Sarah Lim: Museum Notes

May 9, 2009

Sarah Lim: Walking tour -- continued

Last column, we ended the walking tour at the Central Presbyterian Church on the southwest corner of 20th and Canal Streets. Today, we start at the Mansion House cater-cornered from the church. Built in 1906 by the firm of Froetch and Boney, the house was built for Oscar Alexander Baker, the assistant manager of Merced Lumber Co.

Being a construction man, Baker insisted on the use of the best materials and finest workmanship for his house. The materials included the use of double-fired clinker bricks. Long seen as scrap because they were discolored or distorted, clinker bricks, to Baker, presented a distinctive and charming architectural quality. Baker carefully picked clinker bricks as the foundation of the house. The materials used for this architectural element made this typical American Colonial Revival home unique in Merced. Work is under way to turn this beautiful old house into a bed and breakfast with banquet facilities.

Clinker bricks as a decorative element were also exhibited in the chimney of the Smith House (now a law office) on the southeast corner of 20th and O streets. It happens that Telete Landram, the sister of Baker's wife, at one time owned the house.

Leaving the Mansion House and going south on Canal Street, you'll soon enter the historic business district. Turn left onto 18th Street; a more modern building stands on the corner of 18th and K streets. Commonly known as Bell Station, the old post office building was a product of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. Two beautiful murals depicting Merced history are still visible within. Built in 1932 by North Miller Co., the structure is a combination of modern and Romanesque elements. Allison and Allison of Los Angeles designed Bell Station. This same firm also designed the Merced High School campus on G and 20th.

Just one block down on K Street is Main Street (or 17th Street). There stands a building that combines Queen Anne Victorian and French Second Empire elements. The Pedreira Building (now a Mexican restaurant) on the southwest corner of Main and K streets is a two-story structure erected in 1903 by local builder William H. McElroy for Antonio Freitas Pedreira. Over the years, it has been used as saloon, dry goods store, meat market, and restaurant on the first floor and offices on the second floor.

According to Marcus Arguelles, compiler of the 1984 Merced Historic Resources Inventory Report, the Pedreira building is "the only one of its type to have survived the local remodeling surge of the 1930s and later redevelopment projects." Its corner turret and second floor bay windows that reflect the architectural style of the turn of the 20th century are still visible. This building is an important landmark of the downtown business district.

A tour of downtown would not be complete without visiting the Merced Theatre, a block east of the Pedreira Building on Main Street. Built in 1931, the Spanish Colonial Revival style building has truly served as a recognizable landmark of Merced. Its neon tower makes it visible from Highway 99. Currently under renovation, the theater will shine again as a crown jewel of our historic downtown.

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