PATTERSON -- The grand finale to the Apricot Capital's yearlong Centennial Celebration will be held Labor Day weekend, and people are getting ready. Here are some of their stories.
"Can you explain what you're doing with that in the back of your auto-jiggy?" booms Louie George, 17, in a rehearsal for the centennial's original play. George is reprising the role of Marshal Blue, one of Patterson's most colorful figures in the 1920s, and he's asking about moonshine bottles.
The other character mumbles something about medicinal purposes. It's part of "A Century of Community," written by Patterson High drama teacher Tori Scoles, a 1994 graduate, and directed by her boyfriend, Colton Dennis.
"I tried to find interesting facts about Patterson that a lot of people don't know about," Scoles said of her play. The hourlong production is split into 10 sections, with historical and fictional figures portraying significant events for each of the city's decades.
Blue, by the way, held 18 titles including fire chief and tax collector. A barber named Clyde was collared in his youth by Blue for riding his bicycle on a sidewalk and remained bitter till his death decades later.
Six years ago, Scoles, 37, helped found the play troupe that has become Patterson Repertory Theatre. Her new production features 20 actors, from a 5-year-old girl to her 57-year-old father, plus six narrators who help guide viewers between decades.
"A Century of Community" will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday with a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee at the high school auditorium, 200 N. Seventh St.
Burta Herger modestly thumbs through "100 Years Around the Circle," Patterson's latest book of history told through striking photographs, old and new. She teamed with the Patterson Township Historical Society's Faye Hill and Claude Delphia to write and assemble the book, finished just in time for the Centennial Celebration.
"I enjoyed doing it, but I didn't enjoy the pressure," Herger said. "I haven't learned the word 'no.' "
The title refers to the city's landmark roundabout, the centerpiece of founder T.W. Patterson's distinctive wheel-shaped layout with streets radiating like spokes from a hub. He wanted his master-planned community to evoke Washington, D.C., or Paris.
The West Side, occupied for millennia by Yokuts Indians, first saw Spanish explorers about 1805. Brothers Pedro and Mariano Hernandez tried to establish a ranch in the area in 1844. Twenty years later, President Abraham Lincoln signed a land grant, which the Patterson family acquired two years later.
In 1909, Midwest travelers arrived on trains and stayed in the historic Del Puerto Hotel while considering T.W. Patterson's offer of irrigated farmland for sale. The city incorporated 10 years later. The hotel nearly burned to the ground in 1996. It was rebuilt nearly a decade later as a replica of the beloved hotel and is now occupied by City Hall.
Patterson's grandson will come from Oregon, Herger said, to participate in a re-enactment of the story that has the owner asking tenant farmer W.W. Cox to hurry up and harvest his barley so surveyors can ready the ground for a brand-new town. Cox's descendants, still living on the West Side, won't have as far to travel for festivities.
Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, who represents the West Side, says he'll drive pioneer families around in his 1909 Locomobile, as he did this year in Patterson's Centennial Fourth of July Parade. It's said to be one of two surviving models.
"100 Years Around the Circle" reminds readers that downtown Patterson once boasted department stores. Herger points out other records of early families, disastrous floods, fire and police stations, the high school's community swimming pool, and Jack Stewart's Dance Band, the must-have party musicians of the 1940s and '50s.
A black-and-white photo captures dairyman Manuel Azevedo leading a Holstein cow yoked to a wagon pulling the effigy of "Old Man Oleo." His protest against margarine struck a chord with people on the creamery-rich West Side, who dumped the butter substitute in his wagon before he burned the load at the high school.
The book will be sold for $20 at the centennial's souvenir booth and at the museum in the middle of the traffic circle.
Also depicted are parades in 1959 and 1984, when Patterson celebrated its Golden and Diamond jubilees. Herger, 72, fondly remembers both.
"In those years, there were people who were planning the events who were part of the beginning," she said. None are expected this time.
Mae Belle Rogers comes close.
She was born 95 years ago this Halloween in a farmhouse across the San Joaquin River and has always known that anything east of the river is not the true West Side, so she doesn't consider herself a Patterson native.
By 1932, Rogers and her family were living in the Coast Ranges west of town. Their former turkey farm is close to the road that now leads to a golf resort, Diablo Grande. She didn't consider herself a Pattersonite then, either, though her husband moonlighted as a bartender at the Del Puerto Hotel.
Decades after finally settling downtown, Rogers was irked to hear the mayor refer to her neighborhood within the original radial layout as "Old Patterson." "What do you mean, 'Old Patterson?' That's the Patterson!" she said.
"New Patterson" is a disappointment, Rogers said, with its sprawling subdivisions pocked by foreclosures.
The city has expanded its area 250 percent since 1990, far more than any other in Stanislaus County, and leaders are considering a growth plan allowing the population of 21,230 to more than triple in four decades.
The self-proclaimed Apricot Capital of the World used to hug Highway 33, the West Side's backbone, but now stretches to Interstate 5 where roadside businesses lure travelers. An A-frame sign there advertises "Apricot Wine Tasting."
"I felt bad when they started pulling out apricot trees and planting houses," Rogers said.
Her girls, now in their 70s, are looking forward to class reunions, expected to be a centerpiece of this weekend's festivities. Organizers sent thousands of notices inviting anyone who attended Patterson High School to meet in North Park on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Chris Dennis, a member of the Centennial Committee's executive board, was in 1987's graduating class of 103. His father's 1958 class had 101. "Things had not changed a whole lot," Dennis said.
Rogers has outlived two of her five children and has 17 grandchildren, 33 great-
grandchildren and nine great-great-grandchildren. She still bombs around town in her Oldsmobile, stopping nearly every day for coffee and biscotti at the Blues Café.
"I'm lucky that I stayed in this little town," Rogers said, "with church and people I've known for years. I think it's a special place."
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley @modbee.com or 578-2390.