A Sign Before The Times
“I used to own the place where you work,” said the man at the Atwater Restore Store.
“I am sorry you must be mistaken,” I replied. “I know the complete history of the place where I have worked as a newspaperman for so many years. It was once a church — the First Presbyterian Church of Winton — and it was originally built in 1918 with the timbers of the San Francisco earthquake.”
The man replied: “Not your printing plant in Winton, but your Merced office on K Street. That building was built by a man named Les Moe for $1,000. He built it for my grandfather William Zierenberg who owned Zierenberg’s Paint Store. …
“It was built in 1930. He ran the paint store, and my father ran the store after him. I was the third painter in line to run the store. …
“My name is Al Zierenberg. …
“And I even have the sign which was once on top of the front door.”
It turns out, Mr. Zierenberg still lives in the Old Town Merced neighborhood near the County Times office on K Street. He showed us the old paint store sign that’s now hanging on a garage in his backyard.
The County Times has occupied the 2221 K Street office for the past 30 years. It was purchased from Jess Fees who used it as a real estate office. His apartment was in the rear.
Topper Smith, our editor for 13 years, lived in the same apartment, as did the current editor, Jonathan Whitaker, for a time.
We had one other editor who worked at the office, Dick Whittington, who had managed the Merced Mall, and after leaving our employ, worked for Merced County Association of Governments.
Dave Medley, a local history buff, gave us an actual can of paint which was once on the shelves of the store.
Today, I no longer own the building, but the Times rents from another owner in the Bay Area.
When I bought the building, the rear was being used for three low-cost apartments and I continued that use, until one day the city came and red-tagged the building. Seven members of the city staff came to the office to see that the red-tagging was done properly. We thought it was a bit of an overkill.
The three renters in the building were only paying $700 a month at the time, and that truly was affordable housing. In fact, I paid $32,000 to install solar in the building so the renters would not have an electric bill.
The city said the apartments had been built without the proper permitting; however, the building was built before those permits existed. Many buildings in the downtown area have additions which never had permits.
There were code violations in the building which needed to be fixed, but when I tried to fix them, the city said the whole back portion of the building needed to be gutted. The estimated cost was over $100,000. Far too much to absorb.
I had to sell the building, and only got half the appraised value because of the restrictions the city placed on the building.
The renters were forced to move immediately, and they were given one month free rent in a Merced motel. The Times has managed to rent from the new owner in hopes of keeping the building as our office.
There have been thousands of of words generated in that old building on K Street, and they resound from the walls.
It is part of Merced’s history.