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Bee cartoonist Somdal sketched Valley and state history

From the “California Sketches” by Fresno Bee cartoonist Carl Somdal. Somdal worked for The Fresno Bee for nearly 20 years, drawing humorous cartoons of the Valley and sketching out California history.
From the “California Sketches” by Fresno Bee cartoonist Carl Somdal. Somdal worked for The Fresno Bee for nearly 20 years, drawing humorous cartoons of the Valley and sketching out California history. Fresno Bee

Q: What is Chicago Tribune cartoonist Carl Somdal’s connection to Fresno?

Tracy Parker, Fresno

A: According to a typewritten biography of Carl T. Somdal found in The Bee’s clip file library, Somdal started working for the paper in 1948 after working for the Chicago Tribune for seven years.

Somdal was born in Springfield, Ill., and his interest in art apparently began in childhood, as the biography notes that “his first published work appeared in a Springfield school paper.”

After high school, Somdal worked in the Illinois State Architect’s office and later for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the New York Public Library.

Somdal received a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago, where he studied “life drawing, design, perspective and lettering,” the biography noted.

His first newspaper job was as staff artist for the Illinois State Journal in Springfield, where he drew editorial cartoons and also did drawings for advertisements.

Somdal started at the Chicago Tribune in 1941, working in the general art department where he illustrated a daily sports column. Later he drew editorial cartoons and “front page color cartoons,” the biography said.

The Bee hired Somdal to replace Arthur V. Buel, who had retired after 35 years drawing cartoons for The Bee and other McClatchy newspapers. Somdal drew “caricatures or portrait sketches” to run with local stories. He later illustrated his weekly Fresnotes column, a humorous look at the Valley’s past and present. He also drew California Sketches that appeared in The Bee on Sundays between 1951 and 1965.

Somdal was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for a cartoon entitled “The Migrants.” He retired from The Bee in 1967. Somdal was married to Margaret, also of Springfield. She died in 1976 and he died in 1980 in Newberry Park at age 78. They were survived by a son and a daughter.

Q: I’m looking for the history of Teague Elementary School in the Central Unified School District. How old is the school, for whom was it named and is it the oldest school in the district?

Natali Carrera, Fresno

A: The Teague District was founded in December 1911, from parts of the Roeding, Lorena (later Herndon) and Roosevelt districts. The new district covered roughly 4 square miles on Polk Avenue west of Highway 99.

Teague School was built within the first year. Its first teacher, Laurence M. Childers, was paid $75 a month.

In 1964, the Teague District was one of seven small school districts that joined the Central Union High School District (organized in 1922), creating the Central Unified School District.

Several of the other smaller unified districts and their schools are older than the Teague District and its first school, according to “The History of Public School Organization and Administration in Fresno County, California” by John Allan Dow. The districts (and the years they organized) were: Barstow (1905), Biola-Pershing (1912 and 1920, respectively), Herndon (1918), Houghton-Kearney (1887 and 1916, respectively), Madison (1885), and McKinley-Roosevelt (1902 and 1910, respectively). The Lorena District, later renamed Herndon, was founded in 1886.

Teague School is likely named for Charles Teague, who was a banker and rancher. According to his obituary in The Bee, Teague had “extensive ranch properties,” including the Shepherd-Teague Land Co. Maps from 1911 and 1913 show Teague School located on and surrounded by land the company owned.

Teague was born in England in 1869, according to historian Paul Vandor. The family came to San Francisco in 1871, and Teague moved to Fresno in 1881. He organized the Shepherd-Teague Land Co. in 1892.

He helped organize the First National Bank of Clovis in 1912, serving as its president for many years, and also organized the Producers Oil Co. He is credited with saving the Associated Raisin Co. from folding, and he was one of the organizers of the Sunnyside Country Club.

Teague died in 1942 at the age of 73.

More about: After the answer to a question about Pierre’s Drive In appeared on Aug. 28, two readers wrote with questions about the restaurant.

JoAnn Woodward of Clovis wrote asking for information about The Wright Spot restaurant she recalled being in the same location as Pierre’s Drive In, and Mark Lammon of Clovis asked about another restaurant also called Pierre’s.

The Wright Spot only appears in Fresno city directories in 1958 at the same address as Pierre’s Drive In, 3232 West Ave. The owner was listed as James Clark.

There was another Pierre’s restaurant at 1100 N. Fresno St. near Olive Avenue in the 1960s and 1970s, but it had a different owner than Pierre’s Drive In. This Pierre’s was owned by Andre Ithurralde.

Bee columnist Woody Laughnan wrote about both restaurants in 1970. He said Ithurralde “may be the only true French chef in Fresno, although he does not commercially practice the art anymore. He was known professionally, when he was a chef in Reno, as Andre Pierre, taking the name Pierre from his father.”

But while Ithurralde didn’t serve French cuisine, Laughnan said, “the city is not completely without the French touch. Pierre Raiche, of French ancestry but himself born in New Hampshire, serves a French hamburger at his West Avenue drive-in. What makes the hamburgers French, he says, is the dressing and the French bread.”

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.