Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Take a virtual trip around town but you won’t find the old one-room jail

Google Maps now makes it easy to tour Ontario by computer, and when you want to write about what’s stood up over 55 years and what has not, this comes in handy.

I realize that over 55 years things change. But it was a little disconcerting on my more recent visits to find that the folks who remade downtown Ontario have paved over much of the block that was most important to me as a youth. Last week I wrote at Farewell Bend the Novel about how they made the old Argus-Observer building into a parking lot. I also knew they’d made a parking lot of the old one-room city jail behind the former city hall, just across the alley from the old Argus also into a parking lot.

Now, given Google’s new “street views” for some cities, including Ontario, I enjoy letting readers actually see the sites they are told about from the files of 1950s issues of the Argus-Observer.

So if you want to see the parking lot that’s gone up in the place of the city jail that county Grand Jurors said was “filthy” in 1953, just go to Google maps and plug in the address 235 S.W.1st Street in Ontario, OR 97914. (Put in the ST for sure to get to the right place. And you may have to spin the view a bit to the left to see the parking lot.)

Sorry I don’t have any pictures of the old jail, where I passed inmates a pack of cigarettes on occasion after making a run to the Moore Bus Depot a block south. What I could see of the inside through the bars didn’t exactly look comfortable or appealing, as I remember.

(For some of this blog’s readers, I expect what will be even more exciting is the ability to use the street view option to move around town on many streets and look at a lot of the city. To help with that all you need to do is double click the headline on this post and it will take you to the high school football field at W Idaho Avenue and 10th Street. Follow the arrow up hill a bit and you'll see the high school which opened in the fall of 1953, when I was a freshmen there. If you want to expand you horizons, you can use Google Maps street views to tour almost any town in the Ontario and Boise areas. The easiest way to do that, I've found, is to pick an address, say a local motel or hotel or the Chamber of Commerce --all the small cities have one and the addresses are easy to locate through Google. Then begin to move around.)

For now, here’s what the Ontario City Council had to say about the county Grand Jury’s report that the city jail was filthy. The headline in the Argus-Observer pretty much summed it up:

“City Council visits jail and calls it good enough for its purpose.”

The July 2, 1953 issue reported that the Ontario City Council adjourned a council meeting to make a quick visit to the jail.

Denying that it ever received the report from the county Grand Jury – carried in the Argus-Observer on May 28, 1953 -- the Ontario City Council visited the city jail and pronounced it fit enough.

“This jail looks perfectly satisfactory to me,” Councilman Horace Beal said. “Any man in jail should feel damn fortunate to have a jail this good to be in.”

The council members did note that that walls had been recently white washed.

The Grand Jury had called the jail “filthy and unsanitary” because it had no shower or bathing facilities and no mattresses on the beds.

In recounting the council’s response, the reporter for the Argus that year took it on himself to repeat a suggestion that “wet backs” --- the term of the day for illegal immigrants from Mexico who came to the area to work on the farms --- had been incarcerated there just before the Grand Jury visit.

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