Growing Pains: Thirty Years in the History of Davis

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Chapter 1 - The Dawn of an Era: The Way It Was

"Davis is more than a university or even a town. Davis is a way of life," someone once wrote, trying to explain in a few words how Davis was so different from most communities.

Those words easily could have been written during the 1990s, after Davis had established an international reputation as a progressive, innovative community, but they weren't. They appeared in the 1968 edition of the student yearbook at UC Davis, long before Davis gave birth to a breed of residents devoted to solar energy, recycling, and progressive politics. Even bicycle paths were new to Davis in 1968, and growth control was just beginning to get a grip on the community's consciousness. Nonetheless, Davis already knew it was somehow special.

Growth control was emerging as an issue in 1968 because many residents were worried about the pace of change, sensing that the community's identity was in jeopardy. Davis had only about 20,000 residents, but its population had more than doubled since 1960.

Residential development was starting to push westward across Highway 113. Stonegate remained a barren dustbowl during the summer months and a mud puddle during the winter rains, but development was set to get under way the following year on the 300-acre project. To the north, houses were being built north of Covell Boulevard in Covell Park, a new tract where houses bordered an elaborate network of greenbelts.

In East Davis, Stanley M. Davis Home Co. was offering one of its new models, The El Dorado, a three-bedroom house with a fireplace and double-car garage for $15,800. Model homes were on Oleander Place, and seven plans were available at prices ranging from $15,500 to $20,650.

Near the center of town, a three-bedroom house on Oak Avenue near campus could be had for as little as $21,300. Farther to the west, Streng Brother Homes Inc. had model homes for University Estates at Sycamore Lane and Villanova Drive. A ranch-style house with four bedrooms and 1,830 square feet of space cost $27,200. On Drexel Drive across from the new Holmes Junior High School, Ivy Towne North was offering houses with prices starting at $22,500.

South of Interstate 80, El Macero and Old Willowbank were well-established, but most of South Davis was farmland. At the west end of South Davis, Barthel Mobile Ranch Inc., a mobile home park, was a small island of urban development. On Chiles Road, Campus Chevrolet-Buick-Opel wanted $2,495 for a new Chevy II Nova and $3,195 for an Impala. Davis had at least eight car dealerships in those days, including several on Olive Drive. Courtesy Chrysler-Plymouth, 1700 Olive, was asking just over $2,773 for a 1968 Barracuda and $2,595 for a Valiant.

In the downtown area, Barker's Toyota was at 137 G St. and Hartz Motor Co., a Ford dealership, was at 430 G St. Winger's Department Store stood across the street from the Davis City Hall, which in those days was in the building at 226 F that served as the Davis Police Department's headquarters in the 1990s. In 1968, police had to share space with other city departments. The downtown business district had two theaters: the Varsity Theatre at 616 Second St. and Cinema 2 at Second and E streets, which in those days specialized in international films.

UCD students looking for night life often could be found at Mr. B's Brandin Iron, 223 F St., or Stiller's Antique Bizarre, a restaurant and nightclub at the intersection of Second and G streets. On the second floor above the Antique Bizarre was the Hotel Aggie and across the street was the Bank Hotel. Nearby at 212 F St. was Mousie's Night Club and Restaurant, which in 1968 was offering live jazz music. Among the post popular adult night spots was The Club, a bar at 219 G.

Mousie's advertised pizza to go, but only two other restaurants billed themselves as pizza places. Fast food was making inroads: Davis had an A & W Root Beer Drive-In, Dairy Queen, and Sno-White, but many of the big chains such as McDonald's hadn't hit the scene yet.

The downtown area had at least two markets, variety stores such as Ben Franklin and the Davis 5 & 10 and about 10 automobile service stations. At Topper's Steakhouse, 325 F, residents could get a top sirloin steak with fries or baked potato, roll and butter for $1.39. They could pick up The Davis Enterprise if they had an extra dime.

Davis didn't escape the political turmoil of the 1960s, but its protests were peaceful, and campus students and administrators often worked together, rather than confronting one another. Despite their close historical ties, UCD and UC Berkeley couldn't have been more different in how they adapted to the hippie era. Berkeley became a hotbed of cultural revolution, while Davis, by and large, stuck to the straight and narrow, becoming a safe haven for students wanting to escape the craziness of the 1960s, a place where conservative parents could send their kids to college without worrying too much. Enterprise columnist Bob Dunning, a UCD undergraduate student from 1964-68, recalls how Berkeley sent a couple of emissaries to Davis shortly after the start of the 1964 Free Speech Movement, hoping to radicalize UCD. They didn't make much headway, because UCD students didn't have a clue about what was going on. "Hey, this is America. We already have free speech," they reasoned.

UCD didn't draw many students from big metropolitan areas such as San Francisco and Los Angeles back then. Instead, its students tended to come from small Northern California towns such as Willows, Corning and Colusa, drawn by the school's agricultural heritage. Basketball was the big sport on campus, because football hadn't hit the big time yet. Davis had about 10 fraternities in 1968, but sororities wouldn't make their first appearance for several more years.

