The top 5 buildings in Stockton that should NOT have been demolished

In 2012, I wrote a story entitled “The top five buildings in Stockton that deserve to be demolished” about what I thought to be the city’s ugliest buildings. The post quickly became one of SCL’s most read, and is still in the top five to this day. And while it’s easy to pick out buildings we find unattractive or dysfunctional, what about the buildings that are already gone? As you may or may not know, Stockton was once blessed with dozens of distinctive and architecturally significant buildings in and around downtown until the city’s urban renewal program bulldozed most of them into history. Today, downtown still has many historical buildings, but is sadly also pockmarked with numerous surface parking lots and plenty of uninspired architecture.

So, what are the top five buildings in Stockton that should have NEVER been demolished? Here are my picks. Some are intuitive, others may be less so. My criteria was not solely based on aesthetics, but I also took into account the roles these once-prominent buildings could have played in our city today. I would also like to thank Alice van Ommeren for providing pictures and insight from her fantastic book “Stockton in Vintage Postcards.”


Stockton State Hospital, Female Department

Stockton State Hospital, Female Department

Stockton State Hospital Buildings-

If you can forget about the horrible “treatments” administered here to the state’s mentally ill, the former men’s and women’s facilities of the old Stockton State Hospital were actually quite remarkable. Both were located on what now is the CSU Stanislaus extension at Grupe’s University Park, which is ironic given that both of these buildings resembled iconic university landmarks. Many have discussed the need for Stockton to attract a four-year public university, imagine if these buildings were still here, they would be perfect for a college. Several smaller buildings from the old state hospital have been preserved, but none are as significant as these former buildings.

State Hospital Male Department

Stockton State Hospital, Men’s Department

While aesthetically pleasing, we can’t forget that some truly awful things took place here (such as lobotomies and sterilizations), and some even link Stockton’s current condition back to the site’s closure and subsequent discharge of patients into the community. Maybe it’s good that these former sites of inhumanity have been erased from our physical landscape. The men’s facility was demolished in 1964 while the women’s facility came down in 1949.

Stockton High School

Stockton High School

Stockton High School

In addition to the aforementioned state hospital buildings, the current University Park area was also home to Stockton High School. Built in 1904, the school’s Anglo-Classic style main building was the first of a handful of structures to comprise the campus (one of which—the auditorium—still stands today). It was also Stockton’s only high school until 1942. Were it still here today along with the state hospital buildings, it would also fit perfectly into a university setting. Combined these buildings could have provided a stately campus for a UC or CSU (but probably not since I believe most state schools generally prefer new buildings). Stockton High School’s main building was condemned in 1966 and demolished a year later.

Hazelton Library

Hazelton Library

Hazelton Library

Located just south of the current county courthouse, Hazleton Library served as Stockton’s library for nearly 70 years. Opened in 1895, the Greek revival building had an exterior made entirely of marble and boasted a collection of 25,000 books. Were it still around today, the library would undoubtedly be one of the city’s most cherished given its architectural significance, no matter the use. While demolished in 1964, its memory lives on at UOP. Then university president Robert E. Burns rescued the library’s marble columns from the scrap heap and brought them to campus. Today, they still stand between the university’s William Knox Holt Memorial Library and Knowles Hall. Legend has it that if you stand in the middle of the columns, you can hear the echoes of your own voice.


Sperry Flour Company mill

Sperry Flour Company mill

Sperry Flour Co. waterfront mill

The former Sperry Flour Company occupied several structures on the south side of the waterfront, two of which are still there today. However, the most recognizable structure is no more, which is a shame, because today it would be ripe for redevelopment. In other cities, large warehouses or mills such as the one that used to grace our waterfront are regularly transformed into desirable lofts and/or offices (e.g. Denver, Portland, and Baltimore). The mill’s prime location would have also offered panoramic views of the waterfront and the rest of downtown. Sadly, the Sperry Flour Company mill is gone, survived only by an office building on the south side of Weber Street as well as the Waterfront Warehouse (which are both still charming in their own respects).

Old San Joaquin County Courthouse

Old San Joaquin County Courthouse

San Joaquin Courthouse

You can’t have a list Stockton’s ill-fated buildings without mentioning the old courthouse. While not the city’s first courthouse, it was definitely the most grand. A model example of neo-classical architecture, the courthouse was a source of public pride. Not only was the building impressive, but the surrounding plazas offered Stocktonians with expansive public space, complete with palm trees. The building was completed in 1890 and stood for seventy years before being imploded in 1961. Today, the absence of the old courthouse is viewed by many as perhaps the biggest blunder of the city’s urban renewal program. Adding insult to injury was the building that replaced the courthouse: a cold, boxy structure devoid of character. While the new courthouse planned for 2016 is an improvement, it still won’t compare to the majesty of its forefather. Were it still standing, the old courthouse would easily be the most exceptional structure in downtown, perhaps all of Stockton.

There you have it: SCL’s top five buildings that should have never been demolished. While these buildings are no more, their unfortunate demise should serve as a caution to preserve Stockton’s remaining historical structures (within reason as some may be too far gone to save). Check out the interactive map below showing approximately where in Stockton these five buildings were located. There are dozens of other buildings that met similar fates, please feel free to share your thoughts on some buildings that I may have overlooked. Happy new year!


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Categories: Community Commentary

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia created SCL in March of 2012. Garcia is a Stockton native with a background in urban policy and planning, holding a Bachelor's Degree from UCLA as well as a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. He currently serves as the Policy Director at the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. David was also COO at Ten Space, a real estate development firm focused exclusively on Downtown Stockton, and continues to advise on their projects. Prior to that, he worked three years as a researcher/analyst for a Congressional research agency in Washington, DC. The views expressed on this site are entirely of the author's

7 Comments on “The top 5 buildings in Stockton that should NOT have been demolished”

  1. Jon Seisa
    January 8, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    I really like your insightful analysis, David, that if these historical and architecturally grand structures in the University Park vicinity were preserved then they would have been ideal structures to convert to a university campus function, also having the Ivy League aesthetic architectural ambiance, and adding great integrity to a university setting. That would have been fantastic and superb. Even the stigma of the mental hospital with its eerie and mystified clinical history would have been ideal for university students’ edgy side and palate for the bizarre. This really would have been perfect, if preservation were the path taken. Unfortunately, we live in an imperfect world, as Stockton’s past municipal leaders have proven, hands down.

    But are you sure the Stockton High School structure (Commodore Robert F. Stockton High School) was demolished in 1967? I attended there when it was a Junior High School in 1968-70, and the old thing was still there, sans the upper rotunda. Or was there another rotunda topped structure (a main building demolished first in 1967) behind and located more in the center lot and directly adjacent the massive structure I recollect which was located directly on Harding Avenue?

    Stockton High has a special affinity in our family, beside my brother and I attending there during its junior high years, my father was a graduate of CRF-Stockton High in 1949. The classrooms were huge and lofty ceilings, massive windows and doors, I remember. The dark walnut staircases with thick banisters were worn and creaky but their glory still shined. I can still recollect the reverberating echo of the students’ stampeding footsteps on the wooden stairs and floors of the hallways that ignited with a crush of activity when the end of class school bell rang.

    As far as the former municipal leaders’ inability to discern what to preserve during the reckless age of urban renewal (case in point: the splendid and magnificent Neoclassic Courthouse ****were they completely and totally BLIND?***), if left entirely up to them, I’m convinced they would have surely and mindlessly demolished Palace Versailles at the drop of a hat and replaced it with an empty 200 acre asphalt parking lot. That’s a testament to their visonlessness (yes, a new appropriate word I created exclusively just for them and their legacy).

    Hopefully, there will be no more mistakes of the past; this article serves as a great reminder for preservation. Thank you.

    • David Garcia
      January 8, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

      According to the books I have read on Stockton history (admittedly, not that many), the main building (pictured) was demolished in 1967. However I think some other buildings survived longer, and the auditorium still stands at E. Willow and San Joaquin Street.

      • Jon Seisa
        January 8, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

        Okay, this site (below) explains a lot… apparently many of the older California schools were designated for demolition due to a new earthquake construction standard initiated by the California State Legislature called the Field Act of 1933, apparently (I assume) fueled by the 1933 Long Beach Earthquake; just an educated guess.


        If you scroll down you will not only see the Stockton High School Main Building (351 East Vine Street), but other structures, including 2 photos of the “North Building on Harding” (both West and East Wings)… it is THIS structure that was adapted later into the Stockton Junior High that I attended, and was demolished later. Now this is beginning to make sense.

        This structure that served as the later adapted junior high was “U”-shaped, where the open “U” layout was inside the lot and not facing the street (Harding Way). In its upper facade it had an external central grand staircase descending to a central courtyard inside the lot. In retrospect, as descending these lofty stairs I remember contemplating that beyond this was a vacant lot that appeared to have had a structure that formerly sat there at one time. Now I see that must have been the main structure with the rotunda that was demolished in 1967. Mystery solved.

        Too bad retrofitting technology didn’t appear on the architectural scene sooner.

      • James Juanitas
        January 8, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

        David, I think the 1st Building (the Administration Building was built in 1902 and torn down in 1967; the Science Building or (Horseshoe building) was built in 1912 and torn down in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s.
        I was at the Ceremony in 1967 when they tore is down with a wrecking ball (I was 8). They had trouble destroying the Dome. I also went to Commodore Stockton Jr. High from 1971 – 1974.

    • Steven Clowdus
      September 12, 2015 at 6:29 pm #

      I’m sure glad there’s this website for Stockton High. I myself went there until we had to stop and I went to Stagg High after that. Glad to see this web page. Thank you. Steven Clowdus

  2. January 8, 2014 at 1:59 pm #

    I don’t disagree. To quote an old San Joaquin County tractor mechanic I worked with many years ago though, “If hindsight was foresight, we’d all be a farsight ahead.” 😉

  3. Anonymous
    January 8, 2014 at 6:24 pm #

    Among what I miss, along with those mentioned, are the public library on Market St., the Main St. Sterling Department Store with the cage elevator and the Methodist Church where BOS now stands on Miner. Decisions to decimate Stockton’s grand history by tearing its architecture apart came from where? The “who” and the why ” redesigned the soul of this town.

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