958.
20091031 Bank of Stockton

200711042 Newberry
337 E. Main St
JJ Newberry

200104 Commercial Hotel
425-433 E. Main St.
Commercial Hotel

Long gone.

20090706 Louie's Market
734 E. Main St.
Louie's Market

A difficult subject to photograph because the sign is flush against the north side of the building, and there is another sign jutting out that casts shade on the "Market" part when the sign would otherwise be in the best lighting. A second sign seems to have been at one time a representation of the Golden Gate Bridge, but has been greatly simplified.
20090706 Louie's Market

20090806 Bathtub in the Clouds
1650 E. Main St.
Pinasco's Plumbing Supply

The neon tubes are long gone, but I love the detail of the feet on the tub.

20090806 Bar El Alteño
2302 E. Main St.
Bar El Alteño

20090810 Michael's Market
3120 E. Main St.
Michael's Market

20060308 Cancun Restaurant
135 E. Miner Ave.
Cancun Restaurant

20070304 Channel Garage
E. Munford Ave.
Channel Garage

20090329 Empire Theatre
1825/1815 Pacific Ave.
Empire Theatre/Empresso Coffee House

Formerly the Stockton Theatre, on an old commercial strip known as the Miracle Mile. This was the along the first paved highway into Stockton coming down from Woodbridge and Lodi on Lower Sacramento Road, which was the original alignment of the Lincoln Highway. The Stockton Theatre opened February 16, 1945 with The Desert Song and The Impatient Years. It was described in the Stockton Record as "Stockton's first neighborhood theater."

20090805 Pacific Ave. Bowl
5939 Pacific Ave.
Pacific Ave Bowl Inc.

20090805 Exotic Nails & Gladiator Insurance
6025-6035 Pacific Ave.
shopping center

I presume the original name of the place had something to do with the neon top hat.
20090805 Neon Top Hat

20090805 J. Marengo Center
6032 (& other addresses) Pacific Ave.
J. Morengo Center

Established in 1950 says the sign.

20090805 Canepa's Touchless Car Wash
6230 Pacific Ave.
Canepa's Car Wash

20090805 Lincoln Center
about 6701 Pacific Ave.
Lincoln Shopping Center

7555 Pacific Ave.
Oakridge Center

and within Oakridge Center:

20090805 Montclair Liquors
Montclair Liquors.

20051017 Hotel Fair
34 S. San Joaquin St.
Hotel Fair

Formerly Hotel Hood.

20090329 John's Cafe
35 S. San Joaquin St.
John's Cafe

47 S. San Joaquin St.
Hi-Grade Cleaners

20090129 New Stockton Poultry Market
302 S. San Joaquin St.
2009 New Stockton Poultry Market

When I first visited Stockton with my APS camera in 2000, I didn't know about this area of town. I saw it on a Bay Area television show where they were wandering the streets of Little Manila in Stockton and telling something of its history. When I saw this beauty and the sign for On Lock Sam, I immediately planned a return trip.

20090329 Hotel Cosmos
343 S. San Joaquin St.
2009 Cosmos Hotel

Formerly the Basconia Hotel, one of many residential hotels for Basque shepherds that were once in Stockton.

241 N. San Joaquin St.
Delta Hotel

I thought I had a photo of this on my Flickr account, but I can't find one now.

20071103 Gan Chy
146 S. Sutter St.
Gan Chy Chinese Restaurant

The main sign is plastic, but they have a nice sign for parking. They probably had a nice neon sign for the main sign back at its original location.

20051017 On Lock Sam
333 S. Sutter St.
On Lock Sam

Until the mid 1960s, the restaurant was at 125 E. Washington, and the sign was attached to the building. At the new site, the old sign is mounted on a pole at the back of the parking lot. Look closely to see the neon chopsticks sticking off the top and bottom of the sign.

20090404 Cavour Club
302 S. Union St.
Cavour Club

This is listed as Cavour Rooming House.
20060308 Cavour Club

20090706 The Steve's Hotel
440 E. Weber Ave.
Steve's Hotel

Sounds a little too swanky for my tastes. A developer wants to demolish this old hotel building for a parking a lot.

20051017 Drugstore
134 E. Weber Ave.
Day and Night Pharmacy

Well, they lied. They closed once--permanently.

20090129 Doughnut & Airplane
1506 West Lane
Doughnuts to Go

Gotta love a giant neon doughnut. I paid for my photograph by getting a soda there.

20090404 West Lane Bowl
3200 West Lane
West Lane Bowl

I decided to take West Lane out of town on my last visit to Stockton, rather than the freeway, and was rewarded by finding this place.

200104 Dahl's
Location unkown
Dahl's Valley Shoe Repairing

What can I say, back in 2001 I never dreamed of sharing my photos with the public, or systematically
cataloging the vintage neon signs of Northern California. I made no notes about where this was taken, other than that it was in Stockton.