The Central Pacific Railroad gave birth to Lodi in the summer of 1869. Beginning as a simple rail stop with a couple merchants’ simple wood buildings and a few scattered homestead farmers, Lodi grew to become a bustling city of more than 75,000 with a thriving and increasingly famous grape and wine industry.
With decades of history behind its development, Lodi has bygone — and sometimes quirky — facts that distinguish it.
The Lodi Arch
Lodi’s most iconic image is the mission-style arch, which has served as an entrance to Downtown for more than a century.
The arch was built in 1907 for the Tokay Carnival held that year to promote and celebrate Lodi and its major agricultural product, the tokay grape. The arch spanned Pine Street and was located close to the Southern Pacific’s railroad station.
Southern Pacific asserted for decades that it owned the land upon which the arch stood, and it charged the city of Lodi $1 in rent every year until at least 1955.
Over the years, small changes appeared on the arch. In 1908, a fire bell was added. This bell was sounded to alert volunteer firefighters to emergencies for several years. In 1909, a papier-mâché bear, made for a parade float, was stolen from a Stockton club and placed on the Lodi arch as a joke. The bear has been on the arch ever since.
In 1955, city leaders considered razing the aging arch, but citizens rallied and saved it. It was restored the next year.
The arch was declared a California Historical Landmark in 1981.
Presidents, governors and entertainers visit Lodi
Over its early decades, Lodi was a stop for visiting state and national leaders.
In 1896, presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan stopped in Lodi and delivered his famous “Cross of Gold” speech from the back of his railroad coach car.
In 1960, soon-to-be President John F. Kennedy passed through Lodi, but gave his speech in the more populous Stockton.
In 2000, soon-to-be President George W. Bush stopped in Lodi and spoke from the back of his railroad campaign car within view of Lodi’s famous arch.
Another president passed through Lodi in August 1923. The train bearing the body of President Warren G. Harding went past grieving citizens paying their respects beside the railroad tracks. Harding, scheduled to deliver a whistle-stop speech in Lodi, had died of a heart attack in San Francisco the day before.
Lodi’s early festivals also were occasions for famous people to visit. In 1907, state Gov. James N. Gillett gave a speech at Lodi’s Tokay Carnival. When the yearly Grape Festival began in 1934, several California governors appeared in Lodi, including Govs. Frank Merriam, Goodwin Knight, Earl Warren and Pat Brown.
Over the years, Hollywood stars also visited Lodi during its annual Grape Festivals. Some stars in the 1930s through the 1950s included Joey Brown, Leo Carrillo, Victor McLaglan and Lawrence Welk in 1958.
A & W Root Beer
Lodi may be better known for its wine, but A & W Root Beer is another beverage that claims its roots here.
Roy Allen had a friend’s tasty recipe of herbs, spices, barks and berries that comprised a refreshing root beer. He served the beverage for the first time at a June 4, 1919, parade welcoming home Lodi’s World War I veterans. His root beer was a hit.
Allen opened more stands selling his beverage and took on a partner named Frank Wright. They called their product A & W Root Beer after their initials and expanded the business. Within a couple of years, Allen bought out Wright but kept the brand name.
The company expanded throughout the western states and returned to Lodi in 1954 with the restaurant on Lodi Avenue. Today there are more than 1,200 A & W Root Beer restaurants in the world.
Showdown in the Grape Bowl
On Feb. 12, 1950, more than 24,000 people jammed into Lodi’s Grape Bowl stadium to watch the highly publicized showdown between two of the West’s premier collegiate quarterbacks.
The showdown was between Eddie LeBaron, a football sensation from Stockton’s College of the Pacific, and Bob Celeri, ace quarterback from the University of California, Berkeley.
Both quarterbacks were seniors who had just finished undefeated seasons in different leagues in 1949. The San Francisco Chronicle suggested the game as a way to settle for once and for all which player was the best.
LeBaron’s team won the game with a score of 7-6. Both men went on to play football professionally.
College in Woodbridge
On the northwest edge of Lodi, the community of Woodbridge in the late 1800s was known as the “Athens of San Joaquin County.”
San Joaquin Valley College, the region’s only higher education institution, operated in the pioneer community from 1883 to 1897. College classes included Latin, science, history, politics, literature, philosophy, psychology and Bible study. There were also courses of study for business, teaching and music. Four-year graduates received bachelor’s degrees in the arts, philosophy or science.
The college’s most famous graduate was Marion DeVries in 1886. DeVries became the area’s first U.S. Congressman and later was the Chief Justice of the U.S. Customs Court of Appeals.
Today, Woodbridge Elementary School is located on the site, which is marked with a California State Landmark plaque.
Enormous fig tree in Woodbridge
Woodbridge also was famous for a fig tree that was so large it was listed in Robert Ripley’s “Believe It or Not.”
The tree, planted in 1857, grew to an immense size, with its outer tree branch circumference measured at 309 feet. Branches grew down to the ground, rooted and grew up again. The overhanging branches created a huge shaded shelter popular with picnickers.
The tree produced crops of figs twice a year for more than 100 years. The giant, aging tree was cut down in the 1970s to make room for the River Meadows housing subdivision.