The cloud of gloom which threatened the entire world in the late 1930s burst into flames in 1939 when Adolph Hitler’s Nazi war machine invaded Poland. World War II had begun. Following Poland’s defeat by Hitler’s attack, the German army turned west and rolled over defenseless Holland and Belgium. Then the thought-to-be unstoppable French Maginot Line was breached. Nazi divisions poured through the gap and did not stop until they had reached the English Channel. Between May 26 and June 4, 1940 what was left of the allied forces was evacuated from Dunkirk to the British Isles.
By 1940, it became increasingly clear to Americans that Great Britain was fighting alone against the forces of aggression. This called for immediate action. At the request of President Franklin Roosevelt, Congress voted large sums of money to expand our armed forces, which were at frighteningly low levels. The Selective Service Act was enacted and, for the first time in its peacetime history, United States citizens between the ages of 21 and 35 were subject to military conscription – “The Draft.”
In October 1940, a notice appeared in the Roseville Tribune and Register stating that all men between the ages of 21 and 35 must register for military service with city clerk/draft board officer Raleigh Terry. Local bank clerk Joseph E. Morrish was the first Roseville man to be called up for service. Meanwhile, the City of Roseville geared up for the possibility of war. City fathers announced in June, 1940 that city employees who were drafted would have their jobs waiting for them at war’s end and the railroads made extensive preparation for the ever-increasing movement of troops and munitions trains through the local rail yard. Then, in May of 1941, the local high school opened classes for those interested in national defense work. The following month a USO campaign, under the chairmanship of Walter Kofeldt, raised $1,200. A local unit of the state guard was started and by August 1941, some 35 men had signed up, plus an additional 25 from nearby Lincoln.
News of the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent U.S. entry into the war spurred Roseville on to still greater efforts. In December 1941, the Roseville Civilian Defense Council was formed under the jurisdiction of the local police department; air raid alarms were installed at City Hall and bond drives were organized under the leadership of D. J. Gautier. Still greater sacrifice was called for upon receiving news of Roseville’s first war casualty, Arthur Frederickson in the Philippines (March 1942). Another local son, Harvey Pace, was one of many Americans in the notorious Bataan Death March. The files of The Press Tribune for 1942 are filled with articles about bond, salvage and other drives to help the war effort.
Some 200 local boys signed up for the draft in June 1942 and many more left school early to join up. That same month, The Press Tribune published a letter from Mrs. Evelyn Scott, the first Roseville woman to join the newly formed Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC). Roseville sent 1,250 of its young men and women off to war. This represented about 20 percent of the community’s entire population of 6,653 – a figure thought to be one of the highest per capita ratios in the entire nation.
Like the Great Depression which preceded it, Pearl Harbor and entry of the U.S. into World War II struck the country with sudden and devastating effects. On one hand, it put the finishing touches on ending the Depression from which America had been slowly recovering. On the other hand, it put increasing demands on the railroads to meet special needs, such as transporting perishable commodities, troops and armaments from one part of the county to the other. Problems caused by the war’s increasing demands were compounded by an acute labor shortage. The Pacific Fruit Express lost approximately 25 percent of its labor force of over 700 men due to military duty. To fill the void, both PFE and Southern Pacific turned to retirees, high school students, women, Native Americans and Mexican nationals (braceros). For a time in 1942, the railroad would send trucks into Sacramento to pick up anyone who wanted to work. Old boxcars were modified to provide barracks of sorts for the “Second Street Gang” as they were sometimes called and inexpensive meals were provided at cost.
By 1943, the railroad abandoned the practice of “rounding up” transient workers in favor of Federal Government agreements with Native American groups and Mexican nationals. About 100 Navajo Indians from Arizona were brought in, many with experience working at the ice plant in Yuma, Arizona. They worked at Roseville’s PFE ice plant from 1942 through the summer of 1946. Agreement with the Mexican government went into effect on April 29, 1943 adding 200 or more to the war year’s 700 man work force. The agreement between the Mexican government and the railroads proved beneficial to all parties concerned; American dollars earned here helped them obtain farms and businesses when they returned home after the war.
Women and high school students also filled gaps in the labor shortage, both at local Southern Pacific and PFE facilities and at nearby McClellan Field. Roseville High School offered classes in defense-related occupations and allowed students to leave 6th period classes 15 minutes early to catch the local Gibson bus to nearby McClellan Field where they worked the 4 p.m. to midnight swing shift. Other teenagers preferred to work closer to home for either Southern Pacific or PFE. Employees worked round-the-clock shifts with plenty of overtime available for those who wanted it. Day shifts ran from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; swing shifts from 4 p.m. to midnight; and graveyard shifts from midnight to 8 a.m. During periods of great need, many worked seven days a week. The role of this strange conglomeration of men, women, teenagers, Native Americans, and Mexican Nationals who made up the labor force during the war years cannot be forgotten.
