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Homepage > History > 1950s

1950 - 1960


The boom following the end of World War II continued throughout the 1950s at an accelerated but still manageable rate. There seemed to be a change in the air, for a number of significant developments during the decade would appreciably alter traditional patterns for Roseville residents.

Completion of the Seawell (Washington Boulevard) Underpass in 1950 and the subsequent closing of the Lincoln Street Railroad crossing to vehicular traffic ended exasperating delays at the Lincoln Street railroad crossing, which hindered both local and through traffic for long periods of time due to Southern Pacific switching operations. Closing of the Lincoln Street crossing had a profound effect, leading to a period of gradual decline for Roseville’s business district north of the tracks. For years it would remain almost a ghost town with empty and boarded up storefronts. In recent years an Old Town redevelopment program has done much to restore Old Town to a semblance of its glory years when it was the center of Roseville’s business district.


Dedication of the Seawell Underpass – City collection

The 1950s would also see the greatest expansion in Roseville’s railroad facilities since the Big Move of 1906-1908. In April of 1951, Southern Pacific undertook modernization and expansion of its Roseville operations. By June 2, 1952, Southern Pacific had completed the vast undertaking, making Roseville the largest and most up-to-date rail terminal west of Chicago. The facility, named Jennings Yard in honor of then superintendent Merle Jennings, trimmed train times substantially. Cars from incoming trains were now sorted and rerouted by push button controls. On an average day, Southern Pacific could handle about 8,200 freight cars in Jennings Yard. On especially busy days, traffic exceeded 9,000 cars. The Jennings Yard also incorporated many new innovations including special inspection of cars moving toward the hump; paging and talk back speakers for quick communication throughout the yards; radio communication between switch engines, the yardmaster’s office and the control tower; and new improved track scales and repair facilities.

At the start of this revolutionary decade, only seven diesel units operated out of Roseville but by decade’s end, over 400 main line diesel locomotives were in service. Roseville was now one of the more important diesel centers in the country. The giant articulated mallet locomotives, familiar sights in Roseville since 1909, were gradually scrapped or sold. The twin brick roundhouses, a common sight for so long, were no longer needed. The age of steam in Roseville was over. With the introduction of diesel-powered locomotives in the 1950s, however, these awesome mallets were gradually phased out and replaced by more efficient but less glamorous diesels. The last steam-powered locomotive run over the Sierra Nevada Mountains was made in 1958.

Roseville’s PFE Ice Plant, the world’s largest artificial ice-making plant, underwent revolutionary changes during this period. The plant mechanized in 1953 to incorporate features that doubled the speed of operations. Mobile one-man icing machines, designed especially for PFE to ice refrigerator cars, could each handle five tons per minute. Other PFE facilities placed in operation included new light repair facilities and a mechanical refrigeration and maintenance center. New self-contained refrigerator cars also began to make their appearance in increasing numbers at the local yards during the 1950s. Introduction of “Piggy Back” operations during this period had an important effect on the local ice plant. Large refrigerated truck trailers could now be loaded in the fields and orchards, then driven to the railroad where they would be loaded on flat cars for shipment to distant markets. Piggy Back operations coupled with introduction of self-contained refrigerator cars led to a steadily decreasing need for ice from the local PFE Ice Plant. By decade’s end, Roseville had become one of the most modern computerized railroad operations in the entire nation.This change, however, was not all good for local railroad employees.

Completion of Roseville Community Hospital in 1952 followed by the Folsom Dam in 1955 and the Roseville Freeway (Interstate 80) the following year gradually shifted the population from downtown Roseville to what would soon become known as “East Roseville. ”Vernon Street would retain its long-time position as Roseville’s business center but, bit by bit, once-thriving businesses would be diverted to modern shopping centers springing up along Douglas Boulevard, Harding Boulevard and Sunrise Avenue.


Aerial picture of Roseville Freeway (I-80) – City collection

Sierra View Country Club, a popular gathering place for both members and the general public opened in April 1953 on lands once part of the vast Kaseberg ranch. Since then it has been remodeled and enlarged several times and has become an important part of Roseville’s social scene being utilized by club meetings, class reunions, retirement parties and a host of other private and public gatherings.

The City government also underwent a major change during this period. In 1955, voters approved a change in the city charter, which provided for a city manager-council form of government. Under the change, the council, presided over by an elected mayor, would establish city policies. The city manager, appointed by and responsible to the council, would oversee daily operations of the various municipal departments. David Koester was subsequently appointed Roseville’s first City Manager.

A growing population led to an expanding crime rate, most of which centered around traffic violations and juvenile petty thefts. Roseville’s small but growing police department, which by 1958 numbered 16 officers and two police clerks, was hard pressed to keep up with public demands. To supplement the harried, overworked police department an “auxiliary” police force (later changed to “police reserves”) was established in 1956. Reserve officers, who paid for their own uniforms and arms, attended monthly training sessions in the basement of City Hall.


Vernon Street in 1950s – City collection

For more than 37 years, Roseville native Jim Hall was a member of the Roseville Police Department. He joined the force in 1951 and quickly moved up through the ranks where in 1969, at the age of 40, he was named Chief of the 33-officer police force. Chief Hall ran the growing department for 19 years and, with full support of the City Council, turned the Roseville Police Department into one of the top law enforcement agencies in Northern California. Hall retired from the City in 1988 but remained active in law enforcement as a private investigator, serving as president of Golden State Investigating, Inc. When Jim Hall died in 1993, hundreds of friends and law enforcement officers from all over Northern California attended his funeral.

During the 1950s, one name stands out above all others on a list of exceptionally competent council members. That name is Paul J. Lunardi who served on the Council between 1950 and 1959, including two terms (1954 and 1958) as mayor. During his tenure, Lunardi succeeded Johnson as a leader in movements to establish a community hospital, develop a municipal fire department, establish a city manager form of government, establish an updated street lighting system, obtain Central Valley Project power and expand sewage, water and electric distribution systems. His outstanding record of achievement earned Lunardi a highly coveted “Outstanding Young Men of California” award presented by the State Junior Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 8, 1955. Lunardi later moved on to the State Legislature where he served in the Assembly from 1959 to 1963 and in the State Senate from 1963 to 1966 before retiring to accept a position as Legislative Advocate with the Wine Institute of California.


Paul J. Lunardi – City collection

As another decade fast approached its end, an often-heard question around town was “When will all this growth end?”


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City of Roseville 311 Vernon St., Roseville, CA 95678. Phone: 916-774-5200.
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