Personal Histories

Bob Wills History

Fortuna in the 1940's

My first step into Fortuna was in the winter of 1940, when my parents determined there was a more promising future in California. It was definitely a future, but where to begin? Some of the earliest memories for me were how to fit in with the natives. I was almost a misfit. Most of the natives had never ventured outside of California. In fact, some had never been to the city. Of course, the city was San Francisco.

Fortuna Elementary Grammar School, 1949. Fortuna Elementary Grammar School, 1949.
Eastman Photograph.
An early test was how to learn to talk in school. I was in the sixth grade at Fortuna Elementary where the principal was one tough head honcho. He also taught arithmetic and it was one sorry day when I presented myself at his desk, almost at full attention with book in hand, and advised him, "I don't understand this here problem." Gee whiz, by the time he came back down to earth I was almost ten feet out the door and headed for the train depot thinking, " this must be what it's like to be present at the end of the world." He was in the process of chewing on me and almost hollering something about, "go back to your desk and learn how to talk." I guess that I never did understand the problem." I don't recall when or how old I was when I learned that the question I presented was not proper grammar. He wanted to hear; "I don't understand this problem." I don't know what he expected from a new kid. I also had a southern Illinois drawl, which was a hindrance. I was so slow in talking that by the time I arrived at the end of a sentence everybody was gone.

Fortuna was a small town with a small business district. A Safeway store was on the northeast corner of Eleventh and Main Streets. White's grocery was on the southwest corner of Twelfth and Main Streets and was a favorite point of interest during the World Series radio broadcasts.

Fortuna downtown scene, 1949. Fortuna Downtown Scene, 1949.
Eastman Photograph.
Paul Friedenbach had a grocery store on Main Street either at Ninth or Tenth Streets. Shopping carts had not yet been invented and it was a snap to grocery shop. A person needed merely to hand a grocery list to a clerk and the clerk did the shopping. Of course, the customer received exactly what the clerk wanted her/him to have. Also, a person had to be cognizant of the money he/she took to town and had to be most careful. If you took more than five dollars, chances are it would take two men and three small boys to carry all the bags. Another important store was Morgan's Haberdashery where I had a part time job and earned my first overcoat. There were several gasoline stations and a Ford and a Chevrolet Garage. Doctor H.W. Comfort was one of the favorite doctors. Doctors' McClaskey and Rohner were the favorite dentists.

L.L. Bryan, the Justice Of The Peace, had a hardware store on Main Street across from the theater. In the right (west) side of the theater building was "The Varsity'' which was a favorite hangout at lunch time. Pat Colombo, a petite lady, would whomp up a hamburger and a chocolate shake for twenty-five cents. She also drove a monstrous California Division of Forestry pumper truck during the summer fire seasons.

NEXT: Pearl Harbor!




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