Sarah Lim: Museum Notes

Taking Timeless Classics for a Ride

This 1961 picture featured in December shows cars from the 1940s to the 1960s by Merced Theatre, including Chevrolet Bel Air, Chevrolet Impala, Plymouth Valiant, Buick, Dodge, Chrysler, Ford, Mercury, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac.
This 1961 picture featured in December shows cars from the 1940s to the 1960s by Merced Theatre, including Chevrolet Bel Air, Chevrolet Impala, Plymouth Valiant, Buick, Dodge, Chrysler, Ford, Mercury, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac. Courthouse Museum Collection

The Merced County Historical Society membership drive is in full swing with the release of the 2019 calendar. The calendar titled “Taking Timeless Classics for A Ride” features historic photos of cars from the 1900s to the 1960s in the local and regional landscape.

As a stamp of approval for the job well done by our museum staff and volunteers, memberships are pouring in with additional generous donations from our supporters.

Just the other day, I received three wonderful visits by our members. Former Merced resident Jerry Hall stopped by to pay his membership dues.

Although Jerry recently lost everything in the Paradise Fire, he still remembered to renew his membership and support the Courthouse Museum. Then, there was Jay Baldwin who came to purchase a new membership for his friend since our Historical Society membership is the gift that keeps on giving. Finally, Geri Freer told me how much she loved the calendar, especially the month of June, when she dropped off some holiday treats for the museum staff.

So, what is in the calendar that has gotten everybody talking? Well, let us take a ride through the past in a Curved Dash Oldsmobile, Pierce-Arrow, Studebaker, Model T Ford, Rambler, and Chevrolet Bel Air.

January features the 1900s Curved Dash Oldsmobile in front of the Merced County Jail. This first mass-produced automobile was powered by gasoline, and its runabout model had room for two passengers. Lining up to show off the vehicle were its owners and their friends including Deputy Sheriff Thomas A. Mack.

Mack was quite an experienced lawman. Before joining the Sheriff’s Office, he worked as a shotgun messenger for Wells Fargo Express Company, guarding valuables (often gold) in an era when each trip was fraught with danger.

A 1908 Pierce-Arrow in the Courthouse Park is the star of February while the month of March features R. Barcroft and Sons Garage at 349 Main St. in 1919. As mentioned in the last Museum Notes column, Rafael Barcroft was a pioneer car seller in the San Joaquin Valley and opened the first automobile dealership in Merced County.

Like Barcroft, Camille J. Pregno was an auto dealer in Merced and agent for Studebaker Motor Company. Depicted in the April picture are the newly sold 1919 Studebakers in front of the Hotel El Capitan on M Street by Main Street. Pregno, an Italian immigrant, must have been very proud of his success as he arranged for these cars to be photographed next to Merced’s best hotel. Pregno’s auto business was listed at 415 Main St. in 1920.

The retrofitted 1927 Model T Ford Coupe is featured in May. That hot rod was the pride and joy of Mike Kleiber. Along with his buddies, Myron Brandon and Jack Pettit, Kleiber had a lot of fun racing the car around town. In this 1946 picture, the three friends “smoking” pipes pose by the car with the old Yosemite Valley Railroad depot in the background.

Remember I mentioned earlier that June is Geri Freer’s favorite month? Here is why: the Masonic Building featured in the June picture was her home. Geri’s parents were Stratford and Helen Evans who owned and operated the Merced Funeral Chapel in the Masonic Building when Geri was growing up in the 1950s and 60s. The photo which predates Geri’s family business shows the Welch & Robertson Mortuary and three 1938 model Buicks.

While July showcases a 1941 Cadillac at the Wawona Tunnel Tree, August features a 1946 Packard Deluxe Clipper by the Applegate Park Rose Garden. In both pictures, either for a family excursion or posing with a new car, the proud owners found their ideal locations to show off their rides.

The month of September is my favorite because it shows the beautiful courthouse with cars like a Metropolitan and a Rambler from the 1950s. When this picture was taken, the Merced County Superior Court had moved across the street to its new building while the County Administration remained in the old courthouse building. Recently, our longest serving county supervisor, Jerry O'Banion, just finished his last official board meeting in the historic courtroom at the Courthouse Museum.

October features classics like the 1957 Chevy Bel Air and 1955 Plymouth. Also noteworthy is the Merced Elks Lodge. When this picture was taken in 1961, the lodge was getting ready for its 50th anniversary celebration. The high point of the 3-day celebration was the dinner-dance on June 10 at the Merced County Fairgrounds with about 650 guests.

The November picture is about the G Street Bridge ribbon cutting ceremony on July 19, 1965. As the officials are lining up for the moment, the biggest stars of the event are the 1964 Buick and Chevy that are about to make the first crossing over the new bridge.

The street scene by Merced Theatre concludes the 2019 calendar. It was the morning of December 21, 1961, and about 2,000 children came to the Merced Theatre for the annual Christmas Party sponsored by various organizations including the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. and the Merced Sun-Star. Many makes and models of cars from the 1940s to the 1960s are spotted in this December picture.

We, at the Courthouse Museum, thank you for your support and wish you a prosperous new year.

Sarah Lim is museum director for the Merced County Courthouse Museum. She can be reached at mercedmuseum@sbcglobal.net.

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