Following the conclusion of this war, by every estimate possible, Davis is due to have a building boom to house dozens of families that will want to come here or attend college, and if a similar pattern is followed like that which occurred following the first World War, attendance at the University will zoom to untouched figures to date. — The Davis Enterprise, Feb. 18, 1944
John Jungerman saw the terrible end to a terrible war before it happened.
In the early-morning hours of July 16, 1945, the future UC Davis professor and a few buddies drove to a restricted area in the New Mexico desert.
They sneaked in, climbed a 50-foot cinder cone, unrolled sleeping bags and waited.
What they saw next was code-named “Trinity:” the first detonation of a nuclear device. It erupted with the power of 20 kilotons of TNT, searing light and a monstrous sound heard 100 miles away.
A mushroom cloud climbed 7 1/2 miles over desert sand that melted into glass.
Jungerman, who as graduate student did “supplementary work” on the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb, felt a rush of excitement, then something else.
“I felt the world had changed. It was a new force to deal with,” says Jungerman, 91.
“We felt pity for the Japanese, because we knew it would be used on them as soon as we could put it together.”
When it was over
When World War II ended, in August 1945, church bells rang out in Yolo County.
The people of its small towns and farms had lived with rationing, bought war bonds, waited for letters from boys who went off to fight — 72 of whom did not come home alive.
The first raid on Tokyo took shape on a landing strip built on Yolo farmland. The U.S. Army ringed with barbed wire what was then the College of Agriculture at Davis, a satellite of UC Berkeley, while training its signal corps there.
German prisoners had worked the county’s farms. Japanese-Americans, treated like prisoners, were ordered from their homes.
When it was over, finally over, those church bells also heralded an era of rapid growth and change.
For students and soldiers, farmers and professors, it was time to make something new.
At war’s end, all of Davis measured less than half a square mile — a footprint that hadn’t grown in a generation. The townsfolk numbered about 2,500.
Those things were about to change.
The federal government flooded California with defense spending and military personnel during the war, making it a launching pad for the aerospace industry and new technology. The state’s agricultural economy raced ahead, too, fueled by new irrigation, equipment and higher-value crops.
Droves of new Californians arrived daily. Veterans stayed. The baby boom pushed numbers higher still.
The state’s population rocketed from 6.9 million people in 1940 to 10.6 million in 1950, then to 15.7 million in 1960.
John Lofland, a UCD professor of sociology emeritus and local historian, says that the war radically changed how Americans saw themselves and their county.
“Younger people were the products of World War II,” he says. “They’d tasted directly the power of organization, the power of production, the power of technology.”
Yolo County would see its share of big ideas — none more important than the University of California.
“What did World War II do for Davis?” Lofland asks. “One, it changed the consciousness of what’s possible and the aspirations of the town’s elites — they began to think big.
“Two, it invented the University of California. Davis would be nothing without it. And without World War II, UCD would just be a little ag station. The whole concept of giant, technology-inventing institutions is a World War II idea.”
Straight from the headlines
The pages of The Davis Enterprise from the first 18 months after the Japanese surrender show both stories that will shape the city and signs of everyday life inching back to peacetime normalcy.
Among the most pressing subjects: annexation, sewer and water bond issues, campus and school enrollment and a near-desperate need for more housing.
Letters from soldiers overseas recede, week by week. Mentions of Monticello Dam and a deep-water ship channel bubble up.
Spreckels Sugar Co. in Woodland advertises for workers, promising wages of 85 cents per hour: “Disabled veterans who can work on their feet are welcome.”
Artists’ renderings become front-page fixtures: the Yolo County Hospital, a school of veterinary medicine, a gas station.
University Airport opens. So does a general store that sells boys overalls for $1.98 — and blowtorches for $6.89.
A local woman is picked to be the U.S.S. Yolo’s pinup girl. A Veterans of Foreign Wars post forms. Residents argue about a limit on chickens inside the city limits.
