It started so innocently, with a friend’s seemingly simple question: What’s the history of the little A-frame building on Athens Avenue in the location of the now-closed Coffee Creek Cafe?
I reached deep into my memory bank, way back into the ’60s and ’70s, and thought it was Mr. Swiss. But I wasn’t sure, so I posed the question to my Facebook friends.
They had answers … 129 of them, to be exact. Did they stay on topic? No. Did I get my answer? Yes, in a very round-about way. But while digging for the truth, my friends excavated tons of their own memories, too.
Debbie R. said that building in question was a Taco Bell, and she knows this because she remembered her older cousins took her there for her first Taco Bell experience.
Tracy S. said she’d never been there, but the Avanti Travel is shaped just like an old Taco Bell, same bricks and design, so yes, Taco Bell. Not so fast, said Cindy N., who thought it was a Mr. Swiss … or something like that.
“It was good for yummy ice cream, is what I remember,” Cindy N. said.
Meanwhile, Larry S. was sure what’s now Avanti Travel used to be Taco Bell, but he couldn’t remember about the A-frame building. Share H. remembered it as others had, that the A-frame was first a Taco Bell, then a travel agency and then other short lived things until it was a coffee shop.
That – for some reason – led to discussions of Wonder World and a skating rink that caved in and closed down during the 1968 snow storm, and maybe there was even a teen center called “Sloopy’s” that put on dances.
Victoria H. mentioned that she hung out at an old tree fort by the Hatfield’s place. In fact, it was from that tree fort that her brother and a “gang of his hoodlum friends” pelted Victoria with dirt clods.
Goody Goodyband mentioned some pretty cool batting cages and in-ground trampolines.
A side conversation erupted between Mary Alice and Victoria L., starting with Mary Alice recollecting a friend’s house that had a bomb shelter. Was it Victoria’s?
Victoria L. said yes, it was her dad’s bomb shelter, but the Woodwards had that cool A-frame playhouse.
“I would have rather had the playhouse,” Victoria L. said. “The bomb shelter (which is still there) was one freaky piece of work.”
A bomb shelter? In the Garden Tract? Now that’s something I would like to see!
Eventually those two took their conversation elsewhere, which left an opening for Marlene G.
“Ok, since we’ve got historical wise ones responding, help me remember the name of the Italian restaurant on Hilltop prior to Casa Ramos,” she said. “Please! They had the best cannelloni!”
Stacy W. had the rapid answer: “Pietro’s.”
With that mystery quickly solved, Tamara G. opened a whole new debate: “OK, here’s one,” she said. “Where did Hinkle’s Market use to be?”
If you even thought about guessing that Hinkle’s started out where it is now, next to Yanello’s Car Lot, then you’d be wrong. But the correct answer took a while to find its way.
Meanwhile, Mary Alice returned to the Hinkle’s conversation.
“That place had such mystery around it when I was a kid,” she said. “My folks might stop there to pick up beer or cigarettes on the way home from an event.”
Larry S. was pretty certain that the first Hinkle’s was located where Taco Bell is on Market now. He said that the building to the south (now Redding Tents & Events) was Neilson’s Motors, which he knew because he worked across the street from Neilson’s at the Shell station (next door to what is now The Board Mart.)
Oy. My head.
Mary Alice wondered about a whole new place, the old European bakery, which she thought was Swiss, located on Pine St., south of South St. She said the bakery owner had a Vespa.
“Not something you saw much in Redding in the mid- to late 1960s,” she recalled. “We didn’t go there much, but our neighbors across the street had lived in Germany and they went there more often.”
Interestingly, she said those people are her in-laws now. Of course.
Maybe it was the mention of Swiss – as in my original question about Mr. Swiss – that caused Mary Alice to return the discussion to the Garden Tract area, and the Garden Market for all the Garden Tract kids, and oh, the Sweet Tarts and those great Jolly Rancher sticks!
Shawna Bell (no relation to Taco Bell) cleared things up by saying that Taco Bell was where Avanti Travel now is. She believed the A-frame was Swiss Miss, that what’s now the Dollar Store on Athens Avenue was once the old Thrifty’s, and the EMS furniture store, previously McMahan’s, was Wonder World. She remembered how on a Sunday after church she would get a taco for 15 cents and then to Thrifty’s for 5 cents per-scoop ice cream.
“Those were the days,” she said.
Daniel M. was sure that Stan Fletcher was the owner of the Taco Bell when it opened on Athens because Daniel’s dad worked there.
