Established in August 1869, Lodi was born when the Central Pacific Railroad laid its tracks over the untamed, oak-studded brush land near the Mokelumne River.
The pioneer town that developed around that rail stop grew steadily. Lodi was first known for grain and watermelons in the late 1800s, and then it became known for Tokay grapes and finally Zinfandel grapes and fine wine.
Throughout its agricultural evolution over the decades, Lodi also grew as a city rich in local history. Lodi is fortunate to have many historical sites still visible to appreciate today.
Lodi Arch, Pine Street, east of Sacramento Street
The Lodi Arch was built in 1907 and is one of the state’s few remaining Mission-style arches. It is registered as a California Historical Landmark and a National Historical Landmark.
Built for $500, the arch spanned Pine Street and was intended to serve as an entrance to the Tokay Carnival, the city’s first grand harvest festival held to “advertise to the world the beauty and value of the Tokay grape.” Lodi then called itself “the Tokay Capital of the World.”
From 1908 to the early 1930s, a fire bell inside the arch alerted volunteer firefighters when they were needed.
In 1909, the Lodi Parlor of Native Sons stole a paper mache bear that the Stockton club used as a parade float decoration. The Lodi group put the stolen bear on top of the arch, facing south toward Stockton. In 1934, a new, sturdier bear was built and painted gold.
In the mid-1950s, the aging arch had become an eyesore. Some wanted it torn down. Others started a “Save the Arch” campaign and restored it. Among the renovations, the bear got an extra layer of plaster and was turned around to face north toward the state Capitol in Sacramento. The arch was re-dedicated in 1956.
In 2001 Lodi sign painter Tony Segale wanted to spruce up the bear, and he restored it with a 23-karat gold leaf finish.
Original City Hall, southeast corner of Main and Locust streets
The city’s first City Hall was built in 1912 and cost $3,998.
It was a two-story brick structure. This small building had offices for the city clerk, city engineer, the superintendent of public utilities, the fire department and a room for fire department equipment like the hook-and-ladder and hose wagons. Upstairs, there was a meeting room for the Board of Trustees and a room for the firemen’s sleeping quarters.
The jail portion was added to the building in 1914. This completed the city’s first civic complex.
It was the city’s only fire station until 1925 when a second one was built. The city government moved out in 1928 when a new municipal building was erected at 221 W. Pine St. The fire department used the building as Station No. 1 until 1967.
Since the early 1980s, the building has been used for storage. At one time, the City Council considered tearing it down, but Lodi Historical Society members objected. Instead, the building was saved, but there has been no plan or money set aside for restoration.
Japantown, Main Street between Oak and Elm streets
These two blocks represent the most concentrated and intact collection of historical structures identified by the statewide group Preserving California’s Japantowns.
This historic district was the business and residential hub for Japanese immigrants beginning in the 1890s. Japanese men came to Lodi to work as laborers in the farms. Women from Japan started arriving to become “picture brides” in the arranged marriages. The Japanese population grew.
By 1910, Lodi’s Japantown was thriving. Along Main Street, families lived in the second stories of the buildings with their businesses located on the ground floor. Families sometimes lived just in the back rooms of the businesses. Outdoor bathhouses and gardens were behind the buildings. The street offered a complete economic base for the families and familiar goods and foods for Japanese workers who came to work in the vineyards and harvest the grapes and other crops in the summer and fall each year.
Main Street, especially in the roaring 1920s, was the frequent scene of police raids trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to stop the gambling and drinking and prostitution houses. But this is a part of the history people don’t speak about often.
By 1940 there were about 800 Japanese residents, and Lodi’s Japantown included a Buddhist Church, four general stores, a fish market, a drug store, six restaurants, a pool hall, a tofu maker, laundry and five hotels.
Following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the May 1942 relocation of Japanese residents, Main Street became a ghost town with boarded up windows. Main Street was never the same vibrant community.
Lodi is one of 22 historic Japantowns identified in the state.
Location where A&W Root Beer was first served, 13 W. Pine St.
Lodi may be more well known for its wine, but there is another famous beverage that traces its roots here — A&W Root Beer.
Roy Allen was a traveling businessman in Arizona when he acquired a retired chemist’s recipe of herbs, spices, barks and berries that made a tasty root beer. Allen settled in Lodi, and that’s where he decided to try out this recipe.
On June 4, 1919, he set up a stand outside 13 W. Pine St. and unveiled his root beer to the thousands of people attending a special homecoming parade for Lodi’s returning World War I veterans. People loved the root beer, and Allen began selling it in ice-cold mugs for a nickel apiece.
He soon opened stands in Stockton and Sacramento. In 1922, he took on a partner named Frank Wright. Combining the initials of their last names, the partners began calling their beverage A&W Root Beer. By 1924 or 1925, they closed the stand here in Lodi, but expanded operations rapidly throughout the nation.
In 1954, A&W returned to Lodi, when the restaurant opened at 216 E. Lodi Ave.
Lodi Opera House, 6 S. School St.
The Lodi Opera House, built in 1905 for a reported $32,000, was the city’s hub for respectable entertainment. Charles Van Buskirk, a lumberman from Wisconsin who moved to Lodi in 1893, built it. He was an astute businessman and developer who by the early 1900s bought 40 lots and changed the face of Downtown Lodi from a dusty pioneer town into a modern city.
Van Buskirk was a man of high morals who felt that liquor, tobacco and dancing were sinful. The saloons in Lodi appalled him, and the Opera House was his way of offering an alternative. He built the grand, two-story building to be a modern entertainment hall where refined, artistic shows could be performed and no alcohol or tobacco would be allowed.
The building had a ground floor for retail business space and a basement. The second story was equipped with the stage, balcony and seating for 900 on a slowly sloping floor that allowed audience members to see over the flamboyant hats of the ladies seated in front.
