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The economic collapse that followed the stock market crash of October 1929 ushered in what historians have termed the “Great Depression. ”No part of the nation escaped the ever-widening cloud of gloom and despair. These were, as so many recounted, “Dark Days” of America.

By December of 1930, according to the Roseville Register, some 200 heads of families were out of work. As the community’s leading employer, Southern Pacific Railroad decreased its work force of 1,360 between June and October of 1930 to 1,128 employees. The monthly payroll of $251,452 reduced to $38,719. A year later (December 1931), Southern Pacific announced it was cutting wages by ten percent.

The City inaugurated emergency measures in hopes of alleviating hardships. Don L. Bass was elected chairman of a group of representatives from various local organizations to aid the unemployed. Part-time work, when available, was channeled through the Employment Relief Committee. Another committee – headed by Mrs. Mearl Bartley, chairman of the local Red Cross – was formed to coordinate all city charity efforts.

Shortly after establishment of the Employment Relief Committee, a charity store opened in a space donated by Fred L. Forlow. The Forlow Building charity store served as a clearinghouse for food and clothing donated to the less fortunate. By March of 1931, some 30 needy families received regular assistance. Sacks of potatoes and onions were procured by the Chamber of Commerce; cash was raised by the local Lions Club; and other organizations and individuals donated food, clothing and money. William Haman, manager of the local stockyards, offered to furnish milk for the charity store when the opportunity presented itself. Local automobile dealer Hanford Crockard offered to provide transportation to deliver it. Such an opportunity presented itself in April, 1931 when 90 milk cows were corralled at the local stockyards. Don Bass mustered a force of volunteer milkers, and pails were supplied by the M.B. Johnson hardware store. One hundred gallons of milk were added to the charity store’s offerings that day. More than $1,500 in cash was raised to help take care of 100 needy families during the winter of 1930-31, far short of the estimated $5,000 needed to take care of some 200 families reported in dire straights.

With little cash on hand, local merchants like grocers H.T. Miller, Will Taylor and druggist E.B. Huskinson carried their customers and friends on the books. When the Depression finally ended, many merchants burned outstanding bills.

The City stretched its meager resources to the limit to provide additional assistance to the unemployed. In January 1931, the City Council appropriated $1,000 to be used for relief for the jobless. County Supervisor Jerry Shelley helped out by providing piece work on County projects. Instead of hiring one man for five days work, Shelley would hire five men for one day’s work helping each make monthly rent payments.

In November of 1932, local voters overwhelmingly elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who promised America a “New Deal. ”In March of 1933, FDR was inaugurated as the thirty-second president of the United States. Within a relatively short time, extensive federal relief projects were introduced throughout the nation to aid the unemployment situation.

Federal Employment Office was established in Roseville in October 1934, and between May 1935-May 1936, some 2,036 people were put to work. Unskilled laborers were paid an hourly rate of 45 cents while skilled workers earned 60 cents an hour and supervisors and overseers were paid $1.10 per hour.

During the next few years, Works Project Administration (WPA) and Public Works Administration (PWA) appropriations were used to pave miles of city streets and provide curbs, gutters, storm sewers and other municipal improvements. Roseville’s infrastructure today, are the City’s main post office (1935) and a two-story addition and remodeling of today’s City Hall Annex (1936). Public acceptance of New Deal policies resulted in sweeping local victories for FDR in the 1936, 1940 and 1944 elections. Roseville would remain solidly in the Democratic camp until the 1960s.

City Hall Annex – City collection

The considerable building and commercial development, which characterized Roseville throughout the 1920s, was curbed drastically by the Great Depression. Building permits for 1929 totaling $175,799 were said to have been the lowest in years. But things would get worse before they got better. Building permits for 1930 plummeted to $49,085 and were only slightly better the following year when $58,634 was spent on new construction. A depression low of $16,059.45 was reached in 1933 but business began to recover somewhat in 1936. Surprisingly, some important improvements were made during this period – most importantly the establishment of a new bank. With banks closing all over the nation, a group of local citizens headed by M.J. “Joe” Royer organized The Citizens Bank of Roseville in the Forlow Building store space recently vacated. Other additions to Roseville’s business district during the decade included the J.C. Penney Company (1930); Veterans Memorial Hall (1930); Sterling Lumber Company (1933); Broyer Mortuary (1934); Green Front Restaurant (1935); Onyx Café (1936); Sutter Apartments (1938); the Purity grocery store and the Lees building (1939).

Municipal improvements continued to progress in spite of the Depression. The now uniformed Police Department reorganized and expanded in 1931 with Russell Carter, recently from Chico, appointed Chief. The following year (1932) the City took over the garbage system and provided service for 50 cents a month. Then, after extensive negotiations with the Roseville Water Company, the privately-owned company sold out to the City in 1934 for $185,000.E.J. Riley was made foreman of the new City Water Department at a salary of $175 a month. The City’s $20,000 appropriation, together with a $19,700 WPA grant, funded a program to provide water system improvements such as new pipe installation and any other needed repairs. Though Roseville had become a “city” in 1909, it was not until 1935 that voters, by a 443 to 194 count, permitted the community to become a “charter city” which gave residents the ability to change how their city is governed. The following year (1936), a two-story addition to City Hall was completed and incorporated the old building into the new facility.

Roseville's first uniformed police force: In center foreground Chief Russell Carter.
Behind him left to right are Charles Trimble, William Elam, Pat Shelley, Joe Zanolio and Bob Cirby – City collection

In 1936, an already low city tax rate of $1.75 reduced to 75 cents per $100 assessed valuation, a figure that remained constant until the 1948 post-war building boom. During this 12-year period, Roseville was looked upon up and down the state as the epitome of city efficiency by virtue of its municipally-owned utilities. Today, in the midst of burgeoning population growth, Roseville is still noted for possessing one of the lowest tax structures in all California.

In 1935, popular city clerk Frank Chilton, Sr. resigned and was succeeded by Raleigh Terry, who remained at that position until 1961. When Terry went to work for the city in 1935, there were but three employees at City Hall. The job at that time differed from what it is today. The city clerk then served as assessor and tax collector, police clerk and personnel officer in addition to his clerk duties. During World War II, another duty was added – that of draft officer for the local Selective Service Board. The City then operated on a budget of about $30,000 a year. In 2000/2001, Roseville operated on an annual budget of $333 million. Terry was affectionately referred to by his fellow City Hall employees as “Mr. Perpetual Motion” because of his tireless efforts on behalf of the City. He served as city clerk during that critical period when Roseville was evolving from a small town operation into a modern, well-organized Council-managed form of government.

Raleigh Terry- City collection

Despite the constant challenge of making a living during those dark Depression days, Roseville’s citizens somehow found time for a bit of recreation. Movies were a popular Depression-era pastime where, for a brief hour or two, one could escape the problems of the day in air-conditioned comfort at the Roseville Theater. For 25 cents, (10 cents for the children), moviegoers could watch a double bill, a newsreel, a short feature and a cartoon plus a preview of coming attractions. On certain nights there were giveaways, such as Bank Night, Dish Night and Glass Night. Particularly popular was “Ten-O-Win” where free theater passes could be won.

In the days before television, radio proved to be a popular and free diversion. Favorite shows of the era included Amos and Andy, Fibber McGee and Molly, Jack Benny, Lum and Abner, the Kraft Music Hall with crooner Bing Crosby and an endless list of others ranging from kiddie shows to soap operas catering to all ages. Along with the radio, families and friends would get together to play Monopoly, current card games or work on jigsaw puzzles.

Local sports and picnics in the park provided other low-cost sources of entertainment for the community. Football and basketball games were played at the high school, and teams, such as Wolf & Royer, PFE, Redmen and Roseville Merchants played weekend baseball games in the old Placer-Nevada League. Southern Pacific and service clubs put on picnics at Royer Park for local residents.

In 1935 and 1936, the Chamber of Commerce and the City sponsored public street fairs. Vernon Street was blocked off to accommodate a wide array of food and game booths and the all-day event finished with a big street dance. In 1937, the popular street fairs were replaced by the first Placer County Fair on a 76-acre site at the northern edge of town. The Placer County Fair and the fairground have expanded greatly since then. The fairground, once alive for only four or five days during summer, is now a year-round operation. The buildings and grounds are available for organizational events and meetings of every type and size throughout the year. While fairs statewide have changed significantly in recent years, the Placer County Fair, while adjusting to changing conditions, still remains dedicated to exhibiting county products in an entertaining and educational manner.

By 1939, the nation began to shake off the effects of the Depression and make plans for a renewed period of economic growth and development. An uneasy optimism prevailed, however, for the rattling of sabers in Germany, Italy and Japan could be heard throughout the world. As the Depression lessened, an uneasy world speculated whether the coming decade would bring war or peace.


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