“My dad was going to Shasta College and Chico State,” he said. “Between the G.I. Bill and his wages at Taco Bell and my mother working at the Law Firm of Lopez & Kennedy, we did okay. You can imagine we ate a lot of Taco Bell products.”
Tracy S. did some homework and checked with a knowledgeable friend, who used to live in the Garden Tract area. She confirmed what Shawna and a few others had said, that the corner building — now Avanti — was the Taco Bell, but then she took a wrong turn (sorry) when she said that the A- frame, which was last incarnated as Coffee Creek, started out as Pier 1.
I hated to argue with her about the Pier 1 declaration, because I knew it was far bigger, and behind Avanti, but I didn’t want to confuse things. Besides, that this point I was just reading, and hadn’t added one comment since my original question.
John L. said yes, Taco Bell was there. But he wanted to answer the Hinkle’s questions. He said it was located where the newer Market Street Taco Bell now stands. He, like Daniel, had a reason for remembering.
“My father had a small transmission repair shop next door,” John L. said. “A little behind that was Hinkle’s. My most memorable memory was the day Steve McQueen stopped there to purchase cigarettes. He drove away in a red convertible. I believe he was filming part of ‘The Great Escape’ in the Cottonwood area.”
John L. was on a roll, and asked if anyone remembered the “Shasta Slide” in the vicinity of where Tortilla Flats is now.
(I did remember the Shasta Slide, but for some reason I think our family called it the Super Slide. Either way, it got hotter than Hades in the …)
But that conversation moved onto Jeff F.’s comment: “Doni, I doubt you’re even old enough to remember what an excellent ‘cruise’ Redding had!”
He was right. The glory years for Redding’s cruise was slightly before my time, and by the time I was in high school, it was “cruise lite”, which the RPD eventually closed down. But it was fun while it lasted. Kids drove around and around downtown, revving engines, waving, honking, and annoying the adults.
“I remember coming all the way from Paradise to cruise Redding once,” Jeff F. said. “We were riding around in the back of an open pickup! Fun times!”
John L. was done talking about the cruise, and was back to my original question.
“The old A-frame … wasn’t it a place where you could get ice cream type things?”
YES! YES! YES!
“Was that place called Swiss Chalet? Swiss Miss is (or was) a brand for chocolate mix?”
Oh, so close.
Dana C. said she had learned a lot about Redding’s history from the conversation. “I’ve only been here a few years and It was fun reading how it used to be,” she said.
So true. Well, that looked like it was the end of the discussion. Or not.
Adrienne Jacoby, who writes anewscafe.com’s “Just Sayin’ ‘” column, waded late into the conversation and guessed that Taco Bell was on the corner, the Swiss Chalet was the A-frame next to it … she thought … not sure.
Gene B. agreed with John L. and Adrienne, that the A-frame was the Swiss Chalet (not), but he was more interested in another question.
“OK, here is another one for you guys,” (NOOOO!) “Who remembers “Ramona’s” where Ghironda’s now is?
Barbara R. answered Gene B. “Yes, I remember Ramona’s! I was only there once, I think. After it closed (maybe around 1970-74?) I think it became a steak place.”
Deborah B. replied that Hinkle’s has always been in its current location, which prompted Gene B. to agree, saying Hinkle’s had never been anywhere else.”
I hated to break it to Gene and others about their error in Hinkle’s thinking, but sure enough, John L. cleared things up…
“Sorry, but Hinkle’s present location was not the first,” said John L., who, bless his heart, returned to my question.
“I do wonder if that A-frame could have been our original Baskin & Robbins and constructed by them,” wondered John L. “It may have then moved to a bigger location behind the Subway on Athens. I keep thinking of a Baskin & Robbins on Main Street in Ventura that was very similar in size and construction and is still in existence to this day.”
Thanks, John L. Oh, sure, let’s talk about Yreka while we’re at it.
Gene B. spoke the truest statement ever: “Well, I guess we all remember things differently.”
He got that 100 percent right.
And then, at last, Julie F. got it right: “It was Mr. Swiss,” she said. “And it was built while I was at Sequoia. I’d say in 1969 … Taco Bell was built at the same time and it was the Spanish style building next door … Oh the memories….”
Let’s just leave it there …
But Julie F. wasn’t finished: “Does anyone remember Grants, which was next door to Thrifty’s? Hinkles was the only place in town back then that was open 24 hours. Don’t forget Head Ecstasy and their black light posters. Does anyone remember Leslie’s Market next to a gas station on Placer St near Manzanita… Or kegs at beer can tree?”
Next time. Another trip down the north state’s Memory Lane. With or without Mr. Swiss.
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.