Instead of turning right at Ryde we turned left on Highway 60 to the next bridge and crossed over the river into Walnut Grove. We parked the car and went for a wander around the small town.
(Click on the images for larger versions)
Walnut Grove is one of the earliest settlements along the Sacramento River. At the start of World War II, the town was racially segregated with whites living on the western bank of the river and Asians on the left bank. The eastern side was segregated further into a Japanese section and a Chinese section. Today it is a sleepy little town. The main street is Market Street which is divided into two sections, historic Chinese town at one end and a historic Japanese town at the other end.
We walked around the China town first but there were not many businesses left. On the corner of the street was an Mexican restaurant which was open but not at all busy. Further along was a building with an adobe front with two large round windows which were blacked out. The rest of the building was made out of corrugated sheetmetal. On the opposite side was a old building with Chinese Free Masons on the front. There was a buildings with fading pictures of underwater scenes painted by children and a building with a sign proclaiming it to be the Pump House. Then I realized it was a fitness center. Japan town was more interesting. The first building had a wood veranda and a sign which read All Sure. It was only when I checked the internet when I got home that found out it should read A.L.L. Sure. It is a construction company which began operating in 1922 and is still a going concern. But looking through the window is misleading. On one of the windows is a very interesting newspaper article, dated January 1996, on the history of Walnut Grove, Courtland and Locke. There are also old tools and bottles and an ancient train set. One of the bottles is a Mason’s Root Beer with a small American flag stuck inside. Further along is Ben’s Drugs, which is a large room with work benches inside. Goodness know what they do now, for in the window is a set of false teeth and an old aerosol can of Colgate shaving Cream. All the buildings look a bit ramshackle.
At the end of Market Street is A Street. Here it was mostly houses but in the middle on the right is a community garden. It is divided into about
twenty small plots with a variety of vegetables and flowers being cultivated. At the back was a large cat sitting. Behind the garden, we could see the back of the houses on B Street and on the roof of an upstairs veranda a pair of pigeons were engrossed in a mating dance. Also on this street was the Walnut Grove Market.
I could see Tom making a beeline towards something. A rusty truck had caught his attention. It was an old fire truck and he busy taking photos. I continued wandering along Grove Street and started all the dogs barking. I wasn’t too worried as they were behind fences and their tails were wagging. On the corner of Grove and C Street I spotted a really old tree and heavily coppiced tree. Half of it looked dead but it spread out a long way and all the branches were supported by a weird collection of wooden and metal props. On another corner, this time C Street and Tyler is the Kabuki Gallery. In the garden to the side I passed the time of day with a lady sitting in the sunshine, enjoying the moment. Just after that, Tom caught up with me and we returned to the car.
Our next stop along the way was Locke. Now this is one interesting place and if you visit nowhere else in the area, Locke is one place you just have to go to. It was built entirely by the Chinese. Back in 1915, when a disastrous fire in Walnut Grove destroyed most of China Town, Lee Bing came to an agreement with land owner, George Locke, to establish a settlement. Until recently, the residents of Locke owned the buildings but not the land. There are only three streets in Locke – Main Street, which is just a few yards down from River Road, Locke Road and Key Street. All the shops and businesses are on main street and all the houses are on the other two streets. Finding Locke is not difficult but easily missed. It is only half a mile north of Walnut Grove. Watch out for a large boathouse on the left hand side. There used to be two roads into Locke but they have been turned into one way streets.
We parked right outside the Chinese School, which is now a museum. All the buildings on Main Street are two stories and narrow and most of them have verandas over the sidewalk with balconies above. All the supports don’t look sturdy or straight enough to hold up the balconies and some of the buildings look very unstable. Most of the buildings are shops with several galleries and one famous bar. The bar is called Als Place but it has the politically incorrect name of Al the Wops. The building has been a bar since it was built in 1915 and Als Place since 1934.
