A fund-raising effort has been going on just south of the Merced County border to restore the giant orange juice stand that once stood off highway 99 at Fairmead.
There was a time back in the 1950s and 60s when giant orange refreshment stands were a common site on California roads.
Oranges were a much bigger piece of California agriculture back in those days.
The stands sold orange juice and other drinks along with hamburgers and hot dogs to people traveling throughout the state.
Over time, orange juice was frequently replaced by soft drinks and milkshakes as consumer tastes shifted.
The orange stands were places where a motorist could stop, use the facilities, and enjoy a hamburger and an orange flavored beverage outdoors in the California sun.
Families could rest at picnic tables under the outdoor canopy and watch the traffic pass by.
The stands disappeared as air conditioning and highway expansion became commonplace.
The last orange stand in the state was in Fairmead, Madera County.
It closed a decade ago. The stand was moved to storage in the City of Chowchilla. Six years ago, it was sold so that the non-profit organization that runs the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County could help organize an effort to restore it.
Enter the three Rotary clubs in Madera and Chowchilla who adopted this restoration project.
The clubs have raised over $15,000 so far and continue to solicit funds through a Go Fund Me campaign and other efforts.
Additional donations are coming in as well in a separate campaign being run by the Fossil Discovery Center.
Little by little, the restoration project is moving forward.
“This was the vision of the late Lori Pond, a member of our board and a passionate supporter of the Center and of local history,” says Fossil Center director Michele Pecina. “She made the appeal to the City of Chowchilla to acquire the orange stand.”
According to local media accounts from that time, the Foundation paid $2,050 to the City of Chowchilla for the stand. The City got some storage space back.
The Foundation got the centerpiece of a new era for the Fossil Center.
A 2012 story on the Sierra News Online site, Lori spoke of requests to Caltrans to rename the road between highway 99 and the Center entrance to Mammoth Parkway, and the reserving of the web address MammothOrange.com for future use.
The Fossil Center was founded in the years following the discovery of Columbia Mammoth bones at the Fairmead landfill in 1993. The San Joaquin Valley Paleontology Foundation was formed shortly after the discovery. The Foundation received official non-profit status in 2001. The organization oversaw the building of the Fossil Center.
Today more than ten thousand people, mostly school-aged children coming for field trips, visit the Center.
It’s fair to ask what is the connection is between the Fossil Discovery Center and the restoration of the giant orange stand.
Michele, who spells her first name with just one “L”, can explain that connection.
“This will be a marriage of terms. The Mammoth Orange Stand will sit at the site near where the Columbia Mammoth bones were found right here in Fairmead.”
The Fossil Discovery Center is located off the Avenue 21-and- a- half exit in Fairmead west of highway 99. From the Center’s location, the visitor can see the Fairmead landfill where the Columbia Mammoth bones were first discovered.
Building permits have been acquired, and ground work is already underway. It is hoped the stand will be ready for use in 2019. Once the restoration is complete, the Orange stand will be a permanent exhibit.
Michele says, “Food events will be celebrated during the opening and year round.”
Initially, the stand will be used for private food events with the Center considering whether it makes sense to turn it into a regular refreshment stop for visitors. The Mammoth Orange Stand at the Fossil Discovery Center will offer an exciting new opportunity for the region.
All these goals will come in time according to Michele.
“We will eventually move to have the state consider designating the stand as a historical landmark.”
The Fairmead Orange Stand was the last of the California big orange stands to close.
If all goes as planned, the Mammoth Orange Stand at the Fossil Discovery Center in Chowchilla will be the first one to come back in service.
With that eventual opening day coming up in about a year, one might work up a thirst for a cold cup of orange soda over ice or some other beverage.
It’s possible too that one might get a chance to relive a sentimental moment from the past. The restoration may help one return to a simpler time when a stop at a roadside orange stand was commonplace in California.
Steve Newvine lives in Merced.
He has written California Back Roads- Stories from the Land of the Palm and the Pine. It is available at Lulu.com.
A column about the Fossil Discovery Center will be published on MercedCountyEvents.com in the near future.
To learn more about the Fossil Discovery Center, go to www.maderamammoths.org
To consider supporting the fund drive to restore the Mammoth Orange Stand, go to GoFundMe.com/mammothorange