As much as anyone who can claim to be a victim of “terminal nostalgia”, I miss things and places. I am not alone by any means and continue to be amused as folks take umbrage at changes.
For example, take a city I spent a good number of years in. Walnut Creek, California. Moved there in the summer of 1970. At that time, the big freeway to San Francisco was being completed. Rapid transit in the form of trains operated by BART had yet to see it’s first train turn a wheel in revenue service. And it was not hard to see the walnut orchards that gave the place it’s name.
It was for all intents a small town. Yet on the move. For when that freeway was done and trains ran into San Francisco, it would become a full blown bedroom community.
Downtown still had much of the small town feeling to it. Even though we had a shopping center, you could still park on North Main Street in a perpendicular fashion on the diagonal. The businesses all were local. Chain stores or franchises were not present. The city did not even have a McDonald’s.
It still had a railroad running through it, complete with a classic wooden station. Less than five years had passed since Walnut Creek was a two railroad town. The Sacramento Northern right-of-way was part of the route of BART under construction. Now the Southern Pacific’s San Ramon Branch remained. Still serving the cement plant just east of downtown. A locomotive was on duty here to keep cars moving freight to a few businesses along the line.
Just south of downtown was the Broadway Shopping Center, with JC Penneys and Capwells as the big anchor store. On one side you had Luckys in the grocery business and Safeway was still in a classic green and yellow tile structure on the other.
But within another five years, all that changed. An Army Corps of Engineers project rerouted the creek of the same name into a concrete box, all in the name of flood control. Much of that old downtown gave way as things changed. The cement plant gave up rail access and moved to the north end of town. Both Luckys and Safeway moved into newer stores. A seven story office building came into being, complete with a very controversial peace symbol showing support to end the Vietnam war.
Eventually, most of the older buildings that made up downtown were either dismantled or refurbished. McDonald’s did come to town and despite predictions of doom, became part of the lives of many. Both as customers and employees. The multiplex theater (a cinderblock nightmare) replaced the older one screen version. Even the old wooden plant which had processed walnuts found a new use as a civic arts theater.
As a friend put it, “Walnut Creek either sold or tore down it’s history.”
Today, some 40 years later, the little town is a city. Neiman Marcus, Nordstroms, Macys and Tiffany all have locations here. Upscale doesn’t being to describe it. Folks who used to shop at the Army-Navy Surplus Store instead do so at Restoration Hardware.
But things keep changing. That seven story office building? Slowly being demolished this week. That cinder block multiplex? Gone, replaced by another cinemaplex and the space it once called home now used by other businesses.
Yes, things change. That is the way of it. Be it Walnut Creek or Disneyland.
While we enjoy thinking of the past and the way it used to be, nothing lasts forever. Enjoy it while it is here but look forward, too.
For no matter how much we wish, we can not all live in the past. There just isn’t enough room out there.