Mike Reed/Pages From The Past
100 Years Ago – July 1921
— Tony Silva, who resides in Liberty District, is a lucky man and his prompt action Monday prevented a serious fire and heavy loss. He saw one of the dangerous fire balloons, set off as fireworks, land in a 20-acre field of grain. Throwing off his coat he went to work and succeeded in stopping the blaze, which a moment later would have been beyond control and the origin of the fire would no doubt have been a mystery, had he not been right there to see. It was learned on Monday that the Novato fire was started by one of these balloons.
— Mr. Hirrabarren has commenced the erection of a modern cheese factory with a capacity of 1,000 pounds a day. The factory is being erected on Logan Street, opposite the depot and being constructed of re-enforced concrete.
75 Years Ago – July 1946
— The long dreamed-of time came last Saturday night when the Novato Druids burned the mortgage on their building at “A specially arranged dinner dance that, in conjunction with the “burning,” honored the returned veterans of the Order. Each veteran received a gift from the lodge. Over 125 members, their wives and friends attended the affair and enjoyed the program which included a “mock” jury trial written by George Gnoss and had to do with the house committee and the members at large represented by “attorneys” Manuel “Babe” Silva and Douglas Reece insisting that the mortgage be burned. The house committee’s arguments set against the burning were quickly silenced by George Gnoss who acted as presiding judge. Mrs. E. R. MacDonald, clad in black, representing the mortgage holder and bewailing the fact that the indebtedness was paid and the source of income had ceased added to the laughter of the crowd and the enjoyment of the evening. The actual mortgage burning took place in a specially arranged crucible in the middle of the main hall.
— Work has begun on the building next to the Advance office that will house the sheet metal and plumbing concern of Wm. Conkling and Everett Howell. A modern display room is planned in conjunction with the shop. A cement floor is being laid and the front of the building will be painted and modernized.
— Novato veterans held their second meeting with Lee H. White presiding as temporary chairman. Dr. C.D. Stafford was appointed chairman of a committee to draft a constitution and by-laws and Paul Woodard was named chairman of a committee to arrange for a permanent meeting place. Twenty-six veterans attended the meeting.
50 Years Ago – July 1971
— John and Eva Hoekman are back in town out of retirement. What’s more, they have once again taken over the active ownership and management of the Hi-Fi Drive-In restaurant at Highway 101 and Mirabella Avenue after an absence of just one year, when it was leased out by them and temporarily renamed Frenchi’s. The Hoekmans first entered the restaurant business in Novato in 1946, operating the 101 coffee shop for four years. Then they went to Willits for a few years and returned to open the HiFi, which they operated for 16 years before their one-year hiatus in Vacaville. They have also returned to live here at 1221 Vallejo Avenue. The Hi-Fi is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. It features a big menu of foods, soft drinks and ice cream specialties. The Hoekmans have three sons. Robert, of Novato, is an instructor-pilot for Spectrum Air at Gnoss Field, the county airport. Larry is an engineer with Pacific Telephone in Petaluma. Don is entering his senior year at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.
— “Seal on, oh ship of state,” was the council’s theme last night, repealing the ordinance accepting a city seal design that never was implemented, thus clearing the way for introduction of alternate design ideas at the August 10 session. The council indicated its preference for a simple and uncluttered City Hall without teepees, jets or mailboxes on it, but told city seal enthusiasts Betty Machado and Bea Carpenter that the design “contest” is still wide open. That means artist Carl Rangell’s work will be considered, as well as the proposed design by Barbara Murphy.
— Lad Cameron and Jim Seaton expect construction to begin in about three weeks of the new building at 7000 Redwood Highway that will house The Boat Shop. Located at 700 Grant Avenue since September 1968, The Boat Shop was Cameron’s “baby” alone until recently when Seaton Joined him as a partner and the business was incorporated. It’s hoped the new structure measuring 3,000 square feet and made of metal with a stained earth tone wood front facing the highway will open its doors sometime in September. The new facility will offer expanded sales, service and repair and will display 10 to 20 boats from 14 to 24 feet in size.
25 Years Ago – July 1996
— Leroy M. “Lee” Gerner, whose passion for plants and eye for design led to the transformation of a bare Novato creekside into a downtown oasis, died Friday, July 26, 1996 at Kaiser Hospital in San Rafael. He was named Novato Citizen of the Year in 1972, was 82. He had had heart problems for several years. In his 45 years in Marin County, Lee Gerner left his mark. A native of St. Mary’s, W.V., Leroy Meredith Gerner was a small boy when his family came to California. He grew up in Santa Ana. He was working for the Post Office there when the U.S. entered World War II. The Army took advantage of his postal experience; he spent two years working in military post offices in the South Pacific. In 1944 he got a stateside assignment as one of two supervisors of the fleet post office in San Francisco.
— Douglas Johnstone, president of the Marin French Cheese Company and one of the driving forces of the Novato business community, died Wednesday, July 24, 1996, at a San Francisco hospital. He was 66. He was born, reared and got his early schooling in San Francisco. He was 11 when his family moved to Petaluma. He graduated from Petaluma High School and Santa Rosa Junior College. His parents, the late Ed and Charlotte Thompson, were part owners of the Marin French Cheese Company—known locally as simply, “The Cheese Factory.” They had made the company’s red and black labels a familiar name in cheese throughout the United States and overseas. In Northern California, The Cheese Factory’s spotless facility, rolling lawns and pond made it a popular picnic destination. Mr. Johnstone served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. After the service he returned to The Cheese Factory, where he served as sales manager for 25 years. He became president of the company in 1994 and worked until this year, when his illness forced him to retire. In March, the Novato Chamber of Commerce named the Marin French Cheese Company 1996 Business of the Year.