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June 11, 2008 > History: Centerville in the Fifties

History: Centerville in the Fifties

In 1950, an Alameda couple, Dale and Harriet Gittings, began looking for a home of their own. After checking nearby areas without finding anything they liked in their price range, a newspaper ad led the couple down Highway 17, past Hayward and through Alvarado to Thornton Ave. in Centerville. They headed a mile west on Thornton to Blacow Road where a look at the model home was all it took for the pair to make their decision.

Smith Peters Investment Company's newest project was constructed in a former apricot orchard, aptly named Park Homes. The development offered two or three bedroom models for $6,895 or $7,895 with V.A. and F.H.A. financing. Their salesman always showed potential home purchasers a sketch of a new highway extension that could ease travel from Oakland to San Jose, sometime in the future. Apricot orchards, a strawberry farm and ranches surrounded the 180 houses on the three brand new streets of Orchard Park.

Centerville was a pleasant little community. There was a blacksmith's shop just down the road. Booth Cannery, a major employer, was alongside the tracks west of town providing seasonal employment to many residents, until a major fire destroyed the facility.

Thanks to the prolific local growers, L. E. Bailey, and L. S. Williams, two major Washington Township produce shippers, the area's fresh fruits and vegetables were sent all over the U.S.

Central Chevrolet did business at the corner of Thornton and Main St. (Fremont Blvd.) while Joe Adams' Ford dealership was a block away, near the depot and the cemetery. South, across the tracks was the marble mansion of the Bank of America where localities transacted all their bank business. A few steps farther down Main, was the tiny Centerville Post Office, a neighbor of the town's fire station.

The Gittings moved into their home, planted a lawn out front and a garden in back and settled down. At first, Orchard Park residents had no phone service but a phone booth was installed in the middle of the block. When telephone service finally arrived, residents had to pay a fee for the wire that was installed from Thornton Ave. poles.

Early on, no mail was delivered to Orchard Park so a Post Office Box in Centerville, or possibly Newark, was handy. The Centerville P.O. had so few customers its box numbers went only three digits high.

The Allen G. Norris Elementary School, on Thornton Ave., between Towers Way and Cabrillo Ave., opened in mid-year, allowing Orchard Park youngsters to attend a facility without a bus ride to Centerville Elementary on Main St.

The County Library and Alameda County Sheriff Substation were housed in the County Building at what is now Peralta Blvd. and Martha Ave. Behind the building was an unusual wood tower used by Ground Observer Corps volunteers in the early 50's to spot planes as they flew over the South County. Orchards and farmland dominated the surrounding area.

A big Safeway store went in near Main St. (Fremont Blvd.) and Fremont Ave. (now Peralta Blvd.)

Commercial developers were quick to realize the advantages of getting in on the rapid Southern Alameda County growth. Among the newcomers, Center Square, next to the Chevy store, with Dale Hardware, a Lucky Market, Crown Drug, Mar-Val Apparel, a shoe store, etc.

The sparking new Glenmore Shopping Center became the focal point for nearby residents while the Cabrillo Shopping Center on Thornton Avenue three blocks from Orchard Park and next door to Cabrillo Park, offered a supermarket, an eatery, Easley Jewelers, a Laundromat and other stores.

Completion of Highway 17 (Nimitz) Freeway paved the way for enormous industrial, residential and commercial growth over the decades. And the Gittings continue to believe their mid-century move to Centerville was a good one.

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