(Editor’s note: Summer has begun, now that Memorial Day weekend is over. During the summer The Westside Express will present several light or whimsical features for summer reading entertainment. Here is the first.)

Listen in the waning hours of the evening as our Los Banos winds come over Pacheo Pass. If you listen carefully, you can hear them–the voices of Los Banos past telling of the days long ago when people walked the precious grounds we walk upon.

Our Los Banos is unique in its blend of past and present, making it a rich and diverse place to live. You can hear the sounds of the footsteps of the Yokut people who first called our community home. A proud people, they cared for it lovingly until the others came, making way for a different kind of future.

There came more brave people, who traveled the treacherous pass and saw something good in this land. Later, immigrants from Italy and Portugal came, bringing their work ethic, love of the land and rich cultures that are all still present today. Los Banos is a tapestry of cultures. Henry Miller came and saw a way to make his fortune, and fortunes he made. You can see his statue at the end of Main Street.

“Do not forget to tell them that I was the largest, and richest landowner in the state.” Okay, Henry Miller, I will tell them. 

Listen, do you hear the sound of laughter? Do you hear music and the sound of dancing? Those are coming from our fairgrounds and the large gazebo where Henry Miller held picnics and dances for his employees. Now, we hold the May Day Fair there. I can see Miller smiling.

Oh, the buildings have changed since those early days, although some remain to speak of our history. A big fire burned down much of our old Los Banos, including our opera house. But walking the streets, I still can sense their presence. I can also hear the footsteps of those who helped build this city that we now walk. 

Yes, I hear June Erreca and Charles Sawyer now. They were the keepers of our history, nurturing it in our treasured Milliken Museum. 

What was that? Ok, June, take over. “Los Banos has always treasured its past, but new folks moved in, and Charles and I felt it our duty to let them know the stories of our people. Strong people, hardworking people, and loyal to the land they felt honored to walk upon. Charles and I spent endless hours in this museum, and that’s a tribute to our past. Of course, I made a bit of history myself here. I was the first owner of a flower shop, Los Banos Flowers, which I made a great success, and it continues to operate under my son Emi.”

Oh, of course, now Charles Sawyer wants to add something, “I just wanted to put in a good word for our downtown. I used to give walking history tours, very informative. Too bad you missed me. There is still a lot to see there, although I sure do miss our drug store and its counter. We also hung out in the back at the Black Bear Diner. A few of us have our pictures up on its walls. Be sure to take a peek.”

Henry and Helen Mello just dropped by to remind us, “You should not forget that dairy farms are also a big part of Los Banos’ past, present and future. We formed a brotherhood and made a successful dairy. Now we are going to go drink a glass of Los Banos milk.”

“I have a huge landmark in Los Banos that no one else can touch,” interjects Buck Fawcett, “I have a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home. Who’d have thought you would find that here? I did.”

“We get to hear him boast about that for eternity,” interrupts Vincent Hillyer, “You know, I got the best story of all of you. I slept in Dracula’s Castle in Transylvania. I wrote a book about it, and I was used as an expert on the subject on endless shows. Plus, I was married to the sister of the Shah of Iran. And to an Italian actress, I even acted in a few movies there. But I came back to Los Banos. It called to me.”

Now the voices are all getting excited, Benny Silva’s voice stands out, “Well I used to manage the old movie house on I Street. The stories I could tell about the couples on the balcony. I should have written a book.”

“There is so much history here, so many interesting families. It is worth a quick trip to our cemetery on Center Avenue for a taste of our past. Stick around. Settle in, you are going to love it here,” Joe Cox adds, “I mean we have to love it. We are all sticking around.”

Diana J. Ingram

Diana Ingram has been a columnist for Los Banos newspapers for four decades.