With the end of World War I and the onset of the 1920s, California looked forward to a new era of prosperity. During the war years, the state’s agriculture had helped feed both United States and Allied armed forces. People expected this agricultural boom to continue in the post-war years.
It was about this time that many Mexican nationals began migrating to California to take advantage of expanded railroad and agricultural job opportunities. Many located in Roseville where they quickly found employment with either Southern Pacific or the Pacific Fruit Express. Their children and grandchildren comprise an important element in today’s multi-cultural population.
By mid-1921, the post-war good times ended abruptly with the reduction in war time government spending, coupled with adjustment problems to a peacetime economy and a decline in foreign markets. A serious business slump led to an acute but fortunately short-lived depression. The depression’s high water mark was a paralyzing railroad strike, which crippled the local economy. Many railroad employees found themselves out of work with little or no money to put food on the table or pay the rent. While the railroad strike of 1922 was a relatively short-lived affair, it caused hardships for many out-of-work railroaders. Fortunately, the depression, which brought many hardships to strikers, ended quickly. By September, differences between labor and management were resolved and workers went back to their jobs, albeit at the same low salaries they had received before the strike.
By 1923, however, California’s agriculture began to expand dramatically. New specialty crops from the Imperial and Coachella valleys were particularly in demand in Eastern markets. California was being looked upon as a prime supplier of the nation’s food. On the local scene, this agricultural boom was manifested by Southern Pacific’s announcement of a massive enlargement program at the local yards. In April of 1924, work commenced on a $750,000 Pacific Fruit Express building program. Construction included a new $600,000 plant (Plant No. 2) with a daily ice making capacity of between 200-400 tons and a $150,000 remodeling and expansion program for existing facilities. The following month (May), Southern Pacific purchased 200 acres of land between Roseville and Antelope for relocation of PFE shops and construction of 77 miles of new tracks to be used by both Southern Pacific and PFE.
Work on the PFE enlargement program started in May, 1926 with grading and laying of 15 miles of side track between Roseville and Antelope. A short time later, work started on the $1.5 million car shops. Cement for the new PFE shops was poured on Oct. 21, 1926, and, by June, 1927, the new facilities were in operation. Roseville was now acknowledged throughout the land as the site of the world’s largest artificial ice plant.
Railroad expansion resulted in a corresponding increase in population which, by 1929, totaled 6,425 – an increase of 1,945 since 1920. Increasing population meant new schools were needed. Necessary bond issues were approved by voters and, in 1921, the Fisher (Atlantic Street) School opened, followed four years later by the Vernon Street School in 1925. New buildings were also erected at the high school facility.
Business growth kept pace with expanding population. Lincoln Street, which had survived two fires in February and May of 1924, actually benefited somewhat from them. Most of the flimsy wooden structures of earlier years were soon replaced by substantial brick buildings. Included in the array of new businesses to rise up along Lincoln Street during the decade were the new telephone building (1922), T.A. Mealia’s TAM Garage (1924), the Wright Building (1924), the Barker Hotel Annex (1924), the Sawtell (Rex Hotel) Block (1925), the Herring Block (1925), the Bank of Italy (later Bank of America) building, Gordon Block (1922), Safeway (1929), the Masonic Temple (1926), the Forlow Block (1926), the Diamond Match Lumber Company (1926), and Fire House No. 1 (1927).
City Hall kept pace with changing conditions.In December of 1920, the city purchased the PG&E electric plant for $6,500.A $155,000 bond issue, which would have enabled the city to acquire the Roseville Water Company plant in March, 1922, failed to pass as did a 1924 proposal for a new city charter. Voters did however approve a $63,000 sewer bond issue in 1925. Three years later (1928), voters went to the polls again to approve a $50,000 project to build badly needed bridges over Dry Creek at South Lincoln Street and across the railroad tracks into the Sierra Vista Tract. The new bridges replaced obsolete wooden ones erected in 1907 and 1910. Plans for a new city charter and acquisition of the water system were being revised in 1929. Both were leading topics of discussion about town when the stock market collapsed and its accompanying panic blotted out every thought except one – Depression.