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Remember When: 1958

by Rick Blane

The following column appeared in Foundation News in 1998, Volume 10, Number 2

Yes, 1958 was a memorable year because it was the last year that SRHS would be the only high school in Santa Rosa. Montgomery High would open in the fall. The senior class of ‘58 was huge—555 of us graduated in June. Santa Rosa had a population of just 35,000, and we were still getting used to dialing Liberty prefixes. The telephone book had just 140 pages (in print you could read) compared with 323 pages today.

It was the year that “Gigi” ran away with the Academy Awards. Cary Grant starred in “An Affair to Remember,” and who could forget “Tammy and the Bachelor?” TV was black and white, remote controls didn’t exist and “American Bandstand” come on after school on Channels 7 and 13. We watched Ed Sullivan on Sundays at 8:00 PM, followed by the “64,000 Question” and “What’s My Line?” “The Lawrence Welk Show” featured Champagne Lady Alice Lon, but the new attraction was the Lennon Sisters, who earned $203.50 each week. “Ol’ Lonesome George” Gobel came to Santa Rosa for a United Crusade benefit in January at the Flamingo Hotel. If you stayed home on Saturday night, you could always watch Jimmy Durante or “Gunsmoke.”

We didn’t have many foreign cars. Fords, Chevrolets, Mercurys and Plymouths were everywhere. I remember Jim Laier’s customized blue ‘54 Ford with the supercharged Mercury engine, Jerry Prickett’s red ‘55 Chevy with the louvered hood, Bernie Schulte’s blue ‘57 Chevy Bel Air, Randy Jalli’s raked ‘50 Oldsmobile with the new paint job and George Jouthas’ cherry ‘54 Chevy. G.K. Hardt advertised that he was pleased to be selling the “most remarkable car in the country today—the Edsel.” Most remarkable car?

Traffic wasn’t so bad. We were getting used to the Fourth Street entrance to McDonald Avenue being closed off. In December of our senior year the traffic commission considered whether to install a traffic light at the intersection of Fourth Street and Farmer’s Lane. Can you imagine that without a traffic light today?

Things were cheaper. The “new Grace Addition” at Grosse Avenue and El Camino Way offered new houses for between $20,000 and $30,000. I wonder what they’re worth today. A new car cost less than $3,000. The White House advertised Pendleton shirts for $11.95. (Does anyone Pendletons any more?) Monday night was $1.00 night at the Village Drive-In, and if you stuffed a couple more people in the trunk—well, it was okay if you got away with it.

We had Montgomery Village, but we’d never heard of a “shopping mall” in 1958. Stores closed at 5:30, and nothing was open on Sundays. Some stores were open Thursdays until 9:00, but during Christmas season you could shop Monday and Thursday until 9:00. Were we better off? Do you remember that the Holiday Bowling Alley and the Rose Bowl both opened on the same day in 1958?

At school we had lots of dances and the SRHS dance band played at most of them. The Press Democrat reported that at the December sock hop the students wore “Bermuda shorts and pedal pushers.” Remember anyone wearing a “sack” dress? Did we really wear that stuff? Here’s one for nostalgia: do you remember our local quartet, the “Staffs,” singing at some of the dances? You’ve got a good memory if you can remember the names of the two senior boys in the group.

How about downtown Santa Rosa in 1958? At the intersection of Fourth and B Streets, you’d see the White House, Keegan Brothers, Hardisty’s and The Fasion. Between Fourth and the Courthouse, you’d find Wright’s Coffee Shop, Rosalie’s, Henderson’s Men’s Store, Keith’s Foto and Smith’s Shoes. On Exchange Avenue (as you cruised around the Courthouse) you’d see Hahman Drugs and Eisenhood’s restaurant. As you drove past the county jail and the police department, you’d see the pink Gensler-Lee jewelry store with the big clock (What a thrill!) Newberry’s, Stanroy Music, Mailer-Frey Hardware, Burling6ton’s Bakery, Sawyer’s News and the original Toy and Model tucked in next door to Basso Linoleum (underneath the old Masonic Temple). Further up would be Rosenberg’s, the French Bootery, Thrifty Drug, the old Tower Theatre, the original public library and Welti’s funeral Parlor.

If you were just cruising around or “tooling the main,” you’d probably go up to Gordon’s Drive In, drive through Eat-n-Run, go back to the Courthouse, turn north on Mendocino past Shelley Brothers Texaco (College and Mendocino), go past Zesto’s at the junior college, drive through Spruce’s Drive In and maybe (ha, ha!) do it all over again. After a football or basketball game, you might drop in at the Canteen over on Third Street and dance to “Who’s Sorry Now?” by Connie Francis or “At The Hop” by Danny and the Juniors. 1958 was when Jerry Lee Lewis came out with “Great Balls of Fire” and married his thirteen-year-old cousin. It was the year that Elvis was in the army. The minimum wage was still $1.00 an hour.

1958 was fun. We had a blast, we tried to be “cool, daddy-o,” never wanted to be known as a square, and if we really liked something we’d “go ape” over it (Where did we get those expression? After all, we were Seniors.). We were between the Korean War and the Vietnam War. We liked our “do wop,” feel good music and we liked our cars and our friends. Life was good for us.

Looking back, we really didn’t know how good it was. When we graduated, we all went our separate ways. But on August 22, 1998 we’ll return for our forty-year reunion. We’ll laugh, talk about each other, listen to our music and, yeah, we’ll have a blast. We’ll be back together again. I can’t believe how many are attending from all over the United States and outside the United States. But why am I surprised? We didn’t realize it then, but we were part of local history. Welcome home, Senior Class. We had a memorable year, never to be repeated. And that year was 1958.

Class of 1958 Yearbook

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