Letters from Lodi
An insightful and objective look at viticulture and winemaking from the Lodi
Appellation and the growers and vintners behind these crafts. Told from the
perspective of multi-award winning wine journalist, Randy Caparoso.
Story of an appellation—Part 7, Lodi's iconic Mission Arch
"If grapes are the pride of Lodi," writes Ralph A. Clark in Lodi, Images of America, "then the Lodi Arch [often called Lodi's Mission Arch] is its iconic symbol. The monument is the most recognized piece of architecture in the city, and its unique design inspires many residents, both old and new."
Hence, this symbol has given the City of Lodi a recognizable identity as a historic California destination. It is not an ancient destination.
A brief summary of the city's history:
• The settlement was originally known as Mokelumne—the Native American name for the river that winds through the surrounding agricultural region—and officially changed to Lodi in 1874.
• Mokelumne/Lodi did not exist as a significant entity until August 1869, when Central Pacific Railroad was enticed by a group of local businessmen to establish a railroad depot on 12 acres of gifted land along Sacramento Street, just south of Pine Street. Immediately thereafter, surrounding streets were surveyed and mapped out, leading to an almost instantaneous establishment of businesses (stores, hotels, banks, saloons, etc.) and homes (56 new ones within the first year).
• Lodi citizens voted to incorporate as a city in 1906, taking most of its governing out of the hands of San Joaquin County.
Hence, 1907 was an auspicious time for the newly minted City of Lodi. According to the Lodi Historical Society's Lodi Historian newsletter (Fall 1990):
The grape had replaced the watermelon. The town had just become incorporated the year before. Tracks for a new passenger railroad were being laid between Stockton and the 2,000 inhabitants of this proud city. It was spring and the disastrous flood of 1907 had receded...
Charles Ray [a local businessman] put forth the idea of advertising the beauty and value of the Tokay grape by having a large carnival which would make the entire central portion of the state, if not the world, sit up and take notice...
Thus, in the spring of 1907 Lodi citizens swiftly mobilized to put on what was to be the first and only, nonetheless never-to-be-forgotten, Tokay Carnival. The celebration was to last three entire days—September 19 through 21.
Never mind that these dates fell in the middle of harvest. This was precisely the plan. The third week of September was chosen specifically because that would be when Tokay grapes were fully ripened and ready to be shown off in a procession of horse-drawn carts—as it turned out, a parade over a mile long—into the city and through no less than two triumphant arches, erected just for the occasion just a few away from the railroad depot.
The carnival planning committee decided that the procession—which would also include a "Queen Zinfandel" accompanied by a Royal Court—should enter under two arches: the Mission Revival-inspired “Lodi Arch” that still stands today, and a temporary wooden “fun arch” containing a bandstand and two theaters, topped by castle-like battlements, waving flags and banners proclaiming the "History of the Grape."
Mission Revival architecture, as the name implies, is inspired by Spanish missions built between Baja California and the Bay Area between 1769 and 1833. Not coincidentally, during that time the dozens of Plains Miwok tribes that occupied the area known today as Lodi—originally a flat expanse of oaks, grasslands, and marshy riparian habitats—were decimated by the end of the Mission era.
Lodi, that is to say, was never a Spanish outpost in and of itself.
All the same, the design of the arch meant to serve as the centerpiece of the 1907 Tokay Carnival was submitted by Stockton architect E.B. Brown and was inspired by California's Mission Revival architecture. City planners were so impressed, that they decided to build it as a permanent structure; albeit, according to Clark, "out of wood, metal lathe, and cement by Lodi builders Edward and Fred Cary for a cost of about $500.
By 1910, the city had added its name, complete with electric lights, to the icon. But the most enduring addition came in 1909 when the Lodi Parlor of the Native Sons of the Golden West stole a large papier-mâché bear from an Admission Day parade float designed by the neighboring Stockton Parlor of Native Sons. The bear was placed on top of the arch facing towards Stockton as a practical joke and has been a much-loved addition ever since.
By 1955, the arch was neglected and had fallen into disrepair. The Lodi City Council declared it a safety hazard and threatened to demolish the monument. Thankfully the arch was saved by the very group it had come to symbolize, Lodi's citizens.
In 1981, the arch was added to the register of California Historical Landmarks as No 931. In 1980 the Lodi Arch was added to the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places as #80000848.
A couple of things about the golden bear that famously walks atop Lodi's emblematic arch:
• For 47 years, the bear faced south—its ample posterior, or so the lore of old-timers goes, turned toward Sacramento as a way of expressing discontent with the state government. In 1956 the bear was turned in a more respectful direction northwards, following a layering of plaster.
• The bear did not take on its familiar golden sheen until 1938 after it was given significant repairs and gilded with gold leaf by city employee Clair F. Schultz. For a short time, following further repairs in 1961, the bear was painted brown (to the consternation of many locals), with some gold highlights. Its golden coat was restored in 2002 by Lodi artist Tony Segale, a master in the art of 23.7-carat gold leaf layering.
Exposed to all the elements, however, a bear sitting atop a 40-ft. arch for well over 100 years old is bound to suffer immense damage. Despite Segale's work in 2002, by 2023 it had already sustained further gaping holes, requiring its temporary removal for complete reconstruction and additional layers of gold leaf by Segale. A completely refurbished golden bear, now weighing over 500 pounds, was finally placed back onto the arch this past September.
Long live Lodi and its historic Lodi Arch!
More photos of Lodi's Mission Arch taken through the years: