Chapter Twelve-California Promise:1932

Arriving in California from the North, we had no trouble locating the children in Pomona. After some consideration and weighing the pros and cons, it was decided that Francis would go back to Michigan with us, leaving Helen, in his brief absence, to keep the home fires burning. So we put out, and the first day, or rather, day and night, we made El Paso, with Francis driving, over 800 miles. Arriving in Howell, Francis burned the mass of accumulated maple leaves littering the yard at Sibley, packed up his limited belongings that he wanted to keep and shipped them to California, he following by train. We bought certain of their furnishings, like curtains, that we could use, and moved back into the West Sibley home.

Francis, in his initial years in California, turned his hand to writing, newspaper work or otherwise, by which to make a living in the interim, while waiting for some activity to open up to his liking and profit, which eventually did, directly indicating what his life’s work was to be, so does fate sometimes mould our activities. As an aftermath from the great depression, which started with the stock market crash of the fall in 1929 and continuing well into the 30’s, many of the Building and Loan Associations in California, as elsewhere, were forced to the wall. Early in the 1930’s Francis took note of this situation, and prepared to participate.

I must interpose a few chapters, or, paragraphs, I should say, at this point in order to make sense to what will follow, in describing Francis’ operation in the Building and Loan fields in the early years of the 1930’s in Southern California.

Florida Motor Camp

In 1932 my wife and I went down to Florida and checked in at Brook’s Motor Camp on Highway 41, in Sarasota, and there remained a month, occupied variously with viewing the winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, and their wonderful museum, free to the public, only a stones throw from our camp. We, with another couple walked over one day, but the gatekeeper would not let us in, even if we paid admission. Therefore, we had to go back and return in our automobile, for which a charge of 25¢ was made to park it, and that was the established rule, no charge for admission, but they did insist upon the parking fee.

We spent many happy days on the near-by beaches, seeking unusual seashells and we must have collected over a half-bushel of lovely and rather unusual shells. Along side our cabin, was lodged a World War veteran, with both legs amputated, with his niece. We got very intimate, and we took them different places in our car, for which jaunts an attendant would have to carry the man on his back, and place him in the car, and he was a large man. For instance, we often took the pair over to the picture shows at Bradenton, in which case the usher would have to pick the man out of the car and deposit him in theater seat, and the reverse when show was over, which little service was readily accorded, as a liberal tip always resulted.

One time, when we were out, I stopped at the telegraph office to pick up a wire that I had been apprised was waiting for me. Upon coming out of the office, Mr. Smith remarked that, “the way I was smiling, I must have gotten good news.”  I responded that my telegram had been from my son in California, acquainting me with the fact that my wife and I had our first granddaughter, named Barbara Clair, born November 28,1932.

A hired chauffeur served Mr. Smith and his niece, whom he worshipped, and he thought the chauffeur was paying too much attention to his niece, and so got me to go to the railroad station and find the price of a one-way ticket back North, which I did, and thereupon Mr. Smith shipped the hired flunky North pronto.

Before leaving Florida, I want to tell about the one and only fishing excursion I had there. A St. Louis man was about to check out and go home, from our park, who had been there a month with no fishing success whatever, but he wanted one more fling at it, if I would join him in the expense of a boat and guide, which I did. We went out into the gulf until the boatman indicated that we were over the fishing grounds and so we cast our lines in. Without one minutes delay they began to bite and so the three of us pulled them in until we had all we wanted to load the boat with, 25 or 30 of them, what they called Groupers, something like a bass and weighing from 2 to 7 pounds each. Also we caught a 25-pound shark, which the boatman had to dispatch with the boathook. I picked out one of the choicest big ones to cook for ourselves and we gave the remainder to the darkies on the wharf, waiting, as we returned after our days work.

Starting North soon after this happening, we tarried a day at Jacksonville, to attend the state fair; I must say, that on that Thanksgiving Day, 1932, I never suffered more form cold, even with an overcoat and gloves than I did on that occasion, for there were no fires available, which is too often the case in a sudden cold snap, in the so called Sunny South, for they are not prepared for the change.

Now to return to the subject of Francis’ building and loan operations in California, prior to the events to follow, Francis and Helen operated for a time what they called The Party Shop on Euclid Avenue in Ontario.

When Barbara was born, Winfield gave her $100 and we gave her $50, which Francis placed to her account in a building and loan institution, which, in the past, had been considered a safe investment; but now, with a worldwide depression on, things were different and all former standards no longer reliable. All or a part of these combined money gifts were lost. This was what first made Francis to consider the situation and try to do something about it, to stabilize things. Therefore, he set out to liquidate various B/L concerns, which had folded up. The state office in Los Angeles had a list of the defunct companies and the location of the various houses in adjoining towns and cities that were involved.