Landlords object to a rent ordinance supported by the college. Aggie students push for their own commencement ceremony here, not at UC Berkeley.
Picnic Day returns, under the guise of “Round-up Day.”
Two photographs marked the first anniversary of V-J Day: one of bodies strewn on the black sand of Iwo Jima, the other of a soldier and his sweetheart, cooking over a campfire on an American beach.
UCD’s skyrocketing growth
In October 1944, the U.S. Army closed its signal corps school housed at the Davis campus. Degree work started again in October 1945 with 544 undergraduate and 37 graduate students.
Two years later, 1,601 undergraduates and 85 graduate students were on campus, two-thirds of them paid for by the G.I. Bill.
Those veterans crammed into double-decker bunk beds in an old gym. Others slept in spare rooms, basements, trailer camps — most anywhere space could be found.
Student activists prodded state legislators until they received 15 “rickety, noisy, secondhand Army buildings,” brought in from Benicia, according to Ann Foley Scheuring’s history of the campus, “Abundant Harvest.”
Families moved into two- and three-bedroom apartments inside prefabricated shipyard workers’ housing units.
Dubbed Aggie Villa and located near First and A streets, the buildings were a “temporary” housing fix that stood for more than 20 years.
In 1948, an examination of the state’s educational needs called the Strayer report became a sort of “prototype master plan,” Scheuring writes. Among its recommendations: build more state colleges; leave UC with the responsibility for research, doctoral studies and professional training; shift some vocational programs to community colleges.
For the Davis campus, it prescribed a continued focus on agriculture, but with expanded complementary programs.
Some here already had growth on their minds.
Acting under the direction of UC President Robert Sproul, Harry Walker, chair of agricultural engineering, drew up a plan. It called for hiring as many 31 new professors in as many as 20 different fields and building more classrooms, offices and student housing.
Also in 1948, Davis broke ground on the war-delayed School of Veterinary Medicine and welcomed it first 42 students, almost all of them veterans.
Two years later, in line with Walker’s blueprint, the Davis campus opened its College of Letters and Science.
The college’s first dean was chemistry professor Herbert Young, back on campus with the team he’d led under the Manhattan Project, even as other professors headed off as part of the Marshall Plan to help rebuild Europe.
Jungerman was among those who joined the faculty, then, becoming one of the campus’ first physics professors. Later, he became the founding director of the campus’ Crocker Nuclear Lab.
“I had faith it would turn into something,” he says of the campus.
Ten classroom and lab buildings were built over a decade, beginning in 1949, along with concrete-slab dorms and sundry small “temporary” buildings that stood for many years. The campus had elbow room, too: Between 1945 and 1952, the university snapped up 1,900 acres to the south and west.
Letters and Science grew up fast, tallying 25 majors by 1959 and, one year later, began surpassing agriculture in enrollment.
Outside of classrooms, campus life thrived.
The Aggie football team, back in action, shared a conference championship in 1947. A flurry of other teams followed.
Women’s sports were added. Fraternities grew. Students sunned on the banks of Putah Creek.
In 1955, students stepped through the doors of the long-planned, one-story Memorial Union, dedicated to 128 alumni killed in the world wars.
“The decade of the 1950s seen in retrospect appears as kind of a golden era, when growth was manageable and change merged with the new,” Scheuring writes. “Classes were small, and faculty and student relations were close.”
On Oct. 23, 1959, the Board of Regents named UC Davis a general campus, throwing wide its gates to new areas of research and teaching.
The chair of UCD’s food technology department, Emil Mrak — whose projects during the war included making rations more palatable for soldiers — was named the campus’ second chancellor.
In December, the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education cemented UCD’s place in the top of the state’s three tiers.
The postwar years set the stage for still-more meteoric growth:
When Mrak took office, the campus boasted 1,813 undergraduates.
A decade later, the total had zoomed to 9,081.
