Sarah Lim: Museum Notes

Saying goodbye to a longtime fixture in downtown Merced

The Sun building in the 600 block of W. 17th Street (Main Street), circa late 1910s. Now known as the Reinero’s building, it turns 110 years old this year. (Courthouse Museum Collection)
The Sun building in the 600 block of W. 17th Street (Main Street), circa late 1910s. Now known as the Reinero’s building, it turns 110 years old this year. (Courthouse Museum Collection)

Although the old Hugh K. Landram’s house at 411 W. 20th Street (now a medical office) has changed over the last 143 years, its current property owners tried to save and replicate as much of the original elements as possible when this deteriorated structure went through an extensive renovation in 1985. The owners even contacted the estate of Charlotte Landram to collect stories about the house and family and developed a display in the waiting room so the history of this old home would be preserved and remembered.

In keeping up with the stories of old buildings in our town, here is another one that we are all going to miss – Reinero’s Trophy Room in the 600 block of W. Main Street. According to the latest update from the City of Merced, the building is going to be demolished because it has become a safety issue due to fire damage.

For as long as Merced residents can remember, Reinero’s has been a downtown eatery since the late 1940s when Ted B. Adolph, and Pete Reinero started a bar/restaurant to serve both Italian and French food at 636 W. 17th Street (Main Street). Sharing the same building was a store at 640 W. 17th Street that housed different businesses over time. Sometime in the 1950s, the Reineros expanded their business to 640 and turned it permanently into a restaurant. In the early 1960s, Miles Nichols and Cecil Stroming took over the restaurant operation and named it the Chuckwagon Restaurant while the Reineros maintained the bar and renamed it the Trophy Room.

By 1971, DiCicco’s Restaurant started by Eddie Salsedo became the new tenant at 640. Yes, there was a DiCicco’s here in Merced before the current one! Salsedo had a good run for more than 15 years before closing the restaurant in the late 1980s. After a brief occupancy by Little Italy, 640 went back to the Reinero family and became known as Reinero’s Italian Restaurant in 1988. Under Philip Reinero’s management, both the Trophy Room and restaurant were once again united under one address at 640 W. Main Street just like when the building was first constructed as a newspaper office.

The original use for the building was the Merced Sun’s office/press room. The Merced Sun was a newspaper company owned and run by the Radcliffe brothers, Charles D. and Corwin, who published two papers: Merced Evening Sun (daily except Sundays) and Merced County Sun (released weekly on Fridays).

The Radcliffe brothers grew up in a politically active family in Illinois. Their father, George Radcliffe, was a Republican who was a good friend of President Abraham Lincoln and a leader of the Republican Party in that state. Charles, on the other hand, was clearly a Democrat as he was appointed postmaster of Merced by President Woodrow Wilson in 1915. Even though The Sun was independent in its politics when it was first started in 1891, by the early 20th century, The Sun had become a Democratic paper.

Going back to the building’s history, The Sun building was constructed in 1909, according to Corwin Radcliffe, in an underdeveloped area on 17th Street between M and N Streets. “There was nothing on the block then on either side of the street except Stoddard’s stables, Lewis’ blacksmith shop and the Troy Laundry,” Corwin wrote in his “Rad’s Ramblings” column in 1925. This one-story brick structure had an entrance area with a truncated corner on the left and two windows facing 17th Street. The building was not very deep and only occupied about half of the lot length.

In 1925, Corwin sold the paper to the McClung Brothers who consolidated the Merced Sun with the Merced Star and created the Merced Sun-Star. The Sun building was leased to Richard Shaffer who had an auto shop directly behind the Sun lot on 16th Street. Shaffer, the president of the Merced County Chamber of Commerce, then sub-rented the Sun building to the Chamber.

By 1930, the Sun building was turned into two separate units with the Chamber and American Red Cross at 636 W. 17th Street and Melba’s Beauty Shop at 640 W. 17th Street. Before the Reineros took over the 636 location in the 1940s, the place had housed other businesses after the Chamber moved out.

The façade of the Sun building must have been remodeled at least a couple of times by 1958. A 1928 picture shows that the truncated corner was replaced with a traditional storefront where the entrance was relocated to the center, flanked by a large display window on each side. Although unclear when it was done, the look of the glass-block wall with stucco and two separate entrances to the building was seen in some of the photos taken in 1958.

From a newspaper office/press room to a bar/restaurant, the Reinero’s building at the age of 110 seems to have outlived its usefulness, especially after two fires in 2016. One was the exterior fire at the rear of the Trophy Room in November, and the other was the UC Oriental Market fire next door in December. Hopefully, this story will be a fitting tribute to this building’s existence in downtown Merced.

For more history about Merced County, please visit the Courthouse Museum. Our current exhibit is “The Originals of Yosemite.”

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

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