Column: For telethon, RC Library says, ‘Let’s put on a show!’

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Wednesday’s column is about the Rancho Cucamonga Public Library’s telethon from last weekend, an unusual amateur-entertainment extravaganza, televised on the local cable channel, that raises money for the library. I was recruited for the Trivia Challenge, not as a contestant but as a judge.

Above, Robert Karatsu, the library director and trivia master, examines the answers to one question, as do I. (Answers were multiple choice.)

One question, below, involved my hometown. If you don’t know the answer, it’s in my column.

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Oldest Cadillac resided in Cucamonga

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If you lived here pre-1973, you might recall the 1903 Cadillac pictured above from the Thomas Winery at Foothill and Vineyard in Cucamonga. Gino Filippi, of the winery family, told me: “I remember when I was young, the car was at the Thomas Winery on display for years. The Thomas Bros. sold the winery to our family in 1967. I think the car was one of a few NOT included in the sale.”

Filippi sent me a link to a Bonhams auction notice for the car, from 2007, when it sold for $337,000. It was billed as “the oldest known surviving Cadillac.”

The fledgling company’s first car was completed in late 1902. Says Bonham: “The car offered here – serial number ‘13’, the oldest known surviving Cadillac – was one of three displayed at the New York Auto Show in January 1903, the others being numbers ‘10’ and ‘11’. At that show, Cadillac’s sales manager William E. Metzger took orders for a staggering 2,286 cars and sold all three on display, ‘13’ being purchased by a Mr. Thomas, owner of the Thomas Winery in Cucamonga, California.

“The factory ledger shows the first 17 cars produced, recording that ‘13’ was the 6th to be invoiced and the 3rd shipped. Six of the first dozen cars remained unsold and may have been retained for development purposes. None is known to exist. Historical research has determined that ‘13’ was the first Cadillac to be shipped west of the Mississippi and the first sold to California.”

Isn’t that something? The first Cadillac to be shipped west of the Mississippi bypassed Anaheim and Azusa to come straight to Cucamonga.

Bonhams continues: “’13′ remained within its first owner’s family, for many years on display at the Thomas Winery in Cucamonga, until February 1973 when it was acquired by Cadillac collector Patrick Herman, who knew little of its history at the time other than it was a one-owner car.” Herman bought the car from Thomas’ great-granddaughter and transported it to his home in Utah.

A Bloomberg story from 2007 says that when Pat Herman bought the car, the winery had been sold “and the Cadillac was stored in a garage full of old refrigerators and washing machines. The car was missing numerous parts and showed the ravages of time, so the restoration, which was completed in 1989, was not a simple process.”

The car was restored in Montebello and went on to win many car show awards.

Bonhams concludes: “The three cars displayed at the New York Auto Show in 1903 were the first Cadillacs shown to the public and the first ever sold. As the sole survivor of these pioneers, ’13′ is thus a vehicle of quite exceptional importance in the history of the American automobile industry. Quite simply: the Cadillac story started here.”

An RM Auctions notice in January 2012 says the car had been bought in 2007 by John O’Quinn, and adds the detail that in 1973, the car had been in storage in Upland. RM says the car sold at its 2012 auction, from O’Quinn’s estate, for $134,750, or well under half what O’Quinn paid.

I don’t know its whereabouts, although surely some Cadillac collectors’ group knows. More importantly for our purposes, do any of you recall having seen the car in its some 70 years in Cucamonga?

Here’s a video dated 2010 of what may be the same car, or at least a similar model, being cranked into motion.

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Remembering Dee’s Diner

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We all know the 1910s Richfield gas station on Foothill Boulevard west of Archibald Avenue, which may be resurrected as a museum. You’d have to have lived here a long time to remember the old railroad car that rested in the lot next door.

In later years it was camouflaged as a pseudo-respectable structure, as the photos below show, but as the photo at bottom makes clear, there was a railroad car underneath.

It was operated as Dee’s Diner from 1959 to 1974, according to research by the diligent Kelly Zackmann of the Ontario library’s Model Colony History Room, and stood at 9656 Foothill. The dining car may have a longer history; the same address had the Milmar Drive-in in 1948 and Mil Mar Diner in 1951.

Lore has it that Dee’s can be seen in the 1974 B-movie “Big Bad Mama” with Angie Dickinson and William Shatner, or possibly the 1987 sequel. Both are available in full on YouTube (the links are embedded in the previous sentence) but I don’t have the patience to watch them. If you spot Dee’s, let us know where.

After the original version of this post went up, John Hauge sent me the wonderful photo above after finding this blog post. He writes:

“My uncle Peter Ferrero and his wife Delia Ferrero owned Dee’s Diner. They retired in 1974. Both were long time Cucamonga and Guasti residents. Previous to owning the diner they owned Nellie & Dee’s on the northeast corner of Benson and Holt. They sold it in the late ’50s and it became Antonio’s. Previous to that they owned another Italian restaurant of the same name, Nellie & Dee’s, for many years in Cucamonga on the northwest corner of Archibald and Foothill.”

Hauge’s photo (click on the image for a larger view) shows the restaurant name, the outdoor entrance for the women’s room (men’s was around the corner), signs reading “Breakfast” and “Lunch,” and another one for Shady Grove ice cream.

The other photos, from top to bottom below, came from Ed Dietl’s “Images of Rancho Cucamonga” book, Jane Vath O’Connell and the Ontario library’s Kelly Zackmann. Note the distinctive gas station’s garage in the background. None of the photos are dated, but now that we have the Dee’s Diner photo above, I’m guessing the ones without the name were from the second owner, in the 1970s.

Hauge says the restaurant was sold in 1974 to a couple without restaurant experience and folded not long afterward. He said the structure sat vacant for some years before being razed. I’d been told by the architect for the gas station’s restoration, Joe Ramos, that the car exists somewhere but that the owner, a friend of his, prefers anonymity.

The lot next to the gas station is still vacant, but a commercial development is expected. I suspect it won’t include a restaurant in a beat-up railroad car.

If you remember anything about the diner, leave a comment, please!

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It’s 100 years and counting for Besse Fogle

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Besse Fogle, a retired restaurateur in Pomona and Ontario, turned 100 on Monday. The day before, her friends, including yours truly, threw her a surprise party in Rancho Cucamonga. That’s the subject of my Wednesday column. Above, Fogle talks to friend Norm Stutzke.

A 45-second video of the party can be seen here, although you’ll have to turn your computer, or head, sideways…I shot it in the landscape format and there didn’t seem to be a way to turn the video right-side-up.

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Route 66 plan could be a gas, gas, gas

Plans are in the works to renovate the 1920s Richfield service station on Foothill Boulevard (the old Route 66) at Archibald Avenue in Rancho Cucamonga and turn it into a museum and visitor center. That’s the leadoff item in my Friday column, followed by items from around the valley, plus two news items from the Rancho Cucamonga library.

The scene above is from Wednesday’s kickoff ceremony.

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