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The story behind this unusual red building in Citrus Heights

Owner John Fratcher stands inside his garage at 7675 Cook Ave., in Citrus Heights. // M. Hazlip

By Mike Hazlip—
Along Cook Avenue in Citrus Heights, across from a horse vaulting facility training for the next state fair, is a red building with a radio playing non-stop inside, and the date “Oct. 7, 1946” written in the concrete.

The radio has not stopped playing — save for power outages — for a quarter-century, the owner, John Fratcher, says. Fratcher moved to Cook Avenue in 1996, three lots over from where he now lives. His daughter now lives in that first home, with Fratcher since building a new home on the lot where the red building stands, using it as a detached garage.

In prior years, the red building served as a lumber yard and a hardware store, built in 1946, right after the second world war.

“Reason I know [the date] is it’s stamped into the ground where they were,” said Fratcher in a recent interview with The Sentinel.

Citrus Heights Historical Society President Larry Fritz said records show the building was home to the R. C. Patterson Lumber Company for at least 20 years. Roger Cecil Patterson was buried in Sylvan Cemetery in 1983, and Fritz said he was the likely owner of the lumber company.

“I was told that one of the main aspects of Roger’s business was selling lumber that he salvaged from Pacific Fruit Express refrigerated box cars, or reefers,” Fritz told The Sentinel in an email. “Early reefers made of wood were loaded with ice at the Roseville PFE plant. As these were replaced over time with metal box cars, a lot of surplus wood was available.”

Fritz said many homes in Citrus Heights and Roseville were constructed using wood from the old box cars.

Prior to becoming a lumber yard, the building’s origin can be traced back to plans for a chicken coop in the 1930s, Fratcher said. At that time, the Patterson family owned the property and decided to bring discarded wood from the nearby rail yard to the site to build a chicken coop. A passerby saw the wood and offered to buy it, then another.

With a source of free inventory and offers to buy the materials, the Pattersons decided to open the lumber yard and hardware store, Fratcher said.

“Inside, there’s still the marks on the floor where they had the hardware stuff,” he said, noting the existing building is one of three originally built. “This one here survived, and it was in pretty rotten condition when I bought the property. I had to rebuild quite a bit of it inside.”

After the Pattersons moved on, the building was put to use by various owners including an electrical business and a theater company, Fratcher said.

According to Fratcher, the building has a colorful history that includes famed Batmobile designer and San Juan High School graduate George Barris. Barris reportedly used the building for automotive work before becoming Hollywood’s premiere vehicle designer.

Today, Fratcher lives on the property with his wife and keeps the radio playing in the old lumber yard building.

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