City expands in every direction
The city scrambled to keep up with the growth generated by the campus, its population reaching 8,910 by 1960.
From 1952 to 1966, Davis built six elementary schools, two junior high schools and a senior high school.
Between 1946 and 1971, according to Lofland, Davis annexed 50 pieces of property covering a combined 5.8 square miles.
The 180 units of Barthel’s mobile home ranch (now Royal Oak) that opened south of the city in 1948 are one example of housing during the post-war period. Other development came in fits and starts, often clusters of houses completed by a handful of contractors before being annexed.
More churches were built. Civic clubs flourished.
Politics tended to be centrist Democrat and leaned pro-growth. Two seats on the City Council traditionally went to professors — and they tended to be “old-boy Aggies.” That meant little town-gown friction.
“If you’re an old boy, you’re an old boy. If you’ve got a Ph.D., ‘Great, you can tell us how to raise sheep better,’ ” Lofland says.
The town’s political and business leaders paid a San Francisco firm to cook up a plan for downtown. Unveiled to gasps in 1961, it envisioned high-rise buildings surrounded by parking garages. The planners foresaw a population of 75,000 by 1985.
While their vision of what Lofland calls “a tiny San Francisco” died on the vine, it left a legacy: injecting the stubbornly held idea of a downtown core into any discussion of the city’s future.
Much demolition did take place, too. By Lofland’s count, only 86 of 233 1945 buildings in what became the modern, 24-block downtown remained standing in 2000.
Joann Leach Larkey, a historian and author of local history books, said most in Davis didn’t dream of a big city or sprawling campus. When she graduated from Davis High School in 1947, the city’s downtown amounted to a handful of G Street blocks and one on F Street.
“It was the university expansion that drove the need for planning,” she says.
Even before pulling back the curtain on their high-rise plan, “old-boy downtowners and campus elites” didn’t always get what they wanted — at least not without a fight.
They backed Hunts Foods Inc., when it purchased land in 1956, intent on building a cannery. The ensuing debate over the project “split families down the middle,” Larkey says.
The main argument against the cannery: It would cost the city more than it would create revenue. Others, though, painted a picture of scores of migrant Mexican workers living in slums.
Citizens waged three campaigns and voted four times before the project was approved, but Lofland says the fight revealed limits to that expansive post-war vision.
“Even though there’s this embrace of ‘we can do anything,’ it doesn’t mean we’re going to have a lot of women, blacks and poor people,” he says. “World War II did not solve those problems; it sidestepped them.”
In one sign of coming progress, Kathleen Green became the first woman to run for a City Council seat in 1958. She won.
Agriculture and public works projects
By 1951, Yolo County farmers produced seven crops earning more than $1 million: tomatoes, sugar beets, rice, alfalfa, barley, almonds and melons.
The farmers’ successes during the war relied on the federal bracero program, which trucked in much-needed Mexicans workers. For a time, more than 10,000 seasonal workers traveled to Yolo annually.
The program was held over until 1964. But long before then, farmers grew uneasy about a labor shortage.
Some turned to a pair of professors on the Davis campus. Coby Lorenzen, an engineer, and Jack Hanna, a vegetable crop expert, teamed to build a mechanical harvester and breed a tomato that worked with it.
Patented by UC in 1959, the machine slashed the cost to harvest tomatoes from $17.19 a ton to $9.84 per ton. So quickly was it adopted that 60 to 70 Clarksburg children left school one year after the harvester put their parents out of work, according to one in a series of Yolo history books by Shipley Walters.
The building of such machines — like sugar beet harvesters developed by engineers Roy Bainer and John Powers at Davis — all but halted during the war, only to roar back in peacetime. Twelve percent of sugar beets were harvested by machine at war’s end, 100 percent in 1958.
Another change: Workers completed the $46 million Monticello Dam in 1957, creating Lake Berryessa and sending Putah Creek water south to Solano County farms.
