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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;

  • Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
  • Valley Times : Do You Remember?
  • The Independent : Do You Remember?

The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.

They will also be found on this page each week as well.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

Archive Page

Presbyterians celebrate milestone in Livermore

By Barry Schrader.................................May 19, 2005

Last Sunday the First Presbyterian Church members in Livermore proudly observed their 40th anniversary in the present sanctuary, but they had much more to celebrate that that. The church is 134 years old, has been the dominant Protestant denomination in town for much of the past century, and just spent $5.1 million on a major renovation and modernization of its nearly-block-square campus.
Even though the local Methodists organized earlier, in 1867, the Presbyterians formed a congregation of nine members in 1871, built their chapel first, in 1874, and proceeded to be a major influence in the community from then on. Their original roster looked like a who's who of local leaders, which continues to this day. Pleasanton Presbyterians have a similar record, organizing there in 1876.
At one time, funds were needed and the Livermore church trustees voted to raise money by renting out specific pews to its flock at the rate of $2 per month, But two years later in 1889 the board discontinued this practice.
Reading an article written by Lamar Coleman in 2004 I learned there was a "history mystery" regarding the foundation of the original church, now called the Founders Memorial Chapel. It seems that when the foundation was being replaced they found the bricks were dated 1915 from the Livermore Fire Brick Company. But the chapel was built 41 years earlier. By doing some sleuthing, referring to the book on the history of the local church written by Julia Kleineke and updated in 1995 by Gary Drummond, they found that the original foundation was made of wood, and had to be replaced in 1915 with brick. The building sat unattached on the bricks for 89 years, surviving earthquakes, water and wind, and thousands of weddings and funerals, without falling down. Now it is securely bolted to a new foundation.
The church's many additions over the years left it with 13 different floor levels, so some congregants referred to it as the "Winchester Mystery Church." Now the remodeled complex has only two levels, with an elevator to assure handicap access.
The spiritual leadership over the years has been provided by an outstanding string of pastors the past 50 years-names like Bill Clawson, Dale Cooper, John Turpin and now Bill Nebo, are familiar to many people in the community, not just the Presbyterians. Rev. Nebo is undoubtedly the best known Protestant minister in the Livermore Valley today, not only for his ministry but his community involvement and leadership in many organizations.
The church can also be credited with enabling civic and cultural groups to flourish within its walls. Part of the Livermore Arts Festival was held there for several years and today the Livermore-Amador Symphony calls it home for its seasonal concert series.
So the church has been a major influence and gathering place for many events and programs that enriched Livermore over these past 134 years.
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Speaking of traditional events that bring people together (which I did in reference to the Symphony a month ago) there is an historic event coming up next weekend in Livermore I never miss. It is the annual Livermore Heritage Guild Auction always held the Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend. You not only find heirlooms and antiques donated by local families in the auction, but you rub elbows with many of the community's pioneer families and oldtimers who never miss this occasion. It is a combination pasta feed, reunion and fundraiser all rolled into one evening. And the auctioneering banter of retired Fire Captain Linn Owens makes it all the more fun.

Photographers leave pictorial memories

Today's paparazzi are a far cry from the press photographers of the old school who were polite yet persistent in getting the photo they wanted. I remember two of those oldtimers who provided art for the valley newspapers back in the 1950s up to the 1970s.
Best known to local residents over three decades was Elliott Dopking, a 70-year resident of Livermore who got his start as an aerial photographer in World War II. His daughter Susan shared some of his old press cards and other memorabilia with me recently and it brought back memories of the "4 by 5" Speed Graphic press cameras that were popular up into the 1950s when twin lens reflexes (using 120 size film) and 35 millimeter single lens reflex cameras took over the market. The 4x5 designation meant that the negative was that size, which provided a nice clear print when making an 8x10 inch size photo.
Elliott spent much of his career packing the big press camera that included a bellows and a big reflector flash unit. It was the same kind depicted in many old movies including "The Front Page" and was a standard for news and studio photographers for decades. Now we only see them in museums or antique camera collections. Using his press camera Elliott captured life in the valley for newspapers including the Oakland Tribune and Livermore Herald. He freelanced for many years as well, which meant he took photos on special assignment or "on spec" hoping to sell them to publications or organizations. His photos of many Livermore Rodeos and parades are still seen in publications today.. He amassed an impressive collection of local pictures which have been a great benefit to the local historical societies. He also spent 15 years of his career at Sandia where he captured the portraits of employees and technical work for the Lab News and brochures.
After retirement he served the Livermore Police Department as a reserve doing technical sleuthing-photographing evidence and developing film of crime scenes and suspects in the department's darkroom.
Elliott was not only the man behind the camera but took an active role in community organizations such as the Lions, VFW, Eagles, City Beautification Committee, Airport Commission, Presbyterian Church and even served on the elementary school board from 1955 to 1961.
Fortunately his daughter preserved his collection of prints and negatives after his death in 1983 and they are going to be a valuable resource to local historians and researchers looking back at local life in the mid-Twentieth Century.
Another photographer I knew well, since I hired him on the Herald as its first fulltime photographer, was Lee Estes, a crusty old sergeant who had a 25-year career in the Army as a combat photographer-using the big Speed Graphic. He retired to Apple Valley in Southern California and came up with the idea of publishing his own pictorial tabloid paper called the Stateside News. It was a monthly, full of photos including Playboy pinups, and was shipped out of March Air Force Base to be given out free to servicemen in Southeast Asia. The difficulties of getting it onto military cargo planes and then finding ways to distribute it during the Vietnam War brought his dream to an end after a few issues.
Looking for another photography job, he landed in Livermore in 1968 and spent 10 years working for first the Herald, then the Valley Times, and finally freelancing the last few years of his life. One of the more controversial photos he took was of a dead mountain lion at the abandoned Arroyo Sanitarium. It seems an off-duty deputy sheriff had come across the cat and used his service revolver to dispatch the "protected species." Wanting to preserve the kill on film he made the mistake of calling Lee to come out and photograph him with the cat he had bagged. But of course Lee had a "nose for news" and shared a copy of the photo with our newspaper-which got the deputy in big trouble with his bosses.
Lee was quite a colorful character and had a favorite phrase as he would come dashing out of the darkroom after picking up some police or fire call on the scanner. Heading toward his car he would always yell back; "I got a hot one, gotta roll." The young reporters loved to mimic him and pretty soon we had a newsroom full of copycats yelling out the same phrase as they departed on an assignment or even for a cup of coffee.
There are other memorable press photographers in the valley like Bill Owens of Suburbia fame, DeWitt Ault, and Gordon Clark, so there is another column or two of stories I can share about them as well.

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The history mystery question for this week: Since the first chief of the combined Livermore and Pleasanton Fire Department is retiring, when was the first Hook and Ladder Company formed in the Tri-Valley? Stewart Gary, you should know the answer

The columnist can be reached via email at :

Historian2sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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