The grand opening in January 1905 was a lavish affair and featured the Tivoli Opera Company of San Francisco’s performance of “King Dodo.” It was a huge success.
Operas, plays, concerts, orations and magic acts entertained Lodians for the next seven years. But by 1913, people were more interested in going to see the new motion pictures. Live performances were less popular, and the Lodi Opera House faded away.
Lodi City Hall, 221 W. Pine St.
By the mid-1920s, Lodi had grown rapidly and needed a new city government building. The city started saving money in 1923.
In 1924, the city bought these two lots on West Pine Street close to the library. There was some criticism that the land was too far out of town.
In 1927, construction started on the Italian Renaissance-style brick building that had a basement, two floors, tile roof and Philippine mahogany floor inside. The building cost $70,472.20 to build and equip with everything from steel furniture and opera chairs to Venetian blinds. The city paid cash with income earned from the city-owned utilities. No tax increase or bonds were necessary.
Lodi City Hall was formally dedicated Feb. 22, 1928.
The police department worked out of the basement until 1967, when the new Public Safety Building was completed. In 1996, a $3 million renovation was completed on the building. It is still the headquarters for Lodi city government.
Carnegie Forum, 302 W. Pine St.
This building was originally the first Lodi Public Library. Built in 1910 with $9,000 donated by steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who gave money nationwide to build libraries in small communities. This was the first permanent home for the library that began as a simple reading room with a few donated books in 1882.
The building was dedicated on Feb. 12, 1910. By June, 400 residents had library cards. The first librarian was Joalison Swallow, who was paid $50 a month and also expected to do janitorial work.
After more than 60 years in this location, Lodi outgrew the old library, and a new one was built in 1979. This building then was used only for storage, but 10 years later it had a new purpose.
On Aug. 15, 1989, the old library building was re-dedicated as Carnegie Forum, where the Lodi City Council and other civic commissions hold public meetings.
Lodi Woman’s Club building, northeast corner of Pine and Lee streets
The Lodi Woman’s Club building is nearly 90 years old and is listed with the state and federal registry of historical places. The grand colonial-style building took eight years to build, from the first plans and fundraising in 1915 to the building dedication in 1923. That perseverance of the group was typical of the Lodi women.
The Lodi women first organized as a group in 1906. They were the Lodi Improvement Club organized to assist in Lodi’s progress and betterment. They raised money for the library and to provide better fire protection, streets and sidewalks, and garbage collection. Among the early projects was installing a water fountain on Sacramento Street to offer an alternative drink for the men who frequented the saloons.
In 1908, the club officially became the Lodi Woman’s Club. Construction on their club building began in 1922. The building featured an auditorium that was the largest in Lodi at the time. The building was delayed because they waited for designer A.B. Bassenett to return from Italy. The women felt he was worth the wait, and the building’s French doors and Italian Renaissance chandeliers, still in use today, show the effort. The building cost $51,000 to build and furnish.
When it was completed in March 1923, the club had 450 members. Dues were $5. Today the membership is more than 100. The building remains a busy place and is the location for weddings and other social functions.
Hutchins Street Square, Hutchins Street between Oak and Walnut streets
Hutchins Street Square originally was Lodi Union High School, built in 1913. It opened for classes on Oct. 6 that year. After some additions in the 1920s, the school facility included a second-story pool that bridged between the boys and girls gyms and separate buildings for science, music, auto shop and home economics.
Lodi grew and another high school was built further west in the 1950s. Despite the aging buildings, this old campus continued to be used for high school classes until the spring of 1974.
On March 17, 1974, arsonists, reportedly students trying to burn up records in the office, set fire to the school. Much of the school was destroyed. As fate would have it, an already scheduled school bond election was held a few weeks later, and voters overwhelmingly saw the need to approve $13.7 million in bonds. This site was abandoned and became an eyesore while a new Tokay High School was built on the southwest edge of the city.
In 1980, the city of Lodi bought the old high school site for $475,000, and fundraising began to build the facility today known as Hutchins Street Square. In the 1980s, condemned buildings were demolished, and the gyms and music building were renovated. In 1990 the gyms were reborn as a modern Senior Center that operates a day care center for the elderly and big hall available to rent for private functions. In 1998, the Square’s final project — the Performing Arts and Conference Center — was completed.
Hutchins Street Square today is the busy venue for band concerts, plays, high school proms, weddings, class reunions, daily senior activities and recreation classes taught in the upstairs swimming pool.
Hill House, 826 S. Church St.
Built in 1901, the Hill House was the home of George Washington and Mary Lewis Hill and their two children.
Hill was one of Lodi’s earliest pioneers who opened a jewelry store in 1870. He and his wife, Mary, had a daughter, Nellie, and a son, Maurice. In 1901, they built their grand, two-story Victorian home at 115 S. School St., across from the Post Office. George hired twin brothers Ed and Fred Cary, the finest builders of the time.
The Hills and Mary’s sister, Daisy Pleas, moved into the home. Pleas worked as a watchmaker at Hill’s store and was believed to be California’s first female watchmaker. The home was the scene of many social functions for the United Methodist Church and other groups. Both children were talented pianists, songwriters, and artists. By the late 1930s, Maurice was the only family member left living in the house.
In 1948, Lodi’s Downtown had grown, and it was uncomfortable to live in the residence. So Maurice had the house moved. That year the house was cut in half and moved to its present location, about six blocks away at 826 S. Church St.
In 1984, Maurice Hill died. In his will, Hill left the house and its original contents in a trust with the stipulation that the collection be turned into a museum so the people of Lodi could see how people lived in the early years.
Today, the Lodi Historical Society and its volunteers open the house and lead tours every Sunday afternoon.