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 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.
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
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.
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 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).
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!