The fastest growing area of the county during the post-war period was not Davis, but East Yolo: 23 square miles encompassing the unincorporated cities of West Sacramento, Broderick and Bryte. In 1940, 5,185 people called it home.
That number doubled by 1950, to 11,255, then again by 1960, to 25,032.
Developers quickly bought up cheap farmland in East Yolo, building subdivisions across the river from the Capitol. Business boomed. By 1952, West Sacramento was home to 14 trucking businesses, six major wholesale distributors, 19 service stations and five trailer sales lots.
A pair of wartime pilots, Jack Rich and Bob Watts, built two runways that served as a downtown Sacramento airport — the busiest privately owned airport in the country until the late 1950s, when they moved to Sacramento Executive Airport.
There was no bigger public works project for the county than the $55 million Sacramento Deep Water Ship Channel, stretching 42.8 miles up from Suisun Bay to a port at West Sacramento.
The Korean War delayed its completion by the U.S. Army Corps. It opened to ocean-going ships in 1963, when a Chinese freighter made its way up to dock.
Elsewhere, Woodland more than doubled its population from 1940 to 1960, from 6,327 to 13,524. It took a different tack than Davis, ripping down more old buildings and setting aside more space for large-scale agribusinesses.
Stockyards, meat-packing facilities, lumberyards, a tomato cannery, a sugar refinery, machine manufacturers and dealers and a National Guard armory called the county seat home.
After the war, the city applied for federal funds to build 250 houses for veterans. In 1947 alone, Woodland residents approved five bond issues for: expanding the city hall and jail; constructing a larger fire station; improving the city water and sewer systems; and adding a swimming pool.
Soon after, Woodland hired its first city manager, John Hamilton Ferns, a Stanford-trained engineer who had commanded a company that oversaw vehicle maintenance along a 100-mile highway trailing the U.S. 7th Calvary Regiment.
A final story
North of Knights Landing, Eyvind Marc Faye grew prunes, pears, walnuts and grain crops on the land that his father bought in 1917.
Faye directed Sunsweet Growers Inc., which handled 80 percent of the world’s supply of dried prunes, and took a role in ag- and civic-minded groups. At one point, he served on the Woodland school board, his wife, Emiline, on the county board of education, and one of their three children, Marc, on the Winters school board.
Eyvind Faye died in 1985, but not before seeing his sons follow in his footsteps. His grandson Eric runs the farm now.
Many years earlier, Eyvind Faye worked at the Oahu Sugar Company in Hawaii.
One morning, as he supervised a sugar cane irrigation project, a dive bomber roared 50 feet overhead, pulling up after dropping its deadly payload a quarter-mile down the peninsula.
When the plane tipped its wings, Faye saw its rising sun markings.
The next day, on Dec. 8, 1941, with 3,684 Americans dead or wounded and Pearl Harbor a ruin of twisted metal, the U.S. Army called up Eyvind Faye, who’d been in the reserve officers training corps at UC Berkeley.
For more than four years, Faye tracked Pacific fleet movements as an intelligence officer. He learned that his brother-in-law, a B-24 bombardier, has been killed in New Guinea. And all the while, he dreamed of farming.
So when the devastation was over, finally over, Faye moved his family home, to Yolo County.
Like so many others, he came here to build something.
This story draws on the following books: “Abundant Harvest: The History of the University of California, Davis” by Anne Foley Scheuring, “Davis: Radical Changes, Deep Constants” by John Lofland, “Yolo County: Land of Changing Patterns by Joann Leach Larkey and Shipley Walters, “University of California, Davis” by Scheuring and Dennis Dingemans, “Davisville ’68: The History and Heritage of the City of Davis” by Larkey, “Knights Landing: The River, The Land and The People by Walters and Tom Anderson, and “Clarksburg: Delta Community,” “West Sacramento: The Roots of a New City,” “Woodland: City of Trees,” all by Walters.
— Reach Cory Golden at [email protected] or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden