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Ask Me: Military planes repaired at Fresno plant in 1950s

Question: In the 1950s my dad worked for North American Aviation at what is now the Fresno airport. What is the history of the company in Fresno?

-- Rick Snow, Clovis

Answer:

North American Aviation, headquartered in Inglewood, opened a plant at the then-Fresno Air Terminal in November 1951. The plant initially employed about 300 workers to modify aircraft for the U.S. Air Force and foreign customers.

Airplanes were trucked to the Fresno plant. At first, most of the planes were T-6 trainers, which gained the nickname "aerial bloodhound" during the Korean War.

In 1951, the company paid $1,835 in monthly rent to the city of Fresno for the 91,000-square-foot airport building. In 1953 the firm got a $2 million contract with the Air Force to inspect and repair about two dozen F-86 Sabre jets. By 1953 the plant's workforce had grown to 1,300, including about 150 women. A 1954 Fresno Bee story about the women workers was headlined "Women's Nimble Fingers Win Approval in Plane Plant."

The story said the women were "doing jobs which, their male bosses admit, men cannot do." Their jobs included engine testing, wiring and electrical assembly.

Because of their "small hands," the women had "more dexterity than men and in certain types of jobs their work is far superior." One boss said of the female workers, "They catch on rapidly."

By the end of 1954 the plant had hired another 1,000 workers and some employees' hourly pay rose from $1.54 to $2.53. In 1955, the Fresno plant delivered its 1,000th repaired plane to the Air Force.

In February 1956, the plant got $7 million in new orders. In November of that year North American Aviation officials told a meeting of 60 local business and civic leaders at the Hacienda Hotel that the company had a bright future in Fresno.

In April 1957, some plant workers got another pay raise: 2 cents per hour. But by May rumors were circulating that the plant would close. In September company officials announced the plant's closure due to cutbacks in defense spending.

On Nov. 13, 1957, the last jetfighter rolled off the line at the Fresno plant, with the words "The End" chalked on its side.

Q: My mother's family worked for a fig farmer during the late 1930s by the name of Munier, located on what is now Van Ness Extension. What is the history of Mr. Munier?

-- C. Perkins, Fresno

A:

Ernest Gustave Munier was a native of California who came to Fresno in 1919. One of the first fig growers in the Valley, his orchard was at the southwest corner of Van Ness Extension and Barstow Avenue. His property extended to San Jose Avenue on the south and the western boundary was about where Pleasant Avenue is today.

Munier was cofounder of the California Fig Institute and the California Dried Fig Advisory Board. He was a civic leader with memberships in the Fresno Elks Lodge, Downtown Exchange Club and First Congregational Church.

In 1960 he donated 15 acres on Palm Avenue north of Bullard High School to the YMCA for a proposed north Fresno branch that eventually was located on Shaw Avenue near Fresno State.

Munier retired by 1968 and died in 1972 after a long illness.

Q: Some of us who attended Rosedale Grammar School in Del Rey in the 1930s are wondering how the school got its name?

-- Hank Yoss, San Luis Obispo

A:

Two Rosedale school buildings have existed near the southeast corner of Greenwood and Lincoln avenues east of Del Rey.

The first school was established in 1892. The wood-frame building had two rooms and a library. The furnace was in the basement. According to a history of the school in "Public Schools of Fresno County 1860-1998," Ida Peterson, who attended Rosedale in 1916, recalled "the thrill and the fright of hanging over the banister to peek into the dark basement."

An undated photo of the first school shows a shingled bell tower above the front porch.

The second school was built in 1921. "The low stucco building had a large arched entryway and 10 large windows across the front. The roof was topped with a small bell tower," according to the history.

The Rosedale school closed in 1950, the same year the Rosedale and Prairie districts merged to form the Del Rey Union District. The former school is still standing and now houses a church.

The origin of the school's name is uncertain. A farmer named M.S. Rose came to Fresno in 1883 and had a ranch near Fowler, southwest of Del Rey.

Rose was elected to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors in 1894, representing the fourth district, which includes Fowler and Del Rey. According to "Imperial Fresno," Rose was "active in forwarding the interests of his constituents and, in fact, those of the county at large." However, there is no mention of the school being named after him.

Schools were sometimes named for farming colonies in which they were located, but there is no Rosedale colony in that area.

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