More memories of old-time Ontario

My May 13 column on Jim Bowman’s memories of growing up in Ontario in the 1950s and ’60s prompted a loooong e-mail from reader Linda (Shaffer) Frost amplifying on some of Bowman’s points and dropping new names of old-time Ontario businesses.

And if you’re into that sort of thing — which we here at The David Allen Blog most assuredly are — then the nostalgia makes for good reading.

Here’s an edited version:

“Since I am waxing nostalgic, I have a few things to add to Jim Bowman’s recollections about Ontario back in the day. I grew up there, too. I would have been born here had it not been that my father was stationed in Massachusetts during the war. I was 18 months old when I arrived in January of 1947.

“The first thing my parents did after purchasing a home was to subscribe to the Daily Report and to begin Shady Grove Dairy delivery. The bottles were glass and had tiny cardboard caps with a pull-tab. Cottage cheese came in colorful, anodized aluminum tumblers, and oleo came in a plastic bag with the dot of color. Owl Lucky Star Market was the first supermarket, followed by King Cole Market, and shopping was a family affair.

“Laddie’s hamburgers, the first fast food hamburger stand, charged 15 cents for a hamburger. Yes, the Hot Dog Show held constant performances in a hot dog-shaped shop with a few stools in front. Taco Lita held court at the corner of San Antonio and Holt (previously A Street), and tacos were five for a dollar. Yes, and Mi Taco had its first store on East Fourth Street across from John Galvin Park. Unfortunately, Ford Lunch had a reputation for racial discrimination, so my parents never took us there to eat.

“My mother didn’t believe anyone should be mistreated, especially for race, and when it happened, she never forgot. FYI, another incident occurred back in the early 1950s at a place called Ed’s Caf on “A” street, when Ed refused to serve a black boy whose team had played my brother’s team in Pony League baseball game. His team didn’t eat there, and we never went to Ed’s either. My mother had nothing good to say about Ed or his caf.

“The California Theater gave competition to the Granada. On Saturday mornings, our mothers would pile us into the family sedan and haul us downtown where we would pick up tickets to the free kids movies on Saturday mornings. Popcorn was a dime, and big candy bars were 25 cents. We would go to Newberry’s and spend our pennies on Evening in Paris cologne in tiny blue vials. I can still smell it and am happy to say that my fragrance choices have improved with age.

“A highlight of every summer afternoon was walk to the plunge at Chaffey High School with a quarter tucked inside our bathing caps for the price of admission. That lasted until the polio scare sent us home to inflatable pools in our yards.

“Does Mr. Bowman remember the 10-cent Orange Belt Lines bus that ran down Euclid Avenue? We could walk to Euclid and Fourth, catch the bus, and ride downtown for one thin Liberty dime. We ate candy cigarettes (not sure parents approved of them, but they tasted pepperminty and cool).

“The Masonic Hall was above JC Penney. Walking into the store was a walk back in time. The old oak floor creaked, and the sales clerks put the register money in a pneumatic tube and sent it on its screechy way to the mezzanine for each transaction — adventurous for a kid in those days.

“The Red Car made its daily pilgrimage down Euclid Avenue to drop students at Chaffey High School, and my parents had to repaint the inside of the house every other year to get rid of the soot from the smudge pots. One year they chose a color called Ashes of Roses — very appropriate for the time. They looked for property in the citrus groves which were beginning to develop in the mid-1950s.

“My days growing up in Ontario were happy and carefree. The worst of my worries were finding the ride to the movies and making sure my kite did not land in a tree. We had a workup softball game going in the cul-de-sac, and our mothers did not worry about us unless we did not come in for lunch or dinner when they called us.

“Oh, and tell Mr. Bowman that the Eaders were neighbors, and my older brother (Chaffey High class of 1957) and I both worked there in high school. Howard and Sally were tops. And their daughter and I both were Linda Lees.

“At the Carnegie library, the beautiful lady who did story hour in the basement where the children’s section was told some wonderful stories. The stereopticon pictures were wonderful, too. I was excited when I got to fourth grade and was allowed to use the adult section upstairs. Actually, I was not in fourth grade, but the children’s section ran out of challenging reading material for me, and I needed a more sophisticated fix.

“I am happy to say that today I can polish off a book a day when I have the time but sorry to say that my library card is no longer valid, and I have become a bookstore denizen. I suppose that will change when I retire this month after 33 years of teaching and have time to visit the library again.

“I only wish today’s kids could unplug enough to experience what we did.

“Oh, tell Mr. Bowman that I remember the Christmas trees on Euclid Avenue and the fact that the decorations regularly blew down in the Santa Ana winds the minute they went up. Which was not until after Thanksgiving. I do not remember the March of Dimes tape.

“With regard to Armstrong’s nursery, they had the only roses my parents would purchase. My mother had a lovely rose garden. My children’s great-grandfather Hansen was a good friend of John Armstrong, and when Mr. Armstrong found interesting plants and trees, Grandpa Hansen would plant them in his garden, too.

“The last recollection I have is Howell’s House of a Million Items on Euclid at the corner of either Main Street or Emporia. It was in one of Ontario’s original buildings, red brick and wood trim. It looked like something out of a western. My mother took me to look for an unfinished kitchen table. It was both exciting and creepy foraging our way through the second floor. I just knew the building would crumble beneath my feet, but it held up, at least until the 1952 Tehachapi earthquake when it was declared unsafe. I was saddened when it burned to the ground. It was a unique part of early Ontario. Life was good back then.

“Do not mean to bore you with my ramblings, but I think it is important to pass our historic legacy on to our children. They will never know how we came to be who we are unless they understand our past.

“P.S. The changes I have seen are phenomenal. Did you know that George Raft used to frequent the house where Matreyek Builders is located on Mountain Avenue? It was in the middle of citrus groves.”

I did not know that, or much of the rest of it, but her note no doubt jogged the memories of many longtime residents reading this. Any reactions, comments, corrections or additions?

And thank you, Linda.

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