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From the Publisher's Desk: 60 years ago: when we were ‘town of the month’

Ican relate to the Citizens Dock at the harbor. It’s still working hard as it turns 60 this year.  Tomorrow  is the official anniversary.

Like much of our local history the back stories are fading away with the generation before me. But thanks to one man’s scrapbook and his son’s desire to share it, I’ve got some history about the Citizens Dock I’d like to share.

In 1951, Crescent City was named “The Town of the Month” by Good Housekeeping Magazine (the clipping does not show which month). The article by Katharine Best and Katharine Hillyer begins, “The place was Crescent City, a 3.000-person town pocketed dramatically between the giant-redwood forests of northwestern California and the rugged, rock-strewn coast of the Pacific Ocean.”

The authors paint a picture of disappointed businessmen and women whose bid for a government-financed dock was rejected in the fall of 1949 for the fifth time in 32 years. The government wouldn’t put up money for a dock because Crescent City didn’t have the business to justify it. Crescent City argued that without a dock, it would never get that business.

Somebody—no one remembers who—said, “Let’s build our own dock,” and “At that moment civic lightning struck Crescent City.” 

“The fever got us,” said Mrs. Emma Cooper, county clerk.

A $10,000 quota was set and within two weeks, $17,000 was raised. Over 200 volunteers stepped up. Hotel Lauff offered free lodging to out-of-town workers. Local businesses donated gasoline and lumber. Employees of Brownie’s joined a payroll contribution plan; the Shamrock Café gave free lunches to workers and the bus station served free coffee. The local branch of the Bank of America gave, besides cash, the services of one teller each day for dock work.

There were benefits and auctions. A department store clerk even donated a bolt of red fabric to use as danger flags.

 On March 18, 1950, Citizens Dock was finished. It was a $200,000 project that took $17,000 in cash and countless hours of donated labor. Mayor Al Manuel declared March 18 an annual legal holiday (what happened to that?).

A day-long celebration included fishing boat races, a parade, a crab feed and the naming of Miss Citizens Dock, 16-year-old Gail Barnum. The dock party with 5,000 revelers lasted into the night.

“On March 19,” recalled county judge Alyce Moseley, “you could shoot a cannon down Main Street and not hit anybody…everybody was getting some sleep, at last.”

The magazine article continues, “Today Crescent Citizens look with almost tearful pride at their dock—a 900-foot pier projecting into the blue waters of Crescent Harbor and right-angling into a fisherman’s pier, a lumber wharfhead and a loading platform. And they gaze sentimentally at the big, handsome, redwood-bound scrapbook encased in glass at the Chamber of Commerce office on Second Street. On its pages are listed the names of the people who contributed to the building of  Citizens Dock. ‘There are more than seven hundred names in that book,’ says Bill Mason, local realtor. ‘It represents, without a doubt, the most stupendous example of civic cooperation this region has ever known.’”

The redwood-bound scrapbook was lost, presumably in the tsunami. The man who crafted it was cabinet maker Frank Burtschell. He also kept a personal scrapbook and that’s where his son Bob found the magazine article from 1951.

The authors paint a bright future for Crescent City in their closing paragraphs: “A lot of new things are being planned for Crescent City. There’s a highway beautification plan presently under way, in which Crescent City’s women, working in teams, are cleaning underbrush and planting seasonal blossoms so that throughout the year color and beauty will beckon motorists toward the little city. Downtown, too, is being spruced up. One section of Second Street has become a gay stretch of green, blue, pink and yellow store fronts.”

Bill Mason, who gave up his real estate business to serve as the Citizens Dock Committee’s unpaid financial chief said, “We have our river. We have our trees. We have our rugged shore line and our crescent-shaped bay. Now all we need to do is make ourselves as good-looking as our surroundings.“

Sound familiar? Thank you, Bob, for sharing your father’s scrapbook with us.


Del Norte Triplicate:

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P.O. Box 277
Crescent City, CA 95531

(707) 464-2141

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