Remembering a Different Vacaville
The town of Vacaville is not the same as the one Michael Gonzalez remembers when he first moved here fifty years ago. Vacaville was not always such a busy, large, populated city. It used to be a small town known for having the only public swimming pool in the county, a booming fruit industry, and cute girls at the only high school in town, Vacaville High School. It has since changed dramatically; there are now five high schools, no fruit industry, and multiple pools in the area.
Mike has seen all this growth starting from his childhood. He grew up in the neighboring town of Fairfield. He attended Armijo High School and his sport teams would travel to compete against Vacaville High School. He would go with a group of friends to Vacaville where Vacavillians would throw tomatoes at the kids from Armijo. He loved Vacaville where he and his friends would party at the farm center. Also, the Vacaville Creamery sold a big, delicious glass of milkshake for ten cents.
Mike had some Japanese friends who worked at the packing sheds for the fruit industry. But at the beginning of World War II all the Japanese Americans, including his friends, were evacuated to the Japanese internment camps. “So kids took the jobs,” Mike remembers. They packed the fruits and filled the carts with ice so the fruits could make it all the way to New York. One person he remembers is “Hatchet” Pile, a box maker who got his nickname from the hatchet he used to whack nails in the boxes.
In his 30’s Mike moved to Vacaville to work for his wife’s father with California Sample Furniture Business. He was active in politics as a city councilman, getting paid “Five dollars a meeting.” Vacaville tolerated Mike as a new comer. “I was a very aggressive young man” Mike recalls. He lobbied to get stuff done, such as to get a hospital built. It is because of Mike that the first lights for football games were put in. He noticed that there were these ramp lights out at Travis Air Force Base that were meant to go to Arizona, but had just been lying there for about a year. The people on base were glad to get rid of the lights and for a pack of beer some PG&E workers brought the lights to the field. Finally Vacaville could play games at night, just like the other surrounding cities.
Along with the fruit industry, Vacaville had an onion processing plant which smelled all throughout town. There was a railroad near the current Vasquez’s restaurant and Union Pacific. When Mike first moved to Vacaville Lover’s Lane had nothing but orchards, and now houses and businesses occupy the area. There was a Buddhist Temple and a shanty town for the Japanese. The Gum Moon Café had good Chinese food.
Small-town Vacaville expanded with its inevitable growth. Businesses and streets changed and grew; new buildings were built. California Sample Furniture became the current location of the Merchant & Main restaurant. Carnegie Library became the Library Restaurant, which became the current Chamber of Commerce. 87,069 new people populate Vacaville. And although Mike has some reservations about growth and the number of commuters, he finds that Vacaville’s change has been good. The Vacaville Museum is beneficial to the community. Growing Vacaville is a great place to live. Mike’s advice to the younger generation? Go to school and don’t get married right away. And I intend to follow his advice.