January 4, 2005 > The Florence
A glimpse of Niles early years
A colorful history surrounds a small, but lively area of Fremont. Niles has retained much of its character from its early days; from beginnings in 1840 as "El Molino" (The Mill) through its growth to become an important railroad junction, home to the motion picture industry in its infancy and the location of a world renowned plant nursery. Many buildings of the original town still remain; among them is one that houses The Florence Bar & Grill that retains some of the trappings that makes Niles a special place.
Pictured in the recently released book Images of America, Niles Fremont by local historian Philip Holmes and Jill M. Singleton, the exterior does not appear to have changed much since the 1930's when The Florence, a wood frame building proclaimed "Italian Dinners" above the wood awning that still covers the entry. At the time of the picture, advertisements for Tacoma Beer vied with Golden State Ice Cream for attention on the faŤade. During the '30's and '40's, the restaurant was known for fine Italian dinners and good wine. The slogan used in advertisements for the City of Florence Restaurant, as it was then known, was "Eat with us and you will be fat and happy." Earl Warren, an early California legislative leader, governor and Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court often drove from Sacramento to dine at The Florence. A change in ownership brought the restaurant business to an end, but the bar remained.
In the rear portion of the main room, a Plexiglas panel is set in the wood floor. Beneath it, shrouded in shadow, lays the entrance to a tunnel that at one time ran underneath the shops along the main street all the way to the east end of town where Smith's Fine Art Gallery exhibits Thomas Kinkade paintings. It is rumored that the tunnel was built in the 1890's by Chinese laborers to hide when conditions warranted and was later used during Prohibition to conceal illegal booze. Remnants of the tunnel still remain but the construction of a bank above its path called for a change. Bank personnel did not consider a tunnel under their establishment to be a good thing!
Another part of Old West still remains at The Florence. It is home to an E. Clampus Vitus chapter, also known as "Clampers." This is a California historical society that in the past often came to the aid of widows and orphans of miners seeking riches during the California Gold Rush. Wooden plaques hang on a wall bearing the nickname of each member of the Niles Chapter.
Although the exact date of ECV's birth is lost it is known to have been active in the United States since the 1800's, and probably much earlier. Many fraternal organizations took their ceremonies quite seriously and disapproved of the rowdy miners. In jest, Clampers cut tin can lids into odd shapes and pinned them to their own simple vests, most often worn over a bright red union suit. They called this "wearing your tin."
Brothers of E Clampus Vitus sought to lighten the load of the miner's hard life. They looked on the absurdity of life as something to be cherished. With tongues set firmly in cheek, they hailed each other as "Noble Grand Humbug," "Roisterous Iscutis," "Grand Imperturbable Hangman," "Clamps Vitrix," and "Royal Gyascutis." Flowery oratory, ribald songs, and practical jokes were much admired.
ECV's "serious" side consists of finding, researching, and dedicating plaques to sites, incidents, and people in Western history that might otherwise be overlooked. They have plaqued hundreds of locations from ghost towns to saloons, from bordellos to ranchos, from heroes to madmen. After the dedications, they traditionally have a party, known as a "doin's." This partying is where the organization got its reputation as a "historical drinking society," or a "drinking historical society."
Continuing the tradition of jovial benevolence that typifies Clampers, recently Dottie Gomes, an employee at The Florence, decided to buy bicycles for deserving children at Christmas. Patrons of The Florence quickly added to her funds and a few bicycles mushroomed to nearly sixty! Owner, Rick Kukulica was initially skeptical, but as more and more bicycles filled a back room, he became a believer. The Clamper spirit remains alive and well at the Florence.
A usual sign of life at The Florence is an impressive array of motorcycles parked in front of the establishment. The tavern has become a favorite stop for motorcycle clubs but continues its tradition of friendly banter and welcome for everyone (over age 21). The walls are decorated with an eclectic mix of collectible western paraphernalia, pictures and other "old west" stuff. For visitors, it is a perfect place to stop for a drink while enjoying the ambiance of Niles.
Saturday and Sundays at The Florence is filled with music from well-known local bands. In January the following groups will play at The Florence:
Saturday 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
8th Sweet Talk
15th Jungle Rooster
22nd Marshall Law
29th Stacy Adams
Sunday 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.
2nd Ron Thompson & The Resistors
9th Sweet Talk
16th Jungle Rooster
23rd Marshall Law
30th Stacy Adams
The Florence Bar & Grill
37349 Niles Blvd., Fremont