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Simonian tower pays tribute to Japanese American WWII internees, farmers

Luggage on display outside the Japanese memorial at Simonian Farms fruit stand, using wood from an actual World War II internment camp, on Monday, June 20, 2016 in Fresno. The three-story monument honors internees, especially local Japanese farmers who befriended Dennis Simonian as a youth.
Luggage on display outside the Japanese memorial at Simonian Farms fruit stand, using wood from an actual World War II internment camp, on Monday, June 20, 2016 in Fresno. The three-story monument honors internees, especially local Japanese farmers who befriended Dennis Simonian as a youth. sflores@fresnobee.com

Q: What is the story behind the large wooden structure at the Simonian Farms fruit stand at Clovis and Jensen?

Pat Patterson, Clovis

A: The three-story monument was commissioned in 2013 by Dennis Simonian to thank five Japanese families who taught him as a teen “the value of hard work, honesty and setting goals,” he said, and for “graciously sharing their passion and knowledge regardless of the fact that I was young and a competitor.”

Simonian said he also wanted to honor their families and all Japanese American citizens who were interned during World War II.

The project “cleaned my soul,” Simonian said. “I had to do this for these people who were the salt of the earth and were treated like this. Some of them lost their ranches. They lost their dignity.”

Simonian was 16 when he took charge of the family’s farming business. He would buy a half-row of peaches to pick or other fruits and vegetables from Japanese farmers to sell at his family’s fruit stand. Those farmers also “taught me how to pick ’em, plant ’em, spray ’em, how far apart to dig the ditches and plant the plants,” Simonian said.

The inspiration for the memorial came when Daniels Wood Land Inc. of Paso Robles, which had previously built a barn for Simonian, said it had several truckloads of old wood taken from an internment camp near Poston, Ariz.

“My mind started wheeling around,” Simonian said, and the idea was born. “I wanted to give back.” One of many internment camps built to hold Japanese American citizens during WWII, the Poston camp had about 18,000 internees at its peak, he said.

The memorial was dedicated in November 2013 to honor the families of Shigeo and Kinuko Hayashi, Masao and Hanako Hayashi, Bob and Masako Nakadoi Mochizuki, Ted and Irene Takahashi and Yosh and Yo Takahashi.

Chuck Takahashi, whose parents, Yosh and Yo, were both interned at Poston with their families, said the memorial sparks “very deep, real feelings of gratitude.” It’s also educational. “It tells the story that happened long enough ago that many young people might not know about it.

“To have the actual wood from the internment camp is remarkable to me,” he said. “I can go there and touch it. That could have been their housing.”

Large Japanese characters on the side of the memorial express Simonian’s message in building it: Soul Consoling Tower.

Q: I’m interested in the history of the Broadway Liquor store at 102 N. Broadway St. Was it always a liquor store?

Gerre Brenneman, Fresno

A: The earliest Fresno city directory listing for a building at the corner of North Broadway Street and East Voorman Avenue shows the Pilgrim Church there in 1918. But back then Broadway was named Coast Avenue.

The building was gone by 1922. A new building stood there by 1926. It was listed as vacant in 1932. By 1936 the building housed the Commissary Department of Fresno County Public Welfare.

Adam J. “Jim” Dermer opened Dermer’s Liquor there in 1939. Dermer wrote a column called News Views in The Fresno Bee. In March 1943 he wrote that his wife, Lorraine, would run the business while he served with the Coast Guard during World War II. “She’s been Mrs. Dermer for eight years and during that time she has caught on to what it takes to run a business,” Dermer wrote.

After the war, Dermer and Gene Heslin opened Dermer Liquor Store Number Two at 1298 Wishon Ave. Dermer also was a real estate developer. One of his projects was the Story Book Homes subdivision that he and Ralph Rogers opened in 1959 “one mile west of Clovis” between Belmont and Olive avenues, according to The Bee. The three- and four-bedroom homes were priced between $13,950 and $16,950.

Dermer died in 1960. His son, Stephen Dermer of Fresno, ran the store until 1993, when he sold the business. Dermer said he expanded the store by buying out the former San Francisco Chronicle office and a laundry business. He added a delicatessen and also did catering.

He recalled that when his father ran the store they stocked their own label of wine. “We didn’t make it. We probably bought it from a winery. One we sold was even called Sweet Lorraine,” he said, named for his mother.

It’s not clear when the new owners shuttered Broadway Liquor, but the last city directory listing is in 1999.

Seeking readers’ help: Reader Gene Chandler of Mendota is seeking the history of the Maupin Ranch, a “very active cotton ranch” near Mendota where his late father-in-law, Isaac L. Herrera, was born in 1925.

Several generations of the Maupin family lived in Fresno, including during that time period, but none seem to have been involved in growing cotton.

Manuel G. Gonzales of Walnut Creek, author of “Mendota: 1891-2012,” said Dr. James L. Maupin Sr. invested in land on the west side of the Valley during World War I in an unsuccessful attempt to grow fruits and vegetables, but didn’t grow cotton.

Maupin’s wife, Mary, was the daughter of William Helm, a sheep rancher. Maupin, a prominent Fresno physician and a founder of the Burnett Sanitarium, died in 1930. Their son, James L. Maupin Jr., was a Fresno doctor for 30 years. He died in 1966.

If anyone recalls the Maupin Ranch, please email or write to the address below.

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to askpaulalloyd@yahoo.com 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.

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