by Jim Bulls
Before the year 1892, Reedley awakened to activity on G Street where today we enjoy Pioneer Park. Chinese laborers were building brick kilns for the Craycroft Brick Company. These kilns would fire bricks that would be used to build two warehouses commissioned by the Granger’s Bank of California, located in San Francisco.
Granger’s Bank was founded by members of the Patrons of Husbandry, also known as “The Grange.” This organization was concerned with the conditions of farmers and the first California State Grange was established in 1870 in Pilot Hill, California. By 1874, California had 156 granges. There was a grange in Dinuba and one in the rural area north of Reedley, but there is no record of a grange ever being in Reedley.
Large scale agriculture was a fairly new industry for California. It wasn’t until the gold fever died down that people began to realize there was more than mineral wealth in California’s soil. In 1862, California only produced enough wheat for itself, but by 1880 the total crop had reached 45 million bushels.
Because of California’s geographical location, wheat was shipped directly to the Liverpool Corn Exchange in England. Shipping was controlled by “commission men” who bought up the crop, stored it, and then shipped it via the Central Pacific Railroad. In 1870, wheat was being sold for $68 a ton, while California farmers only received $28 a ton. Farmers were convinced that the middlemen were controlling the wheat prices and that the existing banks discriminated against them and also aided in manipulating the market.
At the California Grange State Meeting in 1874, delegates from 130 local granges and state officers voted to establish a bank. It opened its doors on April 1, 1874, and within one year had two million dollars on deposit and a paid up capital of half a million dollars. Reportedly Granger’s Bank saved California farmers during the wheat depression by loaning them three million dollars, which allowed them to store their wheat until there was a rise in the market.
In addition to the bank, the Grange organized a business association for buying and shipping crops, and built facilities for storing wheat and grain. Granger’s Bank built two of these grain storage warehouses in Reedley and Dinuba in 1892.
The Granger twins were built from the same blueprints and are identical in style, with the exception that Reedley’s warehouse is longer and has 20,000 sq. feet of unobstructed storage area. The Reedley Granger was known as the “largest grain warehouse west of the Mississippi.” Eventually the building would become the birthplace of Sun-Maid Raisins.
For over 120 years, these buildings have served their communities well. The little sister is hardly recognizable today. Her loading dock has been removed, most of her arched doorways are sealed in, and a slick coat of plaster hides her Craycroft bricks. Only a few, minute architectural details and her hip roof give away her age and origin. This building is now home to Dinuba’s Amber Foods Inc.
Reedley’s Granger shows off her Craycroft bricks under a coat of tan paint that is starting to peel off. The galvanized metal roof shows the patina of old age. Currently the building sits in limbo; stuck in a political quagmire.
Within the last two or three years, the Friends of the Library and the Reedley Historical Society hired the engineering and architectural firm of Scott Vincent to perform tests on the Granger to see if the building was worth saving. This firm specializes in retrofitting historic buildings to meet the structural specifications for earthquakes and today’s other building standards. The findings were very favorable. Vincent presented the group with cost estimates, a proposed site plan for the exterior, interior, parking lot and landscaping. The firm proved that the building could be retrofitted to a safe, modern-day building in a 122 year old facade.
Since the State of California has revoked all of the redevelopment agency programs, the Granger is supposedly in their hands. There is also talk that Kings Canyon Unified School District hopes to “purchase” the building site for the location of a new district office.
The Reedley Historical Society recently went on record supporting the preservation of the warehouse. It is their position, and a correct one, that there is no other structure standing in Reedley that better represents the historical origins of the community.
If the school district were to purchase the building, I would hope that they would utilize an architectural firm that could retrofit the building to suit their needs. True, they won’t need 20,000 sq. feet of office space, but consider that the Reedley Museum is a neighbor and we live in a community known as “the Fruit Basket of the World” and we have no agricultural museum. Sure, a district office will bring people downtown to eat lunch and maybe visit the farmer’s market on Wednesday nights, but Reedley could attract many more people with the Granger’s as part of the cornerstone of Reedley’s historical downtown. KCUSD’s business is education, and what better way to teach history then to preserve it.
One City Council member remarked that the building could sit for another ten years doing nothing. Well, the Granger’s Warehouse has been sitting there for almost 125 years. In fact, the building has weathered every California earthquake since 1892, including the big ones: San Francisco in 1906, Tehachapi in 1952 and Loma Prieta in 1989 (8.3,7.7, and 7.1 respectively). What’s another decade to a survivor?
For more local and California history articles, including more Reedley history articles by Jim, be sure and check out our Hometown History section.