Women at work during World War II
Between 1941 and 1945, the number of refrigerator loadings nationwide rose 34.5 percent. The work force at the local Pacific Fruit Express was pointed to with pride by PFE Vice President K.V. Plummer: “Despite fewer cars, fewer skilled workers, longer hours, scarce parts and newly integrated labor resources, they were able to keep up with demand and boost the car line’s potential beyond its pre-war capacity.” During the US’ four-year involvement in World War II, the people of Roseville, in addition to sending so many of their sons and daughters off to war, subscribed to eight victory loan drives totaling $478,267.25. The local rail yards, which had undergone several expansion and renovation programs to accommodate the tremendous number of troops and tons of war materials, handled as many as 7,055 freight cars in a single day.
Building activity severely curtailed in Roseville during the war. A Seaside Oil Company service station had opened in February 1940 at the corner of Vernon and Bulen streets and a new Standard Station replaced an older one at the corner of Vernon and Lincoln streets in June. The most notable construction of 1940, however, was the Tower Theater, which was completed in November.
Between 1941 and 1942, no major building activity was reported in the columns of The Press Tribune. By the latter date, however, approximately 1,000 new residents had moved into Roseville, most of who worked in nearby defense installations or for the railroad. Housing problems soon became acute. As a result, in March of 1942, ground broke for a $68,000 housing project with 20 homes opposite Woodbridge School. Shortly thereafter (September 1943), work started on 32 homes for war workers in the Forest Oaks and Sierra Vista tracts.
By mid-1942, the tides of war had turned in favor of the allies. In August, American marines landed at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, reached North Africa by November and by May, 1943 liberated that continent. Invasion of Europe began in July, 1943 with landings in Sicily, followed in quick succession by its surrender, the invasion and unconditional surrender of Italy, and finally the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. VE Day (May 8, 1945) was observed with a special edition of The Press Tribune published on May 9, 1945. With victory assured in Europe, the full weight of allied power was turned against Japan. Iwo Jima was seized in February of 1945 and in July the last major campaign in the Pacific ended on Okinawa. Plans for the invasion of Japan were being readied in August when an American B-29, the Enola Gay, dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima; two days later a second even more destructive bomb leveled the city of Nagasaki. Faced with invasion and total destruction of their homeland, Japan surrendered on August 14. The war was over.
As the fortunes of war turned in favor of the allies, the government started preparing for the return of millions of soldiers to civilian life by passing the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. Better known as the “GI Bill of Rights,” the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act was designed to help returning service personnel by providing (1) education and training at government expense; (2) government guaranteed low interest loans for homes, farms and small businesses; and (3) job counseling and placement. The GI program was administered by the Veterans Administration (VA) with help from appropriate state agencies.
More than 2,200,000 World War II veterans were able to attend colleges and universities under the GI Bill. Many returning Roseville vets found higher education would provide other avenues of employment besides working for the railroad. Most of the veterans attended Placer College (now Sierra College), then located in Auburn, for their first two years before transferring to newly-established Sacramento State College (now California State University, Sacramento).
As the government was preparing for the return of service personnel, wartime building restrictions were gradually lifted. A new Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was built in 1945 along with drawing up plans for a new Press Tribune building at 530 Vernon Street. By 1946, a steady if unspectacular post-war building boom was well underway, much of it along Riverside Avenue and Vernon Street. A great deal of it centered around the automobile industry.
With wartime restrictions on automobile production lifted, America was more than eager to resume its love affair with the automobile. Riverside Avenue and Vernon Street along the direct route of Highways 40 and 99 stood in particularly good locations to take advantage of the tremendous demand for automobiles and automotive products. Between January 1946 and December 1947, several automobile-related businesses opened up or expanded. A new Chrysler-Plymouth sales and service facility in the 600 block of Vernon Street and a Buick agency building on Judah Street opened in January of 1946. Crockard Chevrolet moved into expanded quarters in December followed by W.L. Braden’s new Pontiac garage.
John Macario, long-time Riverside Avenue automotive dealer, opened a completely remodeled and expanded Oldsmobile garage in December of 1946. He would soon be rivaled by Weiler’s & Rodiger’s Packard and Clarke Turner’s Buick agencies. Construction ended along Roseville’s “Automobile Row” with completion of Macario’s garage and Fred Garbolino’s service station and store on Atlantic and Vernon streets in 1947.
Several other new businesses were started or renovated during the decade such as Roseville’s Frozen Food Bank (1945) located on Atlantic Street operated by W.F Myers and A.F. Newell. The Food Bank eventually began to operate under the firm name of Roseville Meat Company. Another business was the opening of Dunbar Airfield (1946) located at Atkinson and Main Streets to serve as a private airfield at Roseville. Though the project started out enthusiastically, it proved to be a financial failure and closed in January of 1950.
However, the most important business operated by far was Denio’s Roseville Farmers Market and Auction. Started in 1947 as a sideline to a stock auction business, Denio’s has evolved over the years into a nearly 70-acre complex containing hundreds of concession stands, booths, shops and eateries which cater to thousands of visitors each weekend. With the possible exception of the railroad, Denio’s was the one entity most closely identified with Roseville during this period.
