Interviewer: Jan Bradley
Interview Date: October 31, 2013
Jan Bradley: This is Jan Bradley and I’m pleased to welcome John and Joanne Sales who I am interviewing on behalf of the St. Helena Historical Society’s Oral History Program. We are conducting this interview at 1:00 on October 31, 2013 at Grace Churc
Joanne Sales: Go ahead John
John Sales: Well, I was born in Ontario, Canada in l935 and I came to St. Helena when I got married in 1957.
Joanne Sales: I was born in St. Helena Sanitarium, I guess it was Sanitarium then on May 23, 1934 and I’ve been here most of all my life.
Jan Bradley: What are some of your earliest memories?
John Sales: Well, for my part I guess my earliest memory was my mother taught school here in 1955, I think it was 55-56 and it was when I was still in college then. I just remember it being a nice little town at that time. Then we got married and I worked at Basalt Rock Co. in Napa and we lived here in town. We lived on Pope Street to begin with and then moved over into a newly built house on Adams Street And our daughter was born there. Well she was born in a hospital, but when we lived there. I remember the first winter we were married it rained a lot and there was a certain amount of flooding down in the lower portion of Pope Street. I remember driving back and forth to work. It was a challenge. We then moved to Napa; I’m trying to think of the dates. It was probably ‘59 or ’60, about 1960.
Joanne Sales: Because we couldn’t afford to_______
John Sales: Right. So, we bought a house down there. We actually looked at a lot of houses in St. Helena, but we couldn’t find anything that we could afford, or that was suitable. So, we moved to Napa and we lived there about 5 years. Then we were able to sell our house there, and we bought a lot on Sulphur Springs and built a house there in 1966 and lived there 20 years, and raised our children there. Our company was sold in ’66 and I was transferred down to Pleasanton. So, I commuted for six months and then we decided it was too much.
Joanne Sales: It was ’86.
John Sales: That’s right, in ’86. And then we moved to Danville and lived there for a little over 12 years. Then moved back here in 1998 or ‘99.
Joanne Sales: ‘99
John Sales: And remodeled Joanne’s parents’ house and that’s where we live. So that’s basically the upshot. But St. Helena has changed greatly during those years. When I was at Basalt in Napa, I worked in a number of different areas. One of them was managing our transportation department and we had a large fleet of trucks at the time. Many of the drivers were people who lived in the upper valley, several of which were farmers part-time and truck drivers part-time. In those years most of the farmers had second jobs. If you were a small farmer, you couldn’t make it on just the property, so you had to have a second job. The big change probably came in the late ‘70s when the grape industry pretty much took over. Prior to that there were a lot of prunes, a lot of walnuts and dairy and other things. So, it was a more diversified economy. So, it’s changed dramatically. But it was a good town to raise your children in.
So… What else?
Joanne Sales: There are several pages of questions.
Jan Bradley: I think you covered quite a few. Joanne, do you want to talk a little bit about what you remember about growing up here?
Joanne Sales: How about why we’re here?
Jan Bradley: OK. How about why you’re here?
Joanne Sales: My grandfather came from Northern Ireland in about 1910, and he went to Monterey. He was a chauffeur there and my grandmother was a governess and they got married and had two children and then my grandmother became ill with tuberculosis and she came up to Angwin and stayed on White Cottage Road at a place that was there. I suppose it was a sanitorium for tuberculosis patients. And so, she felt better here, so my grandfather was somehow able to buy property, which if you were on Sanitarium Road and went across what is now Deer Park Road, you would go directly into their driveway. My grandfather renamed that property Deer Park because that was where he was born in Northern Ireland. My grandmother died from her tuberculosis in about 1923, I think. Having two young children, my grandfather remarried pretty soon, within a couple of years, and they had two more children. That’s my mother’s side.
