Benicians invited to share memories of town from ’40s, ’50s
Last year, the Benicia Historical Society and Benicia Public Library hosted the first-ever “Back in the Day” event, where longtime residents were invited to share their memories of growing up in Benicia prior to its period of heavy growth and development from the late ‘60s onward. Citizens are invited to reflect on their past experiences again for the second annual event on Sunday.
Bonnie Silveria, a lifelong resident and former Historical Society president, said the previous event where people talked about growing up in Benicia in the 1920s and ‘30s was a big success. Participants talked about everything from St. Catherine’s Academy to growing up on the east side of town. One resident— Harry Wassman, who died this past August— talked about the house he was born in and would live for his entire life.
“Most of the people that spoke last year were in their 80s and 90s,” Silveria said. “They had stories that reached back.”
This year will focus on Benicia in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Like the rest of the world, Benicia in this period was living through World War II and the Cold War. It also turned out to be a major period of growth for the city. By 1950, Benicia’s population had increased from approximately 2,500 residents to 7,000. It also saw the development of the pool that later became known as the James Lemos Swim Center, communities like the Highlands, and Robert Semple and Mary Farmar elementary schools. First Street even had two movie theaters.
However, Silveria said that Benicia in those days was still largely a blue-collar community and vastly different from the fast-paced world of today. In those days, she said, people went out to eat at restaurants mostly on special occasions and few shopped as a hobby.
“Nobody had much money, so there wasn’t any affluent class in Benicia,” Silveria said. “I didn’t realize my family didn’t have much money until I grew up and realized they were struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table.”
Silveria said that other Benicians were on the same economic level.
“Everybody was in the same boat,” so it wasn’t a big thing,” she said. “You didn’t feel any lesser because you didn’t have a lot of things or a lot of money to spend, but we found entertainment without having to spend money.”
Silveria noted that a lot was different in those days, right down to people’s modes of transportation and how they would pay for items.
“There are things people did back then that people now don’t even have to deal with because life is so different,” she said.
It is these aspects of living in Benicia in the ‘40s and ‘50s that Silveria hopes people will talk about at the “Back in the Day” event. Even people who did not live in that era but are still interested to learn more about it are welcome to attend.
“Back in the Day” will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12 in the Dona Benicia Room of the Benicia Public Library, located at 150 East L St. Admission is free, and all are welcome to attend.