Chief among these was the Safety Building and Loan Association, of Ontario, upon which he concentrated his efforts. Daisy and I at this time were coming out to California to spend a part of the cold winters, and returning to Howell in the spring. It was during this regime, probably in 1931-32, that Francis and I got together, using my car, and viewing prospects far and wide, as per the information and advice we got by frequent visits to the state office, handing such matters. The procedure was that Francis would approach a tentative owner of such stocks as he held, and if the two could get together on a sum that Francis could afford to pay for such depreciated shares, he bought them, thereby acquiring ownership. The way it worked out was that the owner would rather take a small cash payment rather than nothing and let it drag on and on, as heretofore, so there was little difficulty in making a deal, to the mutual advantage of both parties. It got to be like a game for Francis and I, in hitting the street we were looking for, we would spot the nicest house on the street and nail it in mind as our goal, which more often than not, proved to be the case, as a house the humble citizen could least afford to own and pay for, the alternative he might lose it.

In the above process, Francis acquired ownership of 8 or 10 properties in Ontario, the best one, at 542 Rosewood Court; he reserved for himself, and lived there for many years. Two of the others, respectively at 655 Plaza Serena, and the older house on East Fourth Street, I rented at different times, while waiting for our new house to be built. One angle that influenced Francis to go into the game, he thought it was bad enough for an adult to lose his money, with his wits and judgment presumed to be with him, but to impose a loss like Barbara’s $150 on an innocent child, was another matter and such a situation should be looked into. In the end, only one prospect held out. The courts ruled Francis was the owner in fee simple of the entire association assets. Eventually, he sold all of the houses, including his own. So ended his profitable dealing in such investments.

Both their children were born when they were living on Rosewood Court. Barbara was born when they lived at 125 and Adrienne was born when they lived at 542.

Prior to 1939, Francis and Helen became interested in photography in colored film and translating results in lecture form. In this way, through the years, they have covered the whole United States with their camera, and have traveled abroad, once on a round-the-world tour. He has lectured in every cultural center in the United States, most of them several times, repeated season after season. Some of his more important films are, in order of their presentation are Lapland Adventure, Finland, Circle of Fire, Sheep, Stars, and Solitude, Seven Wonders of the World, This Is Your America (war picture), Navajo Film, and Lincoln.  This latter is what they are currently working on, and Lincolnesque topics are expected to be current for the next two years at least, marking various anniversaries of the Great Emancipator. It is an ever-popular subject. The post office department has just announced the cancellation of the 1¢ Lincoln at Hodgenville, Kentucky on February 12th, was 379,862 with cash receipts that day of $17,167. Daisy and I have been at that Kentucky shrine years ago.

Sheep, Stars and Solitude has been cut down to meet school needs, from which Francis gets regular orders from all over, on a royalty basis.

Going back to Michigan and Winfield’s interests in store operation, in 1931 I bought a corner building in Fowlerville and improved it for our use and then sold it to Winfield, to add to his little chain, and operated under my name and credit. I also enlarged and improved the #2 store in Howell. As time went on, Winfield acquired a corner block in Grand Ledge and a new location in Brighton on which he erected a building. He then built a building in Brighton, bought out and modernized a location on the main street in Milford, and opened a store in Nashville.

In the meantime both Grace and he were engaged in non-professional lecturing and appeared on hundred of programs all over Michigan before all kinds of professional, social, and church groups, to raise money donations of materials for the Koreans, who, as a nation, were in such desperate need. Their joint efforts resulted in many thousand dollars of goodwill offerings, to say nothing of the tons and upon tons of clothing, shoes and other necessities, which a sympathetic public was eager to contribute, and all of which Winfield and Grace had to sort, package, and ship, an almost Herculaneum task, but they did it. They made a trip to Korea in 1938.

In 1933, in March, occurred the Long Beach earthquake, in which, with other cities in the area, suffered millions of dollars in property damage and a considerable loss of life. We, in our home on Sibley Street, in Howell, for days glued our ears to the radio, for news of our relatives, later assuring us of their safety, and just the inconvenience of living in the front yard for days. We had excellent long distance radio reception then and got item-by-item details just as they happened.

As the depression dragged on, our bank got into trouble. Lou Howlett had died, and upon my nomination, Will Reader was put up for president, to succeed Howlett, and elected. We were loaded with farm mortgages, perfectly good, but not readily converted into cash in an emergency. W.B. Reader as president, Willis Lyons as attorney, and I as chairman, made a trip to Washington, to see what, if anything, could be done in our case, to ease the situation. We were received and treated with all courtesy by the Comptroller of the Currency, but, under the law, nothing could be done, when a depositor wants his money it must be forthcoming, or the institution is busted, and that was exactly our position, we were perfectly solvent, but, unlike a private party, we must have time to work out of a tight place, and that we didn’t have, and no way to soften the situation.

