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Historic downtown building’s future uncertain following fire
Center Street building 1
A fire that raced through a vacant building in the 300 block of N. Center Street on Feb. 24 is still under investigation (Photo contributed).


Turlock Journal


After a ferocious fire burned down most of the building located at 309 N. Center St. in Turlock, memories of the 100-year-old structure arose within the community.

The building was originally built in 1922 and was the first headquarters for the Salvation Army’s Turlock Corps. The basement of the building consisted of a social hall, classrooms and a kitchen area, a preview of what was to come half a decade later. The main floor housed a hall, the ladies’ parlor and offices while the upstairs space served as an apartment space for Salvation Army officers.

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The building at 309 N. Center St. was originally built in 1922 and was the first headquarters for the Salvation Army’s Turlock Corps (Photo courtesy of the Turlock Historical Society).

According to the Turlock Historical Society, the organization’s Turlock branch was in existence for three years prior to the building’s existence, renting out a room of a West Main Street general store to serve as a meeting space. At the time, the Salvation Army was growing in popularity, particularly in California. While the non-profit first expanded to the United States in the 1880s, expansion to the Golden State did not take off until after the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

“There was a balcony and well you can see it was a multi-level building, and they held some religious services there,” explained Scott Atherton, vice president of the Turlock Historical Society & Museum. “People were excited that they really did provide a service and benefit for them.”

The Salvation Army sold the building in 1934, leaving the organization with no official location until 1996 when it moved into the current Lander Avenue site. Despite the sale, the Center Street building would remain a place of service for years to come. The property was bought by the American Legion Post 88, which is named after Turlock resident Rex Ish after he lost his life in France serving in World War I.

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The property was bought by Turlock American Legion Post 88, which hosted a grand public opening in June 1934 (Photo courtesy of the Turlock Historical Society).

The Turlock Historical Society explained in its 1999 release of the annual Turlock Pioneer publication that national pride was at an all-time high in the 1930s as many members of the public and their relatives either served or were heavily impacted by the first World War. During the American Legion’s grand public opening in June of 1934, there were more than 400 people who attended and crowded Center Street in celebration.

Atherton explained that the large crowds who celebrated organizations like the Salvation Army and the American Legion was also due to the fact that there was a lack of technology during the decade.

“21st century technology was not that advanced at the time, so these places gave people something to do in town,” he said.

Like the Salvation Army, the Rex Ish Post No. 88 remains active in Turlock to this day. The American Legion owned the Center Street building until the 1980s, when they moved to their current location at 75 Bothum Rd.

The long history of restaurants at the iconic building would begin with The Heritage Restaurant, but it would soon be turned into a staple for Mexican cuisine in Turlock. Led by Maria Valencia and family, El Antojito served the Turlock community for nearly 18 years.

Center Street building 2
The last business to use the Center Street building was Jura’s Pizza Parlor, until it moved to the Turlock Town Center in 2018 (Journal file photo).

Soon after El Antojito closed its doors in late 2002, the building housed another Mexican restaurant, Cancun’s Bar & Grill. Cancun’s served up seafood and other Mexican dishes for several years before they followed suit in closing their doors.

The last business to use the Center Street building was Jura’s Pizza Parlor. In 2012, owner Jura Aghassi explained that the City of Turlock made him shut his business down at its original location at the corner of Golden State Boulevard and Olive Avenue.

According to Aghassi, he and the building owner couldn’t come to an agreement at the time that would allow it to be renovated so that it could better comply with modern building codes, leading him to move the pizza parlor to the 309 N. Center S. building. Jura’s Pizza would remain at the Center Street address until 2018, when they moved to their current location at the Turlock Town Center on North Golden State Boulevard.

The year after Jura’s Pizza vacated the building on Center Street, the City of Turlock Planning Commission approved for Sonora restauranteur Jose Pulido to renovate and reopen the two-story building. Pulido had planned to open another Mexican restaurant at the location in September of 2020, but COVID-19 and construction permits had held the project up.

It is unclear what the status of the building was at the time of the devastating fire that destroyed nearly the entire building on Feb. 24. Atherton believes that, while it will take some money and time to get permits approved and to rebuild at the lot, there is still opportunity.

“You know, it's an ideal piece of real estate, being on the corner there. It'll have to be torn down and rebuilt, but it really is a nice piece of real estate,” Atherton said. “The fact that it was nearly 100 years says something about the great location and the building itself and the way they made it.”

The cause of the February fire remains under investigation and Turlock Fire Capt. Jason Bernard urges anybody with information to call investigators at (209) 525-5573.