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.
Presbyterians celebrate milestone in Livermore
By Barry Schrader.................................May
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
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.
* * *
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
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.
* * *
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 :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551