The population boom, which hit Southern California with sudden swiftness in the late 1940s and spread quickly to Northern California in the following decades, focused on Southwestern Placer County after 1960. Roseville felt the full brunt of this latest population surge because it presented numerous opportunities for developers, who were looking for broad expanses of cheap open land with easy transportation access. Located just 18 short miles from the State Capital, Roseville sat at the junction of Southern Pacific’s northbound and eastbound railroad lines as well as the crossroads of two major highways. A hint of the growth to come had taken place in the preceding decade when population rose moderately from 8,723 in 1950 to 13,421 by 1960. Growth would continue unchecked through the next two decades.
The railroad, long the economic backbone of Roseville, experienced startling changes both at its Southern Pacific and Pacific Fruit Express facilities. The business district, long concentrated along downtown Vernon Street, started to shift eastward in increasing numbers to fast growing East Roseville. Government also increased to keep pace with population growth. The need to add municipal services, ease traffic congestion, deal with increased crime and overcrowded schools, and expand park and recreation services were but a few of the many problems facing City leaders during this transitional period. How to cope with these and other growth issues would be a constant challenge for everyone from the City Council to the men and women on the street.
There was no scarcity of jobs in Roseville in 1960, particularly on the railroad which was enjoying increased business supplying the basic needs of California’s burgeoning population. Southern Pacific, Roseville’s traditional leading employer, had 1,900 workers on its payroll here. On an average midsummer day, some 8,000 freight cars or more would pass through the highly automated Jennings Yard. By 1961, finishing touches were being put on still another Southern Pacific expansion. A $4 million remodeling of its diesel repair facilities nicknamed “Cape Canaveral” enabled large diesel locomotives to be cleaned, lubricated, greased and repaired.
In cooperation with Southern Pacific’s expansion operations was an increase in the amount of fruits and vegetables being iced or re-iced at Roseville’s huge Pacific Fruit Express ice plant. In mid-summer of 1963, as many as 900 railroad cars a day loaded with California fruits and vegetables would roll up before one of PFE’s icing platforms and receive fresh supplies of ice before heading out for distant destinations. The largest number of produce cars passing through Roseville occurred between July and late September where as much as 2,700 tons of ice left storage room for their destinations. By the mid-1960s, the giant PFE ice plant regularly produced 925 tons of ice a day and 138,000 tons a year.
Behind this façade of prosperity, however, lurked serious problems for the railroad’s future. A steady decline in railroad passenger traffic due to increasing competition from automobiles, buses and new jet airplane travel ended Roseville’s role as a railroad passenger terminal. The familiar old depot at the railroad “Y” was closed in 1972 and demolished in February 1973. Pacific Fruit Express, widely known as the world’s largest artificial ice plant, also experienced difficulties. Introduced in the 1950s, automated icing machines, which enabled one man to do the work formerly done by several, were responsible for a drastic reduction of the summer labor force from about 400 to 150. Self-refrigerating refrigerators introduced in the 1950s, seriously reduced the need for icing operations. By the summer of 1965, some 8,217 of these super mechanical refrigerator cars were in operation out of a total fleet of 21,000 cars.
Roseville Square Shopping Center
The single most important addition to Roseville’s expanding business district since the mid-1920s was Roseville Square Shopping Center which commenced construction in early 1961. This modern shopping center, the first of many to follow in ensuing years, spurred additional development for the Harding Boulevard area, much like Roseville Community Hospital did for Sunrise Avenue. By 1969, downtown merchants, increasingly concerned about steadily declining business, hired consultants to design and implement a “downtown revitalization study”.
Steadily increasing population resulted in a rash of new subdivisions and annexations, most located east of the freeway. By 1968, nearly 29 percent of Roseville’s entire housing total was located in new subdivisions like Sierra Gardens, Oakmont and Champion Oaks. By that date, additional annexations had tripled the city’s total area to 27.7 square miles.
When Bob Hutchison took over the job of City Manager on Nov. 1, 1968, Roseville’s population was about 18,000 and growing fast. During the next 20 years, Hutchison orchestrated many municipal improvements including construction of a water treatment plant, sewage treatment plant, electric receiving station, public safety building and main library. He worked tirelessly to bring Olean Tile Company and other industries to the city’s northern industrial area. In October 1988, the City finished its biggest public works project, the $15 million Foothills Boulevard extension for which much of the credit goes to Hutchison. Roseville changed significantly during his 20 years of service. The city was no longer just a railroad town or only a bedroom community for Sacramento. Roseville had become an independent, largely self-sufficient City, fully in control of its future.