My mom and dad met in high school, at St. Helena High School. They both graduated in the class of 1931. They were married a couple of years later, and my grandmother on my father’s side came to St. Helena in 1931, or not 1931, maybe 1929 or 1930. She was a widow. She and her husband had come to California so that my grandfather could work in the harvest of the redwood trees. And they lived in Crio?? Is that what you told me?
John Sales: Yeah.
Joanne Sales: My grandfather was injured in an accident and he eventually died. And my grandmother lived there by herself for a brief period of time I think, and then her brothers in Illinois had gone into the dime store business and they helped her find a place to have a dime store. They found St. Helena was a good spot because there wasn’t one here. So, my grandmother opened a dime store on Main Street in the St. Helena Hotel in 1930 I guess, or ’29-’30 and ran it for several years. My mom and dad got married and my father and mother moved to Pleasanton with a branch store from the St. Helena store. They were there, we were there for probably 5 or 6 years, and in the meantime my grandmother remarried and she didn’t want to work, so my parents sold the store in Pleasanton and moved back to St. Helena and had Kirkpatrick’s 5 & 10 on Main Street until 1952 when they lost their lease in what is now where Goodman’s is.
So how much more do you want of that period? I don’t really remember a lot in the first ten years, which is one of the questions, because I was young.
I vividly remember the day that World War II started. I remember being in the kitchen. We lived on Madrone Ave., and my grandparents were there. They were talking about that the war had started and it really wasn’t very good. During the war, I really don’t remember, nothing much to remember, other than my father was drafted, and he never served in the war. He was sent to Japan after the surrender.
John Sales: He was in the militia up until that time.
Joanne Sales: He was in the cavalry.
John Sales: The California…
Joanne Sales: Oh yes, you mean the St. Helena Militia that met in the American Legion Hall
John Sales: Right.
Joanne Sales: Just talking about living there, my mother ran the store, and my grandparents, my father’s mother and stepfather moved in with us till my father came back from the service, and that was in 1946.
Jan Bradley: Did you help out in the store or were you mainly at home?
Joanne Sales: Oh yeah, no, I was at the store because I was old enough to be by myself. The store was in Goodman’s and there was a huge back room, storeroom, and I used to go upstairs. My father had his desk upstairs, I used to play at the desk, play with the typewriter. It was a good time for me. Helen Christianson’s father had the grocery store next door. For a while I remember seeing Helen now and then.
Jan Bradley: So, you went through the elementary school and high school?
Joanne Sales: Um hum (yes).
Jan Bradley: So, what did you do after high school?
Joanne Sales: I went to San Francisco State for a couple of years. My grades were great but I wasn’t getting much encouragement from my father and so I came back home and I eventually worked for Judge Vasconi as a secretary, until I, well, past when I got married, when John and I got married. Then I became pregnant in 1959 and I quit and in the meantime Mr. Caiocca and George Wise?
John Sales: Bervel
Joanne Sales: That’s right, Ed Bervel bought the business from Judge Vasconi, the insurance business, I worked in the insurance part of his business. Then I became pregnant and had my daughter Jennifer and I think I stayed home. Then we moved to Napa, and then James was born, but he was born here in St. Helena, in the hospital, in 1962. And then eventually we could afford to buy a house… build a house in St. Helena so we came back. How much more…
Jan Bradley: Let’s go back now and talk about your grandparents. They had a place up on Deer Park, and did they live there long, and did he farm there?
Joanne Sales: There was vineyard there when he bought it, vineyard and a winery, so that’s what he did. It was Deer Park Winery which was named after… did I already say that? The place in Northern Ireland.
Jan Bradley: Then what did he do during Prohibition?
Joanne Sales: I have no idea, but he survived.
John Sales: Well, I think he had a team of horses, and in those days, the vineyard that he had up there was all hillside, very steep in some parts. So, with the team of horses in the summertime, he worked for the county. They pulled a road grader, cause in those days the roads weren’t paved, so they needed to be graded. He also did stone masonry work. He has done various projects around as a stonemason and also worked as a plasterer. I mean, I think everybody in those days did what they could find to do.
