Holy shopping carts! There are plans in the works to turn the National Guard armory and the adjoining softball field into the mother of all homeless sanctuaries. The property is on Washington Street between Lockeford and Stockton Streets.

All told, the proposal could accommodate up to 118 spaces and potentially a couple hundred people. According to an architectural drawing prepared by the city, the armory building would become a commissary with an administration building behind it. The softball field next to it would accommodate 110 shelters — presumably tents — along with space for eight “tiny homes.” The plan also calls for a community plaza, three gathering areas, a chapel and dog park on what is now Tom Chapman field (Armory Park).

This site has previously been undisclosed by the city, but the state initially included the armory on its “surplus property” list and indicated it could be a candidate for housing the homeless. However, the state has since dropped the site from its list. The city’s plans would probably call for purchase of the property from the state. The city was originally considering six “tiny homes” for the homeless to be sited either at the corner of Lodi Avenue and Sacramento Street, or Lodi Avenue and Washington. However, an environmental impact report revealed issues at both locations.

The city council was slated to decide on July 15 which Lodi Avenue site to go with, but the agenda item did not appear. There’s no word on when the council will discuss its plans for the armory, however neighbors to that location say they are vehemently opposed to hosting a homeless encampment there and will vigorously fight it. If the armory does become a homeless shelter, it should enable police to enforce “no camping” rules in parks and other public places.

CLOSED: Bank of America’s main branch in downtown Lodi is closed because of COVID-19. We’ve also heard from readers saying the ATMs there were recently out of cash. The other branch on Kettleman Lane is apparently open, but lines at the ATM machines are long. Must be where the cash is. … Lodi’s Farmers and Merchants Bank was a big player in the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), having funded $347.4 million in loans to local businesses. For that, the bank raked in $11.2 million in loan fees.

ON YOUR MARK: Well, there’s going to be at least one new face on the Lodi City Council come December, maybe two. In the November election that will determine who will represent council districts 4 and 5, there are potentially eight candidates and counting. Four people, including JoAnne Mounce, have taken out nomination papers for district 4, in which Mounce is the incumbent. Other contenders include Shakir Khan, Natalie Bowman and Ramon Yepez.

Only Mounce had returned the paperwork and been certified as a qualified candidate at press time. Over in district 5, Hector Madrigal, Mikey Hothi, Andrew Kirby and Michael McKnight have taken out papers. There hasn’t been a change in council faces for six years. Four years ago, Mounce and Bob Johnson ran unopposed, so there was no election. Since then, Johnson passed away and the city has gone to district elections. This will be Mounce’s fifth term, if re-elected. Only one other council member in modern history — James Pinkerton — has been elected five times. Deadline for filing papers is this Friday, Aug. 7.

UP IN SMOKE: One of Lodi’s oldest buildings was ravaged by fire about 10 days ago. The old Rex Pool Hall on Sacramento Street was set ablaze in the early morning hours, gutting the building and heavily damaging the tattoo parlor next door. Almost $6,000 has been raised so far on a GoFundMe page that was set up for the couple who lived upstairs and lost everything.

The Lodi Fire Department should be recognized for how quickly they put out the fire and stopped the spread to adjoining structures, all of which are more than 100 years old. Over a century ago that block of Sacramento Street wasn’t so lucky. The Novelty Planing Mill, located at the corner of School and Pine streets, then considered to be the outskirts of town, caught fire Oct. 11, 1887 and resulted in a blaze that nearly “erased” the town from existence. Indeed, the whole block, save one building, burned to the ground, causing an estimated $70,000 in damages. When the smoke had cleared, only the Friedberger-Kaiser building, made of brick and located on the corner of Sacramento and Elm Streets, survived. It is believed to be the oldest building in Lodi today.

Before it was over, some of the town’s first businesses were reduced to a pile of smoldering ash, including the planing mill, Hill’s Jewelry Store, Collins’ hardware store, Cope’s harness and saddle shop, Laron’s restaurant, Smith and Son’s butcher shop, Mundell’s barber shop, Chalmer’s restaurant, Hanson and Company drug store, and three saloons. The building that recently burned started out as a hardware store owned by J. J. Collins. According to historian Christi Weybret, “Tom and Woods Henderson became the store owners, and then beginning in 1909, the Henderson Brothers business had a shared ownership between Edwin Steacy, Bill Spooner and Gus Gerlach.

In 1940, the owners moved Henderson Brothers hardware store location one block south. When Henderson Brothers moved, Charles Vollbrecht started a liquor store. After a short time, Herb Reimche and Harold Kirkbride opened the Rex Pool Hall. By 1960, Herb's brother, Mervin Reimche, became the owner of the cafe and pool hall. The Rex was a popular spot offering different food, liquor, pool and card playing for years.” The property is now owned by the World of Wonders (WOW) Museum, which has plans to raze that building along with several others next to it, to make way for a grand expansion of the museum.

REMEMBRANCE: We note the recent passing of lifelong Lodian Wendel Kiser, 66, who died from COVID-19 on July 26. Wendel was a city planning commissioner for over 10 years, during which time he helped with the city’s general plan update. He also ran for the city council in 2014, but was narrowly defeated by Doug Kuehne with a slim 150-vote margin. Wendel owned Kiser Construction for 40 years and was previously Stockton Unified School District’s building division superintendent. Wendel did a lot for the city and he will be missed. … Sadly, there is yet another virus victim to report. Virginia Clark, who passed away at age 96 of COVID-19 complications, wanted to be remembered for what she did in the community. She was an early-day telephone operator for Ma Bell, and she volunteered for such organizations as the Haggin and Micke Grove museums. Her father had been San Joaquin Superintendent of Schools. Her mother died at age 103. Virginia wanted to best that mark, but it was not to be.

WE HAVE ANSWERS: Leslie Stutes thinks she’s got this national coin shortage figured out. She recently posted a picture on Facebook of a fountain overflowing with coins, saying, “Well, this explains it! Coin shortage is from people wishing 2020 was over.”


Steve is a former newspaper publisher and lifelong Lodian whose column appears most Tuesdays in the News-Sentinel. Write to Steve at aboutlodi@gmail.com.

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