Doane Yawger: Historical calendar brings back old car memories

January 2, 2014 

When I got the Merced County Historical Society’s new calendar a couple of weeks ago, I knew 2014 would be a good year. The calendar is full of vintage black-and-white photos of downtown Merced, including a bunch of cool cars from way back.

The cover photo shows a 1954 Ford four-door station wagon, a 1958 Corvette convertible, a 1959 Ford sedan and a 1957 Plymouth convertible near the F.W. Woolworth Co. store on West Main Street. It just gets better from there.

For April we see the distinctive bustleback trunk of a late 1930s four-door sedan, make unknown, parked diagonally in front of Merced Dry Goods at 442 W. 17th St. in 1959.

July’s calendar page looks west on busy West 17th Street (now Main Street) near J Street, now known as Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The photo shows a 1961 Ford pickup truck driving by a parked 1957 Ford four-door, a 1958 Lincoln Continental, a 1957 Oldsmobile, 1955 Pontiac station wagon and a 1960 Falcon.

August’s calendar page shows the New China Cafe at 1002 W.17th St. Parked at the restaurant are a 1959 Pontiac four-door sedan, a 1958 Ford four-door and a 1953 Studebaker hardtop, and parked on the street is a 1959 Chevrolet.

September’s calendar page shows the Safeway supermarket at G Street and West Olive Avenue in 1970, with a 1963 Rambler sedan, a 1966 Ford station wagon, a 1969 Buick Riviera and a 1967 Mustang hardtop in the parking lot. That’s the College Green Shopping Center and the store is now Merced’s only Save Mart.

The May calendar page shows the McDonald’s restaurant at Park and Olive avenues in 1970, with a 1968 Chevrolet hardtop, two late-1950s Corvettes, a Volkswagen bus and an MGB parked in front.

October’s calendar picture shows Cal’s Texaco service station at 5 W. 16th St. in 1959. There’s a late-1940s Chevrolet parked near the wash rack and the two gas pumps have the distinctive glass globes on top. The station still exists with a hand car wash and smog station now occupying the space. Alas, all the great Texaco signage is long gone.

February’s calendar page shows the Thrifty Cut Rate Drugstore and Gottschalks department store at the Westgate Shopping Center in the 1960s; the parking lot boasts a 1956 Ford, 1959 Pontiac and a 1957 Buick.

You know the calendar is historical when you see the June photo. It shows the Merced Theater concession stand in the 1950s; a sign shows buttered popcorn for 20 cents and a bigger advertisement plugs Chesterfield cigarettes.

It’s a little disquieting to realize some of those calendar scenes are more than a half-century old and I remember that time well. Apparently I’m historical and don’t fully realize it.

I wonder if any Mercedians will recognize their cars in that calendar?

Throughout the year I will whimsically leaf through the historical society’s 2014 calendar and pine for the years depicted more than five decades go.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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