While the City of Roseville was primarily concerned with winning the war during the first half of the decade, farsighted City fathers laid the groundwork for peace and resolving municipal problems put on hold during the war. As early as May, 1944, the City Planning Commission laid out an impressive wish list of post-war projects to be tackled. The list included improvement of the entire municipal electric system; improvement of the city reservoir; establishment of new sewers in the Elm Court District; purchase of new fire trucks and other firefighting equipment; completion of curb, gutter and storm drains throughout the city; grading and resurfacing of Douglas, Vernon and Church streets; construction of a new vehicular bridge at Folsom Road and Dry Creek; construction of a railroad underpass to connect the North and South sides of town; and acquisition of property along Dry Creek from Riverside Avenue to 300 feet above Folsom Road for a future city beautification project. The Planning Commission’s ambitious recommendations were submitted to the City Council in December 1946 and action began on many of them.
Meanwhile, in February of 1945, three benefit dances were held to raise money for a long-desired municipal hospital. In October 1947, ground broke for another long wanted project—a railroad underpass to eliminate long, exasperating delays at the Lincoln Street crossing. Another project long delayed by the war and now taken up with renewed vigor included negotiations with the United States Department of Reclamation for sale of Shasta Dam power to the city. An agreement was finally reached and, by December of 1947, the last of the Shasta Dam links to the city was completed. While negotiations were going on over Shasta Dam power, the City also looked into the possibility of obtaining Folsom Dam water. The busy Council next turned its attention to a study of long-needed modernization for all municipal departments, particularly the Fire Department, and establishment of a city recreation department.
In 1947, the local volunteer fire department, a fixture since 1910, was replaced by a Municipal Fire Department with Peter Badovinac as Fire Chief. Badovinac, a native of Klein, Montana, had lived in Roseville since 1929 where he served the City as a police officer, building inspector and fire chief for a total of 22 years. He earned his nickname of “Superman” in 1947 when he assumed the position of Fire Chief, health officer and building, plumbing and electrical inspector. He would round out his job description in 1950 when he was appointed as the City’s Assistant Civil Defense Director. During his 22 years as Fire Chief, Badovinac oversaw growth of the department from three trucks and a small group of employees and volunteers to a well-trained staff of 24 employees assisted by 25 volunteers and six trainees. Volunteers would remain an important adjunct to the department for many years. During his tenure, Badovinac's crews were required to learn rescue and resuscitation techniques, a standard practice for all of today’s modern firefighters. Badovinac retired in 1969.Badovinic Drive honors this much-admired public servant. Badovinac was succeeded as chief by Carl Green (1969-1987) and Bill White (1987-2000). Building on the foundation established by Badovinac, the Roseville Fire Department today includes seven modern fire stations with an eighth on the way.
During the Depression years, a WPA recreation project of sorts providing a bare minimum of recreational activities was established at Royer Park by the federal government. With the advent of World War II, this program was discontinued. In 1948 a City Recreation Department was established under the supervision of Parks Superintendent Willard Dietrich and Gene Watson, Roseville’s first permanent recreation director. The early staff consisted of the director, three part-time playground and after-school supervisors and a part-time secretary, Elsie Clarkston. The first year’s budget for this program was $5,000. Today, Roseville’s Parks and Recreation Department, under the direction of Mike Shellito, oversees a wide array of activities at the City’s parks and playgrounds.
Construction of Washington Blvd. underpass
As the 1940s drew to a close, the town’s population had increased from 6,653 in 1940 to 8,723 in 1950 with four new subdivisions added—Elm Court, Hillcrest No. 2, McNeil and Bonnie Knoll. Voters also approved a $250,000 sewer bond issue. In addition, ambitious plans were underway to establish a modern city manager form of government, acquire Folsom Dam water, complete the Washington Boulevard underpass and establish a municipal hospital. City leaders hoped these and other equally ambitious civic projects would be completed in the decade ahead.
Harold T. “Bizz” Johnson, whose list of accomplishments reach the local, state and national levels, inaugurated a political career that spanned 38 years. In 1942 he was elected to the City Council, serving on that body during the critical World War II years and the equally critical post-war period. During those years, he played a key role in obtaining Central Valley Water Project electricity and water for Roseville. Johnson is also credited with helping establish Roseville Community Hospital and the City Recreation Department as well as making major improvements in the city’s water treatment system. Johnson resigned from the City Council in 1948 to take a seat in the California State Senate. In November of 1958, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives where he served 11 consecutive terms. Following a surprise defeat to Republican Gene Chappie in November of 1980, Mr. Johnson announced he was retiring from public office and would henceforth limit his activities to public service in and about his hometown of Roseville. This popular public servant who did much in terms of transforming Roseville into a modern city died in 1988.
Harold T. "Bizz" Johnson – City collection