Joanne Sales: I think he had something to do with the building of the wall here around Grace Church.
John Sales: Well, it wasn’t the original one, but he did repairs on it. And I think he was the one, he built the fireplace that was in Bourn Hall. And he was Senior Warden.
Joanne Sales: My grandfather was… He was Anglican, so as soon as he came to St. Helena, he started going to Grace Episcopal and was a very faithful member until he died.
Jan Bradley: There was a fireplace in Bourn Hall? That was way before my time.
Joanne Sales: Oh yeah
John. It was on this side (south) of the room and I think it eventually started to peel away from the wall so they had to…
Joanne Sales: It was taken out when they added the offices.
John Sales: When the building was remodeled.
Joanne Sales: Maybe they didn’t add anything.
John Sales: Well the building wasn’t attached to the church originally. There was a wall in the back of the church. It was stone, like part of the church, and the building was built right alongside it. So, I think it was in the early sixties, when they remodeled, when they took the wall out of the back of the church and made the connection.
Joanne Sales: What was in that part, where Fr. Mac’s office eventually was?
John Sales: There was a stage.
Joanne Sales: Oh, that’s right. It was a stage.
John Sales: Remember when there was a stage there. That end of Bourn Hall was elevated, and that was the stage. And that was torn out and the bathrooms put in and the offices were added. Because the bathrooms, remember, used to be at the other end, behind the kitchen.
Joanne Sales: Our son did the bathrooms when he was a senior, an eagle scout project, redid it, painted it.
Jan Bradley: So, I’m interested in the schools. Was St. Helena Elementary at the elementary school location?
Joanne Sales: Um hm (yes)
Jan Bradley: And it was just the main building?
Joanne Sales: Yes, it was just the main building.
Jan Bradley: How many classes were there?
Joanne Sales: When I attended, it went to sixth grade, and RLS, well there wasn’t an RLS, it was a Jr. High at the High School. I don’t remember when that was put in, but I did go there for 7th and 8th , just 7th and 8th grade and on to high school for 9th grade
John Sales: But those were all at the high school.
Joanne Sales: Yeah. Even when I was in the sixth grade. That was as far as it went.
Jan Bradley: So, when you say “at the high school” was it where the high school is now? Was it out of Vintage Hall?
John Sales: No, it was in Vintage Hall.
Joanne Sales: The high school was. The Jr. High was in whatever buildings are used now on the south side of the campus, next to Salvestrins. That was Jr. High.
Jan Bradley: Can you talk about some of the activities that they had when you were in high school like football games or dances?
Joanne Sales: We had the regular season of football, and the classes were very active supporting their team. We traveled to various… Healdsburg, Sonoma, Calistoga. There was a big rivalry between Calistoga and St. Helena. Miss Voorhees was there and she was acting and drama and we had just the regular high school classes. The auditorium wasn’t there. It was built the next year after we graduated, I think in 1953, but it wasn’t there when I was there. The usual sports: football, basketball, baseball. It was a good school.
Jan Bradley: What were some of the things that kids did in the summertime?
Joanne Sales: Picked prunes. Not a whole lot. I don’t think we had any activities. We rode our bikes. I don’t remember anything special, except it was a good time.
Jan Bradley: Do you want to talk a little about your wedding? Or your early marriage here? What it was like ? Where did you shop?
John Sales: We shopped locally! (laughter)
Joanne Sales: I can’t remember. Where was the grocery store?
John Sales: Well, I think there was… When we got married, Purity was still on Main Street. It was still where Steves Hardware is now. And then they built the new store over here where Sunshine is.
Joanne Sales: We shopped at Keller’s. Always Keller’s for meat.
John Sales: Yeah, Keller’s for meat. Oh, Main Street was totally different then because you had Corbella’s Meat Market was on Main. Croma Hardware was there, where there’s a couple of shops there now. There were insurance offices, banks. PG&E used to have an office there where you went in and paid your bills.
Joanne Sales: So, where was that? Up by the Model Bakery?
John Sales: Maybe near where Market is now. Anyhow, there weren’t any olive oil tasting places.
Joanne Sales: Lottie’s was a big women’s department store, or not department store, women’s clothing store. What’s there now? It’s chopped up into more than one building. We just walked by it… it’s next to Bison… it David’s isn’t it?
Jan Bradley: So, let’s talk a little bit about your mom’s Five and Dime store.
Joanne Sales: It was really my father’s and my grandmother’s to begin with. Well you could buy everything in there that you needed, in housewares…. they didn’t have bulk material, but they had all these needs for sewing; they had a lot of toys, and stationary, cards, Hallmark cards. It was a big nice store, and it was very successful during World War II. And then, sometime in that period after World War II, the grocery stores started handling envelopes and paper and cards eventually and pencils and all that little stuff and took away a lot of the business. So, my parents eventually just had to close up because there wasn’t enough business. That took until 1967 to close. But that’s why they closed, because there was just no business anymore for the 5 and 10. A toy store would have been good, but St. Helena just wasn’t big enough to support one.
Jan Bradley: Do you remember when Sprouse moved in?
Joanne Sales: Yes, that was probably a bad day in my father’s life. Do I remember when? No, I don’t. That building had to be built sometime.
John Sales: Yeah, I don’t… I guess they were the first ones to move into the building when it was built. The Sunshine building was built by Purity, and Purity was there, not a long time. I wouldn’t venture a guess, but it wasn’t too many years. And then Purity, as a corporation, went out of business and all the stores got sold as individuals. The guy who bought it didn’t do very well, and then he sold it to the Smiths, to Dale Smith and his family. But Sprouse came in probably about the same time Purity came in. Cause I remember that piece of property, that whole block there, Meyers Chevrolet was there where the parking lot is now. And right next to that was Al Michaels’ service station, which had been in front of where Wells Fargo Bank is.
The back of that lot, on Oak, there was a sign there that said, “Future home of the Masonic Lodge.” St. Helena Masonic Lodge. So, they must have owned that property at the time that Purity bought it. All that went in after we got married. It was probably when we were living in Napa, during the five-year period when we were down there. But the Sprouse thing was the final blow, I think, because there was another variety store in town that came in after Kirkpatrick’s were there. I’m trying to remember…. Art Nicholson’s. Do you remember when that one came in?
Joanne Sales: No, it was sometime in the late ‘50s maybe?
John Sales: But anyhow, there were two on Main Street, and then that one sold and became a tractor supply store.
Joanne Sales: Actually, that store was probably more established around 1950, because I knew the daughter of the man that started it. I knew her in high school.
Jan Bradley: So, after you moved to Pleasanton, what prompted you to move back? I mean Danville.
Joanne Sales: Well, we didn’t leave here because we wanted to.
John Sales: Well, we kept our house here for a year and rented it and at the end of the year we reassessed our situation and decided our house really wasn’t a rental. You know we had too much into it ourselves, so we sold it. And at the same time, Joanne’s parents were getting along in years. But we were coming back and forth a lot.
Joanne Sales: Constantly! Weekly.
John Sales: To take care of things that were here. Joanne’s father passed away in 1990 and her mother had had an… we don’t know whether it was a stroke or just what it was. She had had heart surgery and after the anesthesia she was never quite the same. So, she needed to have live in help. Trying to manage live-in help was very difficult.
Joanne Sales: From Danville.
John Sales: Eventually she passed away so then we decided that since we were here anyway, this was a better place to live than Danville.
Joanne Sales: But we never had any intention of staying in Danville.
John Sales: No, no we didn’t. The idea was that this was our home.
Joanne Sales: We didn’t have any intention of living in my parents’ house though. After she passed away, we came back and forth for three years probably…. Actually, she went to The Meadows in 1994 and we maintained the house on Oak Avenue all that time. It was empty for four or five years. And then we decided that that’s what we wanted to do, to move back, and that’s what we did.