In 1964, Roseville was selected as one of Look Magazine’s “All America Cities.”Roseville’s selection was primarily based on its use of revenue bonds to finance community projects and establishment of a Little League Ball Park, Little Theater, community recreation building, community swimming pool and new fire station. The timing was perfect because 1964 also marked Roseville’s 100th birthday, celebrated by a year-long series of festivities. By the mid-1960s, additional space for hard pressed municipal departments had reached the critical point. The old City Hall on Vernon Street, remodeled and altered several times over the years, was no longer adequate to meet the City’s ever-growing needs. By 1966, the City had 186 full-time employees working to improve the quality of life in Roseville.
As Roseville’s rural setting changed into a more urbanized one, so did the nature of community problems, especially traffic congestion. Nowhere was this more apparent than on Rocky Ridge Road – once a quiet country lane but now an extension of already busy Douglas Boulevard. City limits pushed ever eastward toward Folsom Lake. Increased growth and traffic congestion along this busy thoroughfare finally led Chief of Police Leslie Howard in 1966 to proclaim that target shooting, hunting and reckless motorcycle riding would no longer be permitted in the area. Later, as the city expanded westward, sportsmen who hunted for dove, quail and pheasants on Baseline Road, found their favorite hunting grounds were being slowly converted to ranchettes and housing developments.
To cope with additional problems brought about by increased congestion, the local police force was increased to 30 employees with a departmental budget of $300,000. Juvenile crime, particularly petty theft, was now one of the department’s most pressing problems prompting the department to adopt a “get tough” policy for juvenile offenders. L.A. Daniels was assigned as the Roseville Police Department’s first juvenile officer when it was determined that 75 percent of Roseville’s petty thefts were committed by juveniles.
Business and commercial development along the Douglas Boulevard corridor was delayed several years because a lava cap from the geologic past covered much of the area, making development virtually impossible. Several potential developers tried to develop the area but gave up when the City halted blasting operations. Bill Strauch, who had purchased the property where T.J. Maxx Plaza is now located, solved the problem when he ripped and dozed the site with an HD-41 Allis Chalmers diesel tractor to level the rock. The 80-ton rig, capable of moving up to 32 yards of material at a time, was the largest made at that time. Strauch’s efforts encouraged others to follow and today’s busy Douglas Boulevard is the result of his ingenuity.
Economic growth kept pace with commercial, residential and municipal developments in the 1960s. Rapid expansion at nearby McClellan Field, brought about by the Korean War in 1950 and the Vietnam Conflict in the 1960s, meant still more job opportunities and increased payrolls. Aerojet General which commenced operations at its Nimbus facilities in 1951 also contributed to the local economy. By 1960, its total work force increased to 8,000 and many took up homes in Roseville. Closer to home, and of tremendous benefit to the local economy, was the establishment of a vast industrial area, initially called the Sunset Industrial District. The area greatly expanded in 1965 when a $15 million Formica plant was established to serve 11 western states. By the end of the 1970s, the Sunset Industrial District included Alcan Cable Corporation, Olean Tile Company, Western Electric Company and Reynolds Metals. Projects such as expansion of state and federal facilities in Sacramento and rapid development of construction and recreation industries meant still additional sources of employment for Roseville’s growing population. This eased somewhat local concerns about the railroad’s future, still Roseville’s chief source of employment despite the declining number of employees.
George Buljan served as mayor during this period of rapid growth and great change. Buljan, arguably the most popular of the mayors who served Roseville between 1909 and the present, served on the City Council longer than any other person in the Council’s 91-year history. His 24-year term exceeded the previous record of Dr. Bradford Woodbridge (1909-1932) by one year and three months. Buljan was elected to the Council on April 15, 1958 and assumed the mayor’s position after Paul Lunardi was elected to the State Assembly. Re-elected to five more terms, Buljan returned as mayor by popular vote in 1966, 1972 and 1978. Roseville experienced the greatest period of growth in its history at that time and Buljan was an important force in seeing that orderly growth took place. The high point of George Buljan’s long political career came on his 60th birthday, Oct. 21, 1980, when he succeeded Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley as president of the League of California Cities. To many Roseville residents, however, George Buljan will be best remembered for heading up “Buljan’s Cooking Crew.” Over a 20-year period, the crew fed more than 200,000 people at dinners, banquets and various fund-raisers for service clubs and civic, church and private organizations, all the while raising more than $1.5 million for community and youth groups. His efforts to make Roseville an ideal community were recognized by a grateful city, which named a school, baseball diamond and street (Buljan Drive) after him. Upon his death in September of 1994, the editor of The Press-Tribune summed up his life of achievement simply but accurately by saying he “. . . left a legacy of civic achievement that will never be surpassed.”
George Buljan – City collection