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King City
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July 6, 2022

Tour explores King City’s past, present and future

Local historians guide guests on walk through history

KING CITY — San Antonio Valley Historical Association hosted a historic walking tour of King City last month with a theme of “History, Food and Fun in Downtown King City.” 

More than two-dozen guests attended the April 23 walk, which was guided by local historians Karen and John Jernigan along Broadway Street.

The Jernigans, dressed in conductor outfits, discussed the history of different buildings and sites, from showing old photos to identifying names of people in murals. 

There was also a sampling of cuisine and drinks from local businesses, including Hestia Coffee, The Cork and Plough, Tacos La Potranca de Jalisco, La Plaza Bakery and La Michoacana Paleteria.

“You can learn so much by examining pictures and asking questions,” said Karen Jernigan, as she talked about the process of figuring out the movements of buildings based on photo evidence.

Mayor Mike LeBarre and City Manager Steve Adams also spoke about the city’s future from the walk’s starting point at the corner of Broadway Street and North Vanderhurst Avenue, which will soon be a new city park, the Downtown Plaza, with a neighboring building to be revamped into a visitor’s center and office for the King City Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture.

“The city has been very fortunate to receive several grants that will bring improvements,” LeBarre said.

Adams spelled out the costs, with streetscape improvements totaling $5 million and currently having $4 million in funding. He said the downtown corridor will be San Lorenzo Avenue through First Street along Broadway, and items like streetlights and trashcans have been the first steps. 

Later, crosswalks will be updated with bulb out corners and medians will get an update. The Downtown Plaza itself will be a $3 million project. 

Karen Jernigan (center) guides a group past the mural at El Pueblo Market during the historic walking tour. (Sean Roney)

Adams said updating downtown is an effort to improve the area and encourage use.

“We all felt that we had this jewel in our downtown, but it has become run down over time,” he said.

With the understanding that people desire shopping outside of the city, Adams noted the city needs to encourage activity like outdoor dining and making the area vibrant.

“They need to be places people want to come down, hang out and enjoy themselves,” Adams said of downtown improvements.

Guests on the walk learned about how King City used to have a bustling business downtown in what was an area hub of transit activity. From the train station that stopped at the northeast end of Broadway, to the fact that Highway 101 used to run along Broadway itself, King City was placed in a key spot for commerce. 

The Jernigans commented on how many gas stations there used to be, with one on almost every corner of Broadway, and multiple car dealerships.

The city started as property owned by Charles King, who kept wheat fields. Wheat gave way to sugar beets and those gave way to beans as the main crop, with King City being a center for bean growing to support the war efforts in both World War I and World War II.

Some elements of the past were lost to time, with only old photographs to show what once was. Other elements still stood, many having taken on a different use from their original purpose. 

One such case was the insurance office on the corner of North Vanderhurst and Lynn Street. It was once a USO club built to entertain troops, since 10,000 pilots were trained in King City for combat in World War II. That club closed and became an American Legion, then was a roller rink, before becoming offices.

Near Hestia Coffee, a property owner named Anton Suk had Suk’s Tavern, which eventually became Keefer’s Restaurant, which itself was part of the origin of the famous King City pink bean soup.

Stacey Azcona (left) and Nita Caulk walk at the front of a group of guests on the Historic Walking Tour of King City on April 23, during which the history of downtown King City was examined. (Sean Roney)

Also part of the war history was the old El Camino Hotel, which sat on the spot now taken up by offices on the corner of Broadway and North First Street. It featured a glass observation structure at the top, which was used for plane spotting during World War II.

That particular building had a past that included cinema, as it was featured in the 1972 film “The Candidate,” starring Robert Redford and Peter Boyle. The old King City train depot can even be seen in the background.

Another connection to cinema was King City’s original theater, the Reel Joy, which had a visit from actor John Coogan during its opening, along with a sack race down Broadway called the Fat Man Race. John Jernigan explained the naming of the theater was part of a contest. The building continues to this day as a market.

The Jernigans also explained the pasts of two former bank buildings at the corner of Broadway and Second streets. What is currently California Gourmet Pizza was once a bank designed by the same person who designed a bank building in Gonzales, which also became a restaurant, Luigi’s. Catty-corner to it was First Nation Bank, which later became Bank of Italy, then Bank of America, before eventually becoming an antique shop.

From garages to stables serving the area’s transportation needs, many of the downtown blocks served a different purpose from their current forms.

The Jernigans went on an almost building-by-building discussion and even showed a photo of what was an empty lot used for activities like circuses and the King City Stampede, which is now the former bank building used by the King City Library.

The shape of the city layout even became part of the discussion, as John Jernigan noted the bend along Broadway at San Lorenzo Avenue. That was due to the city having ended at that point and a county road coming in to connect with Broadway at an angle, which eventually became part of Broadway.

While the city awaits a new train station, the Jernigans brought up historical quirks of the past railway connection, such as students from neighboring towns able to use the train to get to school, or restaurants advertising fresh oysters. 

As the city looks ahead, the residential zoning past the current end of Broadway will go into effect after 100 years of waiting, with plans for Broadway itself to be expanded to the northeast.

The Saturday tour wrapped up at the Masonic Lodge, which celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2015.

Sean Roney
Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.
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