Jeff Jardine

Two historic area buildings down for the count

Every so often, a piece of the region’s history comes tumbling down or goes up in flames.

We’re losing one to heavy equipment this week and lost another to fire over the weekend.

A demolition crew on Monday began knocking down the old KTRB radio station building on Norwegian Avenue in central Modesto. Bill Bates first put KTRB on the air in 1933, and it launched the careers of The Maddox Brothers and Rose in 1937, sending 11-year-old Rose Maddox to the top of the country charts. The late Chester Smith also began his music career there on his way to becoming a media tycoon.

The station was among the Valley’s most popular well into the 1960s. In 1972, the Pappas family bought it from the Bates estate and continued to operate the station there until 2002, when it moved to San Francisco to become a Spanish-language station that airs, among other things, San Francisco Giants baseball.

For years, the studio sat idle as the Modesto Radio Museum hoped to develop it as a physical location. That didn’t happen, and the museum exists only online. When the owners dismantled the station in 2007, Pastor Herb Henry of Richland Faith Assembly of God Church offered to store the station’s 1,400-plus vinyl long-play records. Henry is the patriarch of the Herb Henry Family gospel singers and also a member of the Modesto Radio Museum. Three years ago, the owners told him to sell the collection and donate the proceeds the church. He placed an ad in The Bee’s classified section, listing the entire collection for sale for $495.

“Really, it wasn’t that great of a collection,” he told me in at the time. “Most were from the 1980s – ’70s and ’80s. KTRB had great variety – a little bit of everything. But most of them, honestly, I didn’t recognize. I think I had only two or three calls over 10 days.”

Then a collector came forward and bought them, the last vestiges of KTRB aside from the building itself. And this week, that will come down as well, with only longtime Modesto radio fans valuing its history and its place in Modesto lore, and perhaps missing it.

Meanwhile, 33 miles to the north, fire on Saturday destroyed the historic Masonic Keystone Lodge No. 161 building in the tiny community of Milton. The initial lodge was built in Copperopolis in 1862, when the Civil War demanded the copper being mined in the area. But when the war ended, and copper prices fell.

In 1871, the town of Milton sprang to life when the Southern Pacific Railroad completed a line from Stockton into Calaveras County. The town was named for Milton Latham, who was elected California’s governor in 1860. No one had a shorter term in office in the state’s history. He served only five days before a U.S. Senate seat opened up when Sen. David Broderick was shot to death by David Terry, a California Supreme Court justice.

Located along Milton Road, the first major building – a saloon – became a town hall until the Masons relocated their lodge to Milton in 1881. If you’ve been to Milton, you couldn’t miss it.

The town thrived in the early years, but was doomed when the trains stopped running in the 1940s. Left behind were the Masonic Lodge, the old schoolhouse up on the hill, the Masonic cemetery and a handful of residences. The old wooden school house, through age, vandalism and neglect, fell into disrepair and fell down more than a decade ago.

The Masonic Lodge remained in use until Saturday’s blaze. The loss to the small ranching community of Milton is far greater, I’d argue, than the loss of Modesto’s long-vacant radio station building simply because the Masonic Lodge was Milton’s only remaining nonresidence still standing.

Now the Masonic Lodge, along Milton Road, is a burned-out shell of history, to be joined in the next few days by another in Modesto that generated generations of memories of its own.