Historic fire rages in Patterson’s downtown
by Ron Swift | Patterson Irrigator
May 28, 2014 | 1715 views | 0 0 comments | 53 53 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Firefighters battle the South Third Street blaze 50 years ago this week. ----Photo by Ron Swift, File Photo
Firefighters battle the South Third Street blaze 50 years ago this week. ----Photo by Ron Swift, File Photo
Longtime Patterson residents will remember the tragedy, but probably not the anniversary date.

It was 50 years ago this week – Thursday, May 28, 1964 – that a fire destroyed a major portion of downtown South Third Street. It was the city’s largest fire at that time, exceeded since by the conflagration that destroyed the Del Puerto Hotel in 1996.

Destroyed in 1964 were several buildings that dated to the community’s early days. The wood-framed structures were built between 1912-15.

They included buildings housing Patterson Hardware, Freddie’s TV and Appliances, a storage building rented by E.L. Fink & Son, and Cripe’s Barber Shop. A portion of the Triangle Club bar and the upstairs of the Welty Hotel suffered major damage.

Wade Cripe, who grew up in Patterson, was the owner of the hardware store and was about to retire. His going-out-of-business sale was only days from concluding. Fred Whitman owned the TV business, while Melvin “Rusty” Fleming and Homer Buhl were the bar owners.

A fire call came in shortly after 3 a.m. It apparently was first noticed by workers at Patterson Frozen Foods who spotted a red glow in the sky. The fire’s cause was never determined.

Fire Chief Ossie Ball sped to the scene, intending to check the validity of the alarm before calling out his volunteer firefighters. He found the back of the structures engulfed in flame.

Records indicate that eight were renting hotel rooms. One aroused the others, and all— including the manager— escaped unharmed.

Nine fire engines, including two sent by the Navy from its Crows Landing base and another from Newman, were used to fight the fire which burned well into the day. Volunteers were called back several times in the next few days to douse smoldering ruins.

Ball credited his volunteers with keeping the flames from spreading across the alley to businesses fronting on Del Puerto Avenue. He estimated the loss at between $250,000 and $300,000. In all, the fire-fighting personnel numbered 87.

The ground floor bar business suffered mostly water damage. The neighboring Snider Chevrolet had only minor damage.

Now, 50 years later, the only evidence of the fire is the open space on South Third. The buildings were never reconstructed.


With part of the city work crew sprucing up our downtown park, a few others might check out our stop sign corners. Some signs are hidden behind sagging tree foliage, including one on my corner – South Seventh and E streets. They create a hazard.

Alright, some of the rest of us may have sagging problems as well, but that’s not the city’s responsibility.

Having spent a short time recently in Cambria, I can report that tourist business there is booming. So is the price of gas— $4.80 a gallon. We filled up elsewhere.

And by the way, Hearst Castle is a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Too many tourists.

Learning that a 42-year-old woman had been gunned down early last Saturday morning in east Patterson, numerous Pattersonites were left shaking the heads over the weekend. Not only very tragic, but very frightening.

Watching Antique Roadshow the other day on the telly, I did a double take when a woman responded to the value of her antique.

She exclaimed, “Hot Dog!” That took me back. I hadn’t heard that expression in over 50 years.


A reader calls attention to the Westley signs at the entrance to that community.

On Grayson Road, the sign reads, “Population 500, Elevation 85.” But on Highway 33, the figures increase to “Population 787, Elevation 87.”

Anyone have a reason why?

As I remember, Westley’s head count was listed as 500 when I arrived in these parts over 50 years ago. The signs remained unchanged for years.


The Patterson Township Historical Society needs a number of Patterson High yearbooks for its museum.

Donations from the following years would be appreciated: 1916, 1922, 1990, and 1992 through 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2009.

Just call the museum – 892-8971.


No need to worry about NBA owners paying out those big bucks for giants to run around the hardwood in shorts. They (including Donald Sterling) apparently have plenty of money.

Here’s an example.

The Cleveland Cavilers recently fired Coach Mike Brown. He was only one year – and a bad one at that – into his five-year $20 million contract.

Thus if Brown chooses only to play golf the next four years, he’ll be well-paid.


Enjoy graduation and the Fiesta – Patterson’s busiest week of the year.

At least you won’t get bored.

Ron Swift is editor/publisher emeritus of the Patterson Irrigator. He can be reached at ronkay@gvni.com.
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