Jan Bradley: So, did you grow up in the house on Oak Street?
Joanne Sales: No. I was 13 when they bought that house. No, we lived on Madrona and then we lived for a brief time on Charter Oak and then my parents bought that house in 1947.
Jan Bradley: Where on Charter Oak did you live?
Joanne Sales: We lived in the house behind…I can’t remember the name of the woman who owned the house; she was a sister to Minerva Money. The house was…. I think Frank Toller lived there for a while. We lived in the little house behind that, because that was all that my parents could find. It wasn’t adequate for us, but it was all they could find to rent at the time, because they had to move out of the house on Madrona because it was sold. So, we lived there and eventually Dad bought the house on Oak Avenue.
Jan Bradley: So, Joanne told us her memory of when World War II started, how about you?
John Sales: Well, as I said before, I was born in Ontario, and my dad owned a small grocery store. During the Depression, there were a lot of hungry people, and because he had a grocery store, people would come and it was hard to turn anybody away who was hungry, so he had a lot of “accounts receivable”. Plus, the town we were in was very small and there were a lot of farmers who would trade eggs for flour; they’d trade things rather than pay cash for them, so it became very difficult to sustain a business. He had worked in a bank before so in ’36 I think it was, he finally closed the store and took a job with Bank of America; they were advertising for people and he had banking experience. So, we moved out here. We lived in San Francisco, we lived in Chico, then moved to McCloud, I think about 1940. I remember, my earliest recollection, other than starting school there and so forth, was the blackouts we had in… I don’t know how many people remember, but there were some scares that happened about that time, incendiary balloons that were floated and started fires up in the forests in Northern California and Oregon.
Anyhow, McCloud was a lumber town. It was a company town. They owned everything; the only thing they didn’t own was the bank and the post office. Everything else was company owned. I don’t remember a lot about the war other than the blackouts, having to cover the windows and put a chair in front of the stove. In those days, you didn’t have furnaces in the house; you had an oil stove between the living room and the kitchen. So, you put a chair in it so you wouldn’t have any ????.
Joanne Sales: It got hot all over.
John Sales: Yea, it got hot all over. Then we moved from McCloud to Brentwood, in Contra Costa County, oh, I guess I was in the second grade. So, I went through grammar school and high school there. The only thing I remember that related to the war was rationing. The stamps, you had to have stamps for meat, butter, sugar.
Joanne Sales: Mayonnaise! I remember about mayonnaise. My mother got a jar of mayonnaise, somebody got a jar of mayonnaise and she was going to give it to Gertie Eisen. They were saying “Oh no, you take it,” “You take it”, “You take it”, and they pushed it back and forth and it went off the edge of the counter!
John Sales: But I just remember those kinds of shortages. And there was always talk about town, “well, that guy, he got more than we got. He must know somebody.” And there was graft and corruption in the system. I remember the gas rationing. My father would save his gas coupons, and he had a friend who had a gas tank on his farm. So, when it came time for vacation, we could go to the farm and fill up and that would give us enough to get up to Silver Lake or Lake Tahoe. We’d camp and then we’d have ration stamps enough to get home. It only happened for two or three years, because the war didn’t last that long. But it made an impression. It wasn’t a bad time I don’t think, as far as everything… my dad was too old for the service until right at the end of the war and he was determined to be 4F so he never went into the service.
Then I went to San Jose State. That was different in those days. The first year I was there, the Jr. College and the College were all on the same campus and there were about 10,000 students between the two. Then when I was a sophomore, they split the Jr. College and built a new campus. The population dropped to about 6,000, and I guess now it’s huge. But it was a good experience.
Jan Bradley: You said your mother taught school up here?
John Sales: She did for a year. She taught up here for a year.
Joanne Sales: Because she lived in Napa.
John Sales: Yea, they lived in Napa.
Joanne Sales: But she couldn’t get a job in Napa.