In 1968, residents who wanted to buy liquor had few choices because of a state law that banned liquor stores anywhere within three miles of the university. They could drive to Frenchy's Liquor Shop, located at the south end of Woodland where County Fair Mall would later be built. Or, they could go to two liquor stores on Chiles that were built just outside the three-mile boundary. Jake's Liquors was in the building that 25 years later would house Rafters Restaurant. In the telephone book, Jake's claimed to be located precisely 15,870 feet from the campus. Across the street was L & M Liquors, which claimed to be exactly three miles east of the Richards Boulevard underpass.

Davis Community Hospital, as Sutter Davis Hospital was known at the time, opened with 49 beds on County Road 99 in 1968. Late in 1968, local officials gathered to dedicate the new home of the Davis branch of the Yolo County Library near the southern edge of Community Park. The Davis Recreation and Park Commission recommended using the library's old site at 117 F Street just north of First Street as a teen center. The idea gained the City Council's blessing the following year.

As late as 1965, Davis had only one intersection with traffic signals, and they weren't installed because of heavy automobile traffic. They were on B Street north of Russell Boulevard, and were there so students at old Emerson Junior High School could cross the street safely. During the era, the junior high occupied the old red brick building that later became City Hall and part of the building across the street that serves as the administrative center of the Davis Joint Unified School District.

By the start of 1968, half a dozen intersections were controlled by traffic signals. Most were on Russell Boulevard, which was widened from two to four lanes in 1967. Six more intersections got traffic signals in 1968, bringing the total to a dozen. In those days, Highway 113 was a two-lane road, and the overpass that later would take Covell Boulevard over the railroad tracks east of F Street hadn't been built yet. That was a problem because trains would cut the town in two, delaying police and others intent on moving from one side to the other. Bike paths were just beginning to appear on city streets.

Ironically, many issues that made headlines during the 1990s already were hot topics of discussion in 1968. Something had to be done about the narrow Richards Boulevard underpass. The downtown needed to bolster its retail base, parking remained a problem and merchants worried about threats from peripheral shopping centers. At UC Davis, students had to worry about talk of fee increases. Parents of teen-agers were being told they had to face up to the community's drug problems. Residents resisted efforts to increase their taxes. City officials talked about the need for low-cost housing.

Davis appeared to be well on its way to becoming a big city, and the community's rapid growth had residents worried. They talked about forgoing additional annexations, but that didn't seem a realistic option. City officials argued the importance of having future growth occur within the city limits of Davis, not on unincorporated land under county control. They worried about the results of a special census released in April 1969 that showed more than 60 percent of Yolo County's population growth since 1960 had been in Davis. The city's population jumped from 8,910 to 21,750, allowing it to pass Woodland as the county's largest city. [1]

In the 1960s, though, Davis had an ambivalent attitude toward growth. "In 1968, as for some time now, Davis is turning its various energies toward becoming a big city," wrote The Davis Enterprise in a story recalling with pride progress made during the first 100 years following the community's birth. "The last census showed Davis to be slightly over the 20,000 mark in population--the dividing line between a town and a city by national standards." [2] The cause of the city's growth wasn't hard to find: Davis was clearly a university town, and enrollment at UCD exploded during the 1960s. Fall enrollment figures showed the university had 4,954 students in 1963, 6,444 the following year, 7,900 in 1965, 9,100 in 1966 and 10,200 in 1967.

City planners reviewed, and rejected a Chamber of Commerce plan in May 1967 that called for more than doubling the amount of land included in the city's General Plan because it could have accommodated at least 300,000 residents, but in September of that year, the City Council agreed to amend the General Plan to expand its holding capacity from 80,000 to 110,000 persons. [3] A sewer-needs study reviewed by the council early in 1969 was based on the assumption Davis would have about 240,000 residents by the year 2010. [4]

As the 1960s drew to a close and the 1970s began, several pivotal events increased the pace of change. An era ended at UCD with the retirement of Chancellor Emil Mrak in 1969. Sometimes called the father of UCD's modern campus, he was a research scientist with an international reputation in food technology, a skillful administrator with a knack for building friendships with students, an extrovert whose camaraderie with state legislators came in handy whenever UCD needed funds for new facilities.

When the University of California declared UCD a general campus in 1958, it named Stanley B. Freeborn to be chancellor, but he never assumed his new title. When Mrak took the helm in July 1959, UCD had about 2,000 students, a College of Agriculture, a College of Letters and Science, and School of Veterinary Medicine.

When he retired a decade later, the campus had more than 12,000 students. It had a College of Engineering, School of Law, School of Medicine and a Graduate Division. "He was the right chancellor for the right time," explained James H. Meyer, Mrak's successor as chancellor, in a 1992 oral history. "He was one of those very gung-ho kind of leaders." [5] Bob Black, president of UCD's student body in 1966, recalled Mrak as a down-to-earth administrator popular with students. "Emil met with everybody on their own terms,'' Black said.

Meyer and Black would be key figures as a wave of change engulfed UCD during the latter half of the 1960s. Meyer faced the challenge of succeeding a legend at a time when student unrest aroused by the civil rights movement and Vietnam War was sweeping campus. Black was a prominent campus radical, a student body president who helped arrange to bring double-decker buses to Davis and one of three liberal candidates who in 1972 led a political revolution that seized control of the Davis City Council from the business-oriented conservatives who had been in control.


Continue to Chapter 2...