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LeBARON: If those Railroad Square cannery walls could talk

  • The old cannery walls on Third Street at Railroad Square, Friday, May 24, 2013. ((Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat))

Shall we play “Jeopardy?” The answer is: Nothing. The question is: What's happening to the historic cannery site on the tracks across from Railroad Square?

If you're up on the latest news from city hall you know that the big plans for the old buildings have fallen apart, victims of the loss of both redevelopment funds and city council enthusiasm.

So now we are left with a historic site that is nothing more than walls.

Ahh, but if these walls could talk, what tales they would tell. (Sorry about the cliché', but it's just too tempting.)

Now standing like specters on West Third Street, they are ghosts of a food industry that dominated both the landscape and the economy for half a century.

I've written about California Packing Company's Plant No. 5 in the dim and distant past, about the several hundred people who worked there, many of them recent immigrants at their first American job.

With the fate of the landmark structures in true jeopardy, not the game variety, it seems important to tell it again.

There is a distinct Italian accent to this story. The workforce for the three-block long cannery was drawn from the neighborhood, an area where the earliest immigrants had established themselves at the turn of the 20th century with boarding hotels and shops along and west of Wilson Street.

The scope of the cannery and its importance to the economy was enormous, In the April-to-October season, workers processed a wide variety of crops, coming by truck and train — pears from Lake and Mendocino counties, apples, berries and cherries from Sebastopol, peaches and plums from Geyserville and Cloverdale. There were also vegetables. Cal Pack, as the company was known, leased fields in Valley Ford and Ignacio to grow spinach and peas.

There were even tomatoes from the Sacramento Valley, although Cal Pack's predecessor at the Santa Rosa site, Hunt Brothers Cannery, had long since established itself as the premier tomato processor in the Sacramento area, on its way to becoming a national brand (think Hunt's tomato sauce, think ketchup).

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