John Sales: Well, yeah, but then she taught down there at Shearer School for 15 or 20 years until she retired.
Jan Bradley: So how did the two of you meet?
John Sales: We had mutual friends. I had a sports car and we met through that.
Joanne Sales: Sports Car Club. We belonged to it too… my friends.
John Sales: So that’s how that worked out. That seems to have worked out all right.
Jan Bradley: You’ve lasted a few years! (laughing)
Joanne Sales: I remember during World War II; we would have bond drives and there was a thermometer on Main Street. It’s probably been in the paper, I think, a picture of the thermometer. I remember on the day that World War II ended, I can remember a crowd of people going beat on Main Street, celebrating.
Jan Bradley: What kind of drives did they have? What did they collect?
Joanne Sales: Other than money, I don’t recall anything. There probably was. I joined the Girl Scout troop. I think I am part of their original troop, sometime, prior to World War II ending, because I can remember standing around in a circle in Bourn Hall and giving thanks. Mrs. Lewelling was my Girl Scout leader for a long time. Janice White’s mother, Lillian Lewelling. It was good, good times. You could ride your bike. On Oak Avenue I road my bike, or walk down Oak Avenue, and there was probably one or two cars an hour going by. It’s different.
Jan Bradley: (laughing) Not now! So, is there anything else that you can think of that you want to share?
John Sales: I can’t think of anything.
Joanne Sales: I don’t really know how to comment on St. Helena, on the town of St. Helena. I think everything is good that has happened. It’s growth probably is big, too big. It would have been better if it were smaller. And of course, downtown businesses are totally different than they were when I was growing up. It was town serving then, which I don’t think they are now, except for Steves. So, in this I think it was better then. There was traffic going through St. Helena on Friday nights, because I can remember being downtown at the store and you’d notice the increase in traffic because people were going to Lake County. It was a big deal.
Jan Bradley: Was Calistoga very popular then? The hot springs
Joanne Sales: Oh yeah, sure. My mother and grandmother and I during the war, used to drive up to Calistoga on Sunday night and have an ice cream cone, and sit and watch the people walk by. I don’t know why, but it was one of the things we did. (laughing) Our weekly excursion.
John Sales: Well, the economy is different now and that’s not saying it’s bad, it’s just different. But the whole world is like that. I think about my growing up in Brentwood, and it was an agricultural community at the time, now it’s a bedroom community. At the time we rode our bikes all over, drove our parents’ pick-ups or cars, and some were lucky enough to have cars when they were in high school. We went out in the Delta and fished and hunted. You know, it was a pretty good life. Having more population certainly cuts down on the number of things you can do, you know. You just have to recognize that. But, that’s progress, I guess.
Jan Bradley: (to Joanne) I forgot to ask if you had any brothers or sisters.
Joanne Sales: No. No, I’m an only child, which was kinda typical of my generation. There were a lot of only children in my high school class.
John Sales: It was a time in history, during the Depression, people couldn’t afford to have a lot of children.
Joanne Sales: But I don’t recall that my family was very affected by the Depression. I don’t know that St. Helena was affected by the Depression, but they must have been.
John Sales: They must have been, but not to the extent as industrialized areas. Like I mentioned before, people who had small acreages, oh probably up to 25 acres, they all had other jobs. Mare Island was a big employer and they used to run buses from here, actually from Calistoga, to Mare Island.
Joanne Sales: To take the people to work and back.
John Sales: So, this area probably wasn’t affected as much as other areas.
Jan Bradley: Plus, we didn’t have the drought out here like they did in the Midwest.
John Sales: Yeah, it was different. I think, just my looking at some history of the Midwest, a lot of that was… It was drought, certainly drought sensitive, but a lot of that was brought on by plowing up the prairies and the native grasses, and all the ground cover that was there, exposing the dirt to the winds. If they hadn’t had a drought, it would’ve just come later. This is different. It’s a unique area.
Jan Bradley: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate you doing this.