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Postcard Images of Main Street in the Central Valley of California

Photos printed on postcards of the main street or tourist attractions taken in cities, towns, and villages have long been a means for photographers or postcard companies to generate income. In earlier times some of the photos originated from glass plate negatives or on film taken with high-quality large format cameras that are capable of producing high-quality photographs.

Share with us what you find of interest in the detailed enlargements of three postcard photos courtesy of Michael J. Semas Collection of vintage postcards of the Central Valley of California.

  • A view of the Hotel Lebec Coffee Shop, Richfield filling station, and a truckers parking lot taken on December 17, 1940 in Lebec, California.

  • A 1940s postcard image looking north in the center of Tulare, California.

  • And finally a view of gasoline price signs, pumps, and automobiles in or near Hanford, California.

20 responses to “Postcard Images of Main Street in the Central Valley of California

  1. The thing that strikes me about these is the choice of the images shared . I would have thought photographers would make postcards that showed their locations in their best light.

    I could understand the Tulare image. A bustling downtown speaks of a strong local economy and access to modern goods and services. But the shot of the Hotel Lebec, despite the mountains in the background, looks a little dismal — a truck stop in the slushy phase of winter. And the shot of Hanford might be considered artistic — the photographer evidently paid attention to the composition — but it doesn’t seem like the sort of image that would appeal to tourists.

    Of course, maybe standards were different back then.

    • Dave, possibly when looked at from the point of view of travelers from L.A., with the daunting prospect of crossing the mountains at the grapevine, the availability of a hotel, hot coffee and gas in mid-winter in the tiny town of Lebec, could be of some comfort and reassurance to travelers in 1940.
      The town serves the same purpose for travelers to this day…that area can be quite treacherous.

        • The “grape vine” is a 6 lane freeway today that is a major route from Central Cal. to the L.A. Basin. It
          crosses a 4,200 foot pass on its path. Thick fog and snow can be a common occurrence during years
          like this one. L.A. drivers , who are insane under the best of circumstances, don’t fare well when the
          white stuff or fog arrives. When the fast lane is only going 75mph , they use the slow lanes to pass at 85 to 90. I’ve never seen one ticketed. I love the Lebec picture. The Hotel was large and first class. It
          burned many years ago. Some of the first gold discoveries in Cal. happened not too far away from
          Lebec.

  2. 1st pic, hooray, a vintage truck stop!! The truck on the street is a mid 30’s IH , C series, with what looks like a load of drums, empty, I’m sure. Moving left, is a Diamond T or Federal, next either a White or a Mack, then I think I see an oval on the grill, partially obstructed, looks like an old Pete, then I think an older Mack, not sure the next one, but I believe, that’s a Dodge under the hi octane sign. No wonder there’s so many 2 door coupe hot rods in California.
    The pump prices, is it 15. 5 cents per gallon, or 15 cents for a half a gallon?

  3. Nice picture of snowy Lebec, California . Lebec is at the top of the Grapevine grade coming out of the California San Joaquin Valley before Hiway 99 drops down into the Los Angeles area.

  4. Lebec, CA is about halfway between L.A. and Bakersfield on I-5 @ 3500’ elevation….hence, the snow. Tulare is about halfway between Bakersfield and Fresno on Hwy 99 about 15-20 miles from Hanford, both about 30 miles east of I-5 and at a couple hundred foot elevation.

    In Item 1 of 3 looks like a ’40 Plymouth Coupe with snow on its rear deck next to a ’36 Ford

    In Item 2 of 3, the third car back on the left could be a ’40 or ’41 DeSoto. It, along with the Plymouth had less prominent taillights than other Chrysler products, but those look like Desoto hubcaps

    • The first car on the left in photo 1 is a 1935 Ford. Note the wire wheels, the last year of Ford wire wheels (from 1926-1935 in various sizes)

  5. Summer vacations in Sequoia always took us over the Grapevine and into the heat. Before I-5 this was a pretty treacherous stretch of highway not only because of the frequency of overheating vehicles, but also the ever-present danger of run-away trucks! Our ’48 did the overheating act there and on the climb up to the park, but our ’56 Chevy did a much better job, despite being overloaded with kids and stuff with only a BlueStreak 6 to haul us up and over and little, if any, engine braking with a Powerglide! Dad never called La Cañada de las Uvas (yes, there are still wild grapes in the area) the Grapevine, so as kids we always knew it as The Ridge Route!

    • I grew up in Porterville, about 40 miles from Tulare, and spent many happy summers in Sequoia National Park. During WW II, I had a big brother stationed in San Pedro and our family made many trips over the old Grapevine/Ridge Route and yes, runaway trucks were a real hazard – drivers would use their brakes too much and their brake drums would heat up and expand and – no brakes! Stopping at Lebec or Gorman, the other main stop in the Ridge Route, was mandatory and always a bit glamorous for a kid from a small Central Valley town. I always ordered the hot roast beef sandwich.

  6. Tulare, California — home of two-time Olympic decathlon champion Bob Mathias. That scene in the card would have been exactly what Bob would have seen as a young man.

    • I didn’t know Bob Mathias but knew his little brother, Jimmy. We met at Tulare County YMCA camp on Lake Sequoia. Bob had previously been a camper and came up after his first Decathlon win. He gave a little talk at campfire that night – I remember it being rather shy and halting; the celebrity status hadn’t yet set in – then showed an unexpected talent when he sat down and played the piano.

  7. Since no one’s mentioned them, I will. Beginning in the mid-1950’s I, too, drove up and over the Grapevine with my family from our new home in Los Angeles. At that time, there was still a plethora of cars which had not made it up and over the hill and lay abandoned on the hillside. In various states of disrepair, actually partially dismantled, their rusted remains poked up out of the underbrush where here and there one of them had lodged against an old tree or huge rock which kept a car from tumbling into the abyss. My junior high school buddy’s father promised us an excursion to see if we could liberate one of the Model T’s or perhaps even something more modern from the late-20’s or 1930’s but alas that dream trip never materialized. Yes, it would have been impossible to get one of those old cars back up on its wheels and running down the road under its own steam but to a couple of boys who had just entered their teens, the idea of rescuing a derelict Model-T was our private version of those “sugar plums” which “danced through” other children’s “heads.”

      • Thanks, Dave, in my mind my buddy, Tim, and I scrambled down the embankment with the end of a thick rope in our grimy hands. When we reached the nearly intact Model-T which decades before had tumbled down the hill and lodged wedged against the boulder our hearts raced with the thrill that we most desired, what we had dreamed of scavenging, a free antique car, was now within our grasp. It took only seconds to loop the rope around the front axle of the old, rusted tin Lizzy. Tim yelled up to his dad who put the winch on his tow truck into gear ; the rope tightened, became taught and strained; would it snap, we wondered. Then, with a small lurch, the light weight of the teens-era car moved the few inches, sand streamed from the edge where the car had slowly been buried. The little lurch was our hoped-for signal that we would be successful in getting the Model-T off the hillside where it had weathered in the passing decades while tens if not hundreds of thousands of cars had driven by on the Grapevine overhead…..

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