Tom wandered off down the main street. I spent the entire time on Main Street. When I got out of the car I went to investigate the school. I climbed the steps to the porch and found the door locked, so I gazed in through the window. When I came down the steps again, I met a Chinese lady who told me the museum did not open until 12 noon. I then proceeded to have a very interesting chat with the lady who told me she was 86 years old and had lived in Locke for 61 years. Her kids had been raised here and went the the school behind me. She was now partially blind and could not see my face very well but could make out my gray sweater. For 55 years she had fought with ‘Mr Locke’ for the Chinese to buy the land. She also went on to say that she helps out at the Locke Boarding House Museum and was waiting for ‘the man with the key’ to arrive. I later found out that I had been speaking to Connie King, the unofficial mayor of Locke and whose name appears on the copper bass relief monument in the Community Park. By this time, Tom was nowhere to be seen.
Apart from the Chinese School and the Locke Boarding House, there is one other museum on Main Street and that is the Dai-Loy Gambling House which I investigated on my own. I walked inside to find nobody there at all. The inside was dimly lit and it I imagine it looked exactly as it did in it’s heydays back in the 1930′s. There were rickety tables dotted about with an assortment of Chinese gambling paraphernalia displayed on top. Off the main room were several smaller rooms. One was a Locker Room, another the Money Room and the third the Lottery Room. It was a fascinating insight into the main pastime of the Chinese men back in the early part of last century. Women were not allowed inside and nor were white men. I felt as though I had stepped back in time and could imagine the outraged looks of the ghosts who surely still inhabit the place.
Outside once again, I stopped outside a book shop. I’d spotted a map of Locke on the door which which hand drawn and showed all the walkways and alleys of Locke. While I was studying it, a lady came up behind me and started to talk to me. She was a resident of Locke and had lived here quite a few years and had not noticed the map before. When she looked closely she was horrified to find that a dotted line was shown on her street. In fact there is a sign at the beginning of the street saying ‘residents only’. She went on to tell me what it was like to live in Locke. Most of what she said was very positive and considered it a great place. There are two completely separate communities there; the residents and the business community. What she loves about the place is the ‘make do and mend’ mentality of the original inhabitants and which is still carried on today. Nearly everything is recycled and you can walk around and see many instances where objects and materials have been used to repair and enhance properties. She recounted tales of visitors wandering onto her porch and peering through the windows and how one day a group of people appeared from behind her house and were walking up the stairway to the back of her house. When she asked them what they were doing they replied that they had every right as Locke was a historic park and they could wander at will. This is not the case. The homes are private and visitors should respect their privacy. I quite agree.
Tom had appeared in the middle of my conversation. He had been investigating the streets at the back. We have been here before and I
remembered that one of the houses right at the back had a collection of old toilets which had been used as plant pots and he had been taking photos of it. We walked back towards the car and visited the Chinese School Museum, which was now open. Inside are the original wooden desks with the inkwells at the top and the shelves underneath for books. Many photos adorned the walls of former pupils back in their school days. From there we crossed Locke Road to the Locke Boarding House where I again met up with Connie King. On the wall in the downstairs main room is a large painting of Connie sitting in her garden and, guess what, she is sitting on an old toilet, surrounded by her toilet plant pots! Upstairs in the Locke Boarding House you can wander around the tiny rooms and the one bathroom, which were rented out to migrant workers. The owners were Japanese and they were sent to an internment camp during Wold War II and never returned.
Sadly it was time to wend our way home but we did make one more stop in Walnut Grove. This was at Mel’s Mocha & Ice Cream. We went inside and ordered a chocolate malt for Tom and a vanilla one for me and then sat outside to eat them – they were far too thick to drink. What a delicious treat made with real malt. It was so pleasant to sit there with a view of the river bank – the actual river was too far down to see. Soon we were back on the road and making our way to Isleton but ended up taking the scenic route by mistake. We should have crossed the river and taken 160 south or we could have even taken the River Road bridge over a smaller slough to Isleton Road. Instead we took Race Track Road along the eastern bank of Georgiana Slough, turning right onto Tyler Island Road until we saw a sign for Isleton. Eventually we came to Highway 160 and were back on track to the Antioch Bridge and homeward bound.
March 26 2009 04:16 pm | Special Places