Therefore, when Roosevelt closed all the banks in the spring of 1933, our bank with all others, some banks, perhaps most, were allowed to re-open, after having put their houses in order. But our bank remained closed, and a conservator put in charge. He was a good Democrat, appointed by Roosevelt, but that fact should not detract from his honesty or ability, for he was a local citizen, Ed Drewery, and I am satisfied did as good a job as anyone could have done in that difficult job. Over a series of years he called meetings of the old directors, and after all assets were realized, the directors were all rebated most of the extra 100% they had been penalized under the law, so, in fact, we lost but a little more than the original 100% we had put in, plus 10% surplus. No depositor lost a cent, in fact, along full 100% return of amount of deposit; they all got 5% interest over the years in which their money was tied up.

Most all the directors were obligated for considerable loans, though I was in the clear, by reason of being after I had cashed in on Christmas business, but all the boys paid up in full, so no stigma was attached to the management. I, however, with a few of the other old directors, would not stand for re-election, though I was urged, but, in lieu, to keep the job in the family, Winfield took my place and is yet on the board.

Banks are governed, and rightly, by ironclad laws, not applicable to private investors. For instance, I had 3 bonds on cities in the South, which went sour, but by taking advantage of short cuts and special handling, I realized in time more than 60% on investment. The bank with the same bonds lost them all, because they were hamstrung.

In the years of 1915 and 1916 I took a series of cycling trips with the boys: First, the round trip by bicycle between Howell and Linesville, a total distance of about 700 miles. This was in 1915. Francis was only 11 years old, and legs so short he had to have a smaller machine, tailored to his needs. We made the trip without incident, and put up at the Travelers Hotel, while in Linesville, and a day or two sufficed to let us canvas the town and vicinity, call on friends and visit the old haunts of their parents in earlier days before we hit the return trail. The next year we biked to Chicago and Milwaukee, and return.

The same season we took a railroad trip to New York. Stopped over night at Buffalo hotel, so that we could cross New York State and the beautiful Mohawk Valley in the daylight hours. Arriving in the East, we were first entertained by niece Emma and her husband, in Yonkers, before on to Plainfield. In our trips to New York to see the sights, new to them, one incident that stands out, on one of our trips into the bid city, we saw the great S.S. Impertor of the North German Lloyd Line, steam into the harbor on her maiden voyage from Europe to New York. We had a vantage point for viewing the sight, from the Battery at the lower tip of Manhattan Island.

The next year, 1916, we biked to Chicago and back. We checked in at the Morrison Hotel, and, for the experience, I asked for accommodation in the Tower. We were assigned to a room on the 44th floor. I had an extra cot put our room, so that the three of us could be together. After exhausting the sightseeing possibilities, we concluded to try a variance of travel on our track back home. So we cycled to Milwaukee and got tickets for Ludington, on the opposite side of the lake, and had warm berths on the floor, without removing our clothing. Arriving at Ludington in the morning, we had an easy run home on our bikes. After stopping at Shelby to visit the boys’ former 6th grade teacher, Zada Fleming. (Now back to page 102) Add NY buying trip).

Continuing my story, the years went by, with us gravitating between Michigan and California, whereby I had virtually retired from active business, though Winfield still kept in touch with me in an advisory capacity. The banks and economics of the country had gotten to function after a fashion, though the depression was not over. During the money stringency, local communities, including Howell, for a current medium of exchange coined wooden money, until such time as natural avenues of exchange would be available. Came 1936, Winfield had developed a chance to buy the double front corner building at Grand River and Michigan, the most desirable business site in Howell. He consulted me in California by telephone, and as a result he brought it with the McPherson Bank financing the deal. He contacted a good contractor in Ann Arbor to wreck the present old buildings on the site and thereon erected a modern corner store about 55X75 feet with a nice basement and second story, and all modern equipment. I believe the preliminary negotiations had begun in 1935. At any rate, when I came out in mid-summer of  36, the job was just being finished, so that I could participate in the formal opening shortly after.

Business for the immediate years ahead was not too brisk, with the aftermath of the depression still with us, Winfield and Grace made a trip to Korea, while Bradley was in the store as manager when we just drifted, so to speak, up into the year 1937. Francis had opened a new subdivision in Ontario, through an orange orchard, calling the street Harvard Way, it being a continuation of the street of the same name already there. He paved it, laid sidewalks, and set shade trees. He sold the lots readily at a nominal profit. We, being in Howell the first of that year, and I just out of hospital, I sold the Ford, and came west via the Union Pacific. Upon my arrival, I was met by Francis and installed in his Fourth Street house while waiting for our new house to be finished. We occupied the house for some time with only portable gas heaters, though the winter proved to be the coldest they had had for years. During part of which Daisy and I went down to Palm Springs to benefit from the sunshine. I picked up a new Ford being held for us on order from Howell to make the trip and those hereafter.