Sam McManis

At the Sacramento Valley Museum: That’s amazing!

The Sacramento Valley Museum in Williams served as a high school until 1956.
The Sacramento Valley Museum in Williams served as a high school until 1956. smcmanis@sacbee.com

My name is Oscar. ... I wanted to bring a story to your attention. If Huell Howser was still around, I’d get in touch and let him know what I’ve discovered. It’s called the Sacramento Valley Museum in Williams. It is wonderful.

Left on my voicemail

We tried to get Huell (to visit). They said no. Then, it was six months later he passed away.

Kathy Manor, director, Sacramento Valley Museum

Cue the elbow-swingin’ fiddle music. Cut to panoramic shots of wind-swept fields, crashing surf and red-tailed hawks soaring over snow-peaked mountain passes. Dissolve to a boom shot of a brown and gold arch over a quaint main drag. The sign reads “WILLIAMS.” Tilt down to a man, tanned to bronze to offset his billowy white hair, holding a microphone. He is grinning widely, almost maniacally.

Well, folks, here we are in sunny and beautiful Williams, California. There’s supposed to be a museum here named the Sacramento Valley Museum. Let me tell ya, it all makes sense, since this is the Sacramento Valley. So buckle up, ’cause we’re traveling six blocks down E Street to a museum said to be fascinating.

Montage of E Street: Garrison’s Vestiges antiques store, Granzella’s restaurant, the vintage fire station and city hall, a mural of the town in more bustling times, the mid-century-modern sign outside of Louis Cairo’s Steakhouse, a lone palm tree where the Williams Hotel once stood.

Cut to the host with a giant palm tree in the foreground and a hulking, doric-columned building with “High School 1911” centered in red paint.

We could stay all day in the shade of these beeeeautiful palm trees, but we’re here to see some history, folks. Come on, let’s take a look.

Camera follows the host up concrete steps. Zooms in on him grasping the front door handle and pulling. Pulls back to show brows lifting in surprise when the door is locked. Tracks back to orange sign on the door, stating, “Opening at 1 p.m. today.”

My, my, that really dills my pickle. I’m feelin’ as low as toad in a dry well. We’ve got two hours to wait. What say we go back down the road a piece and check out the wonders Williams has to offer?

Shot of Granzella’s front door. Sign reads “Est. 1976.” Camera follows the grinning host as he enters. He sees a life-sized carved bear, puts his arm around it and sticks the mike in its face.

Look at this! What’s the special today? Guess we better see for ourselves, folks. Come with me. My, what interesting wagon wheels on the walls. Wonder if that goes all the way back to 1976? And these pancakes are bigger than a John Deere hubcap. Amazing!”

Shot of host stopping at a charred remnant from the original Granzella’s, nothing but melted plastic, mounted on a wall next to photos of the 2007 fire that gutted the building, since rebuilt. Two-shot of the host chatting up the cashier.

A fire? That’s where things turn black and melt, right? And this is actual plastic? From the original restaurant? We gotta get a shot of this!

Fade to a wide-angle shot of the bar, which features an array of stuffed animals adorning the walls, and two stuffed polar bears encased in glass. Host gesticulates wildly.

They look as ornery as a mule chewing bumblebees. Let’s check out the rest of town before these bears thaw out and come a-callin’.

Shot of Garrison’s Vestiges, an antiques store with ’50s-era lawn furniture and a croquet set in the front display. Medium shot of the owner, behind the counter, filling out a sudoku puzzle. Camera follows host as he lingers at a vast collection of mid-century martini shakers and shot glasses. Two-shot of host chatting up Pamm Garrison, the owner.

Garrison: “That’s Pamm with two M’s.”

Two M’s? How fascinating! Those are some mighty fine martini shakers you got here.

Garrison: “We used to sell about one shaker a week when we were in Portland. Not so much here.”

You came to Williams from Oregon?

Garrison: “I grew up (here) then went up to Portland for 17 years and then came back thinking, ‘Oh, it must’ve grown into a pretty cute little town by now.’ But no. Nothing.”

Cut to the parking lot of the Sacramento Valley Museum.

Voice over: High time to go to the museum, where all the fond memories of Williams are kept.

A woman is walking with keys in hand. Host walks into the shot.

I’m being led into the museum by ...

“Kathy Manor. I’m the curator, director, housekeeper. Sorry I was late today. We had a little situation with my in-laws.”

In-laws? That’s amazing!

Over-the-shoulder shot of Manor leading the host around the museum, formerly Williams High School from 1911 to 1956, refashioned in 1963 as a museum charting the Valley’s history from the mid-1800s to mid-1900s. Camera tilts down to the burnished and scuffed redwood floor, where white lines form a pattern. Floor creaks as the two stop in the middle of the room.

Manor: “We call this the auditorium. The lines that are on the floor are original. They played badminton in here. The floor at the front is sloped on purpose. A lot of people think the building has settled, but it has not. They sloped it on purpose for seating for the stage area.”

So, you’re telling me it’s sort of like two things? A court? And a stage? Wow! What’s this to the left, a bar? Don’t tell me that was part of the high school?

Manor: “No, although I’m sure some of the teachers would’ve wanted one. The bar came from an old bar in Willows. I don’t know the history of it. But there was this curtain that covered the inside. One day, I was cleaning and I pulled it back, and it’s been in a fire.”

Extreme close-up of host: A fire? This is history, folks.

Manor: “On each side of the stage are copper finials that covered the lightning rods on the old bridge in Meridian. We got two. The Sutter Museum in Yuba City got the other two. We also got the bell from the bridge house. It’s downstairs.”

Tight shot of host, open-mouthed in wonder, as Manor leads him through various themed rooms, such as a “parlor,” a “kitchen” and “dry goods store,” all of which once were school classrooms. Zoom in on an 1890 phonograph, as Manor cranks the handle and places the needle on a spinning vinyl record. A jaunty, only slightly warped version of “California Here I Come” warbles out.

Wow. And you’re telling me the sound goes from that there needle to this hornlike speaker? What will they think of next?

Shot of Manor pointing to another object.

Manor: “This is something I always show people. It’s a gas-powered hair crimper the ladies used, a very delicate curling iron.”

My gosh! Didn’t they singe their hair?

“You’d think.”

Long shot of the lower floor of the host gawking at blacksmithing tools, Model T cars, vintage photographs or Williams High School through the years. Medium shot of the host thumbing through the 1955 yearbook, the Sundial, with its full-page photo of students in rolled-up jeans and slicked duck-billed hairstyles walking through the halls. Close-up of host, eyes deer-in-headlights wide.

You mean these are the same halls we’re walking through today? That’s amazing!

Editor’s Note: This copy was changed on Oct. 20, 2014, to correct the vintage year of a phonograph.

Call The Bee’s Sam McManis, (916) 321-1145. Follow him on Twitter @SamMcManis

Sacramento Valley Museum

1491 E St., Williams

Hours: Thursday - Saturday: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Contact: (530) 473-2978; www.sacvalleymuseum.org

Note: The museum’s annual Murder Mystery Show and Dinner “Lethal Luau” will be Oct. 25. Tickets are $50.

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