LeBARON: Mead Clark joins Santa Rosa's century club
Published: Saturday, September 22, 2012 at 2:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, September 23, 2012 at 8:06 a.m.
It's good practice for a town to take stock of its past every so often. Maybe even offer, in the vernacular of the day, “high-fives” to the pillars of the community.
In a time when old established — yea, venerated — businesses are too often lost (think of sorely-missed Traverso's and dear, departed Rosenberg's); a time when the business of business has become a political issue, it is comforting to know that there still are pillars out there, holding up their ends of the business community.
This is the year we tip our hat — a hard hat, I would think — to Mead Clark Lumber Company, which has joined a select group of Santa Rosa businesses that have lasted for 100 years or more.
There are four others in this group — Daniels' Chapel of the Roses (1875 — the name has changed twice but the business lives on); E.R. Sawyer Jewelers (1879), Imwalle Gardens (1886) and Pedersen's Furniture (1892).
Both Imwalle's and Pedersen's have been in the same family all those generations. Corrick's will join that elite “same family” group when the business turns 100 in 2015.
(If you know of others who are in this group, don't hesitate to let me know I missed them. Journalism is nothing if not a learning experience.)
Meanwhile, back to the business at hand. When Mead Clark transplanted his lumber business from Iowa to Santa Rosa in 1912, having tested the California prospects first in Dinuba, near Fresno, he found himself in a lumber dealer's wonderland of redwood and fir. He built a Mission-style building at Third Street and the railroad tracks, a design he once described as “the Taj Mahal of lumber yards.”
Clark was an old-school businessman. He had two rules that were not to be broken. The “inside” staff was to turn out in three-piece suits and ties with “no garlic on your breath.”
Clark and his wife, Dora, built themselves a fine home on Melita Road just east of the intersection we still call Lawson's Corners. An Iowa cousin, Duane Bennett, came to join the company. By the 1930s, Clark had shown considerable business acumen and achieved success. But he and Dora had no children.
This is where it becomes Elie Destruel's story, the back-story to the centennial observance for the newest member of Santa Rosa's One Hundred Year Club.
Elie's story is one of those only-in-America stories, the kind of tale that historical novelists and political convention speakers love to tell — the son of immigrants, the first-generation American who “makes good” and makes his community better.
Elie was the son of Eugenie and Jean Destruel, both born in Cahors, the wine town in the Mid-Pyrenees region of France. They paid for their passage to this country in the late 19th century as indentured workers, Jean as a laborer, Eugenie as a housekeeper for a family in San Jose.
Free and clear by the turn of the century, they moved to Healdsburg, where there was a small French community around Fitch Mountain, and where Jean went to work at Gambetta Winery.
Elie was born in Healdsburg in 1904. At age 18, fresh from accounting courses at Sweet's Business College on Ross Street (which the immigrant kids had nicknamed “Italian University”), he applied for a job at the lumberyard.
The company did its own milling in those years and Elie advanced quickly, from clerk to estimator, learning the trade. Clark, recognizing that the boy had promise, took him under his wing. When Jean Destruel died in the 1920s, Mead Clark became a surrogate father to the young man.
In the 1930s, Clark offered Destruel, still in his 20s, a partnership in the company. In 1948, Elie's son, Jean, known as “Dusty” since childhood, came to join the firm. Dusty remembers when Clark died in 1944 and his father was executor of the estate. He was very proud of having paid off all 51 Clark relatives mentioned in the will within 10 months — in cash.
Duane Bennett became a partner and Elie bought Dora Clark's share of the business.
The next 70 years have been the Destruel years. Elie was a business community leader in the 1950s and ‘60s. With his friends Ralph Stone and Henry Trione (another one of those “first-generation stories”), he invested in downtown property, served as chairman of the city planning commission and exerted considerable influence in civic affairs.
When Elie died in 1979, his son Dusty had been president of the company for four years. He was subsequently joined by his sons, Randy and Kevin.
The company's home yard and store relocated in 1987 to a site on the corner of Hearn and Dowd avenues. Their first location has become a Courtyard hotel.
Dusty retired in 1990 but, “still goes to the shop,” where his sons and now his grandson, also Dusty (Dustin), are carrying on the century-old tradition.
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