by Jim Bulls
When asked to write this article, I pondered where to start and in which direction to go. I decided that I would start somewhere in the middle—the day I went to get my first library card to be exact.
Back then the library was located at the southwest corner of G and 10th streets, in what today is called the “Turn of the Century Corner.” The year was 1947, the same year the Royal Valley Packing Co. built their packing house along the Santa Fe tracks at 8th Street.
Mrs. Neva Hunsberger was the librarian. Librarians were known as custodians in those days. Mr. Ramsey was the janitor at Lincoln School. When library custodians evolved into librarians, the janitors became custodians.
Everyone’s job raised in stature.
I remember proudly signing my new card “Jimmy Bulls,” but to my dismay, this was rejected by Mrs. Hunsberger!“That’s not your name Jimmy. Go home and learn to spell your correct name and learn to write it in cursive.” That was the first time that I ever used my entire name, James Howard Bulls, and it was on a library card.
Back in 1897, Mrs. Joel Smith brought ten Reedley women together to form a book club. They called themselves the Women’s Lyceum Club and they met in the lobby of the new Santa Fe Railroad depot.
By the time the turn of the century rolled around, the ladies had changed their club name to the Reedley Culture Club. The membership had expanded to 25, and the club joined the Traveling Library Program. Reedley’s men folk and children must have felt left out, because someone suggested that a public library be organized.
Mrs. Fayette Micheltree, the wife of the editor of the Reedley Ledger newspaper, cleaned out half of the newspaper office to house the library. Local residents donated the books from their personal shelves, and the Masonic Lodge held a book social to gather books. Local historian and author John C. McCubbin donated 250 books from his personal library. The new public library was off to a great start!
However, the newspaper office was soon bursting at the seams with books, and was in dire need of more space. An arrangement was made with English’s Ice Cream Parlor to line the walls with books. This was a “win-win” situation.
The English girls, Ester, Ellen or Iva, could scoop up an ice cream cone and check out books at the same time. One might say this was a forerunner to Starbucks with Wi-Fi.
Reedley joined the Fresno County Free Library system in 1910 when the library occupied space in the Winnes Building. When the building was threatened by fire, the bucket brigade was successful in containing the fire to the block across the street and the library was saved.
In the 1920s, the post office moved from G and 10th streets to the J.C. Penney building, and the library moved into the former post office. The library remained there until Fresno County built the new county building on the corner of G and 8th streets in the early 1950s. This building housed court rooms and the Health & Agricultural Department, along with the Reedley branch of the Fresno County Free Library.
By the 1970s, the library was again running out of space. Efforts were unsuccessful in gaining funding for a new library by Fresno County. Chamber of Commerce president Stan Reimer asked Budd Brockett to head up a committee to pursue the possibility of obtaining a new library. Those that served on the committee were historian G.A. “Gus” Reimer, District Supervisor Jim Cassidy, Reedley Exponent owner Jim Hage, and the Poet Laureate of California (and former 33rd District State Assemblyman) Charles “Gus” Garrigus to lobby on behalf of a new library.
Local businessman Elmer Kusch of Valley Land and Investment Co., and contractor Lowell Kliewer proposed that they could build the library, providing Fresno County would sign a long-term lease for the building. The deal was accepted. The Reedley Branch moved into the new building behind the post office on E Street in September of 1973.
It is hard to imagine that our current library is close to 50 years old. According to Jim Leesch of Friends of the Library, the current facility only has 5,000 sq. ft. yet serves approximately 25,000 people. It is high time to bring our library into the new millennium.
Initially the Granger warehouse building was considered for the purpose. The building had room not only for the library, but also space for a meeting room large enough to hold 1,000 people. Although impressed with the possibility, the County Librarian didn’t choose that option.
In the end, the City of Reedley donated the 1.4 acres of land formerly used by Royal Valley Packing, to the library cause. The property will be owned by Fresno County.
According to newspaper sources and the Friends of the Library, the new library will cost nearly $6 million, including $4 million from Measure B, the eighth-of-a-cent sales tax measure that supports Fresno County libraries. About $2 million in matching funds is expected to come from the Reedley community to pay for furnishings and other items.
The new library will be classified a regional library and will be one of the largest in Fresno County. The only thing holding up construction now, is getting the matching funds. Fortunately, the people of Reedley have always reached deep into their pockets to fund community projects. I don’t expect this project to be any different.
I can’t really close an article about libraries without mentioning the “library from the dark side.” Officially known as Stewarts, a pool hall on G Street, the establishment had a full, open front running the width of the building. The area in front of the swing doors held the largest magazine rack between Fresno and Visalia. In addition to magazines like Look, Life, Popular Mechanics, Esquire, Hot Rod, Car Craft, Mad, and all of your favorite comic books, there were revolving racks filled with paperback books. All of the major newspapers were available, including the Wall Street Journal.
Many a mother shopping downtown, would grab her son by the head and point his face straight down the street, not allowing him to look into the pool hall. Behind those swinging doors were pool tables, card tables and pinball machines that actually paid off. Reedley High School boys referred to the business as “Stewart’s Library and Social Club.”
For more local and California history articles, including more Reedley history articles by Jim, be sure and check out our Hometown History section.