In 1923, Lodi was a progressive city of 8,000 with a bustling business core, modern schools, a dynamic fruit shipping industry, and miles of valuable vineyards encircling it. Yet, Lodi was so overlooked that it was mismarked on maps.
Ninety years ago, the Lodi District Chamber of Commerce was born, and it put
Lodi is on the map – literally. In May 1923, St. Anne’s Catholic School dedicated its grammar school building. Woolworth’s 5, 10 & 15 Cent store announced it would open a store on School Street. Miller Products Co. opened an ice cream plant on East Oak Street. The Lodi Theater showed a Buster Keaton comedy and other films for a Lodi Fire Department fundraiser. “Speed Cop” C. Fisher warned speeders that he will issue tickets to his friends and anyone he can catch.
That May the Lodi community got started establishing a local chamber of commerce. The Lodi Businessmen’s Association, an influential organization that was a bit social mixed with community concerns, had served the business side well for years, but it did not represent the farmers and agricultural interests or the community.
Beyond the county lines, Lodi was a well-kept secret despite annual shipments of its tokay grapes to Eastern markets. Without a community voice, people statewide and nationally knew little about Lodi. In fact, Rand McNally mapmakers incorrectly put Lodi far off the main highway and listed its population as 4,000, half of the true number.
The first major meeting of community leaders to discuss a chamber of commerce was on May 2, 1923. More than 250 businessmen, farmers, and officials met in the gold room of the Hotel Lodi.
“The Lodi Businessmen’s Association has done splendid work in the past, but we need a chamber of commerce to take in everything and put Lodi on the map,” said meeting chairman and San Joaquin County Supervisor J. W. Stuckenbruck.
Lodi Mayor J. W. Shattuck, a former president of the Lodi Businessmen’s Association, also endorsed a chamber of commerce.
“There is no substitute for a chamber of commerce. A chamber of commerce is more than an institution – it is a community representation.”
Dan W. Bird, a realtor, said Lodi needed “to get the businessmen and farmers together for the good of the community.”
A resolution to form a Lodi chamber of commerce was heartily endorsed.
The Lodi Sentinel proclaimed in the next day’s newspaper: “Wednesday, May 2, will be recorded in the pages of local history as the day on which Lodi gazed into the future and seeing a Bigger and Better Lodi and a Greater Community, organized a chamber of commerce to assure the advancement of the city and the district.”
Five days later, “an enthusiastic committee meeting” was held at the Hotel Lodi. George W. Ashley, a prominent grower and shipper, was named chairman of the organizing committee. Alvin K. Matthews and Ed Price were named secretaries, and Lloyd Mazzera was named treasurer.
Those at the meeting officially chose the name, Lodi District Chamber of Commerce, and raised the first funds with donations made in the room that night. They agreed to get help organizing from two agencies, Californians, Inc. and specifically California Development Association’s J. M. Silvey.
By May 10, Ashley located temporary quarters on the second story of the Beckman-Thompson building across from the Hotel Lodi.
Ashley received a list of 4,000 names of people from throughout the nation, plus France, England, and Italy who had written Californians, Inc. to inquire about the grape lands of California. Fresno, which had an active chamber of commerce, had already mailed back letters and pamphlets. Without an operating chamber yet, Ashley sent out a postcard that pleaded, “Wait until you hear from Lodi before you decide to settle in California.”
Silvey arrived in Lodi on June 4, 1923, and immediately started organizing volunteers to blanket the city and rural areas soliciting membership in a chamber of commerce. Membership cost $10 each. The membership drives officially opened on June 12 with a goal of signing up 600 members.
Two days later the Lodi Sentinel reported that 410 members had been secured. More than 40 percent of the new members were from outside city limits.
“I have never seen such an overwhelming response from the farmers before,” said Silvey.
Wilson H. Thompson, longtime Lodi merchant, banker, and fruit shipper said, “The Chamber of Commerce in the Lodi district cannot be stopped with dynamite.”
On June 16, 1923, four days into the membership drive, 712 members were signed up for the chamber.
On June 21, 1923, the bylaws were officially adopted. The membership was 790 by that date, and organizers expected to reach 1,000 soon. About $5,000 in membership fees had been collected.
By mid-July, membership was over 800. Lodi District Chamber of Commerce’s first board election was held. Fourteen men were elected directors. George Ashley was elected the first president. Vice presidents were Wilson H. Thompson and I. G. Krieger. Secretary-Manager Williard Speares started work on Aug. 1, 1923.
The Lodi District Chamber of Commerce was not officially incorporated until Oct. 23, 1923, but chamber officials were hard at work right away that first summer. The chamber prepared a booklet about Lodi, took out advertising in the Chicago and Detroit newspapers, gathered and distributed tokay grape recipes from Lodi housewives, and worked to secure better roads leading to Lodi.
In August, four months after the first chamber meetings, mapmaker Rand McNally responded to Lodi’s complaint letters. The company agreed to fix its error and put Lodi correctly on its maps.
Today, the Lodi District Chamber of Commerce is marking its 90th year in operation at the annual meeting and awards presentation on Jan. 24. The chamber today has 927 members, and 4 ½ staff positions and pushes hard to promote the community locally, nationally, and internationally and to ensure its continued economic health.
“I think 90 years ago, the things the chamber did were the same as we do today,” observed Pat Patrick, chief executive officer of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce.
“We work to create jobs so we will have a great place to live. We will help businesses get their products to market whether it is highways to L.A. or understanding exporting letters of international credit. Promoting our town as the best corner of the state, creating synergy among local businesses, and trying to get the government to work with us not against us. Some things never change.”
Vintage Lodi is a local history column that appears on the first and third Saturday of the month.
Luring business to Lodi has always been a focus of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce. This 1946 photograph shows chamber and city officials meeting with General Mills executives to discuss the company’s move to Lodi.