Richard Rico | New life in aging sites – Vacaville Reporter

ONE of downtown Vacaville’s most storied buildings—from housing several savings and loan branches to a community-connected, iconic travel agency–has itself been launched on a new journey.

Wasserman Travel, wedged by Merchant and Parker Streets since 1994, has been sold by Wasserman family’s Jim Kellogg to Tom Rapisarda, a rising star in Vaca’s real estate firmament. He has a vision for his new site’s new life. “I’d really, really like to bring in a restaurant” to the 3,800 sq. ft. space, Tom said. That depends, of course, on getting a like-minded tenant.

The site includes off-street parking, which could be used for outdoor dining. At the same time, Rapisarda purchased a long-vacant lot next to Merchant & Main on which he plans to build a realty office for his firm. Early Vacans will remember that property as home of Walter Hansel Ford. I can still see Walt pull up at The Reporter in our new-generation ’49 sedan. In recent months, Tom and his family made a personal and historic purchase –the stately Hartley House at 100 Buck, at the corner of West St., a citadel at one end of the so-called Avenue of the Giants.

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WASSERMAN Travel’s web of moving parts includes Central Calif. Federal Savings & Loan; Heart Federal S&L; US Bank; American S&L; Bank of America, Vaca Saturday Club and a time capsule sealed 50 years ago, but never opened.

The first piece in the mosaic was set in place in 1909 when Vacaville Saturday Club was formed, the first women’s civic and social club in Solano. It met in various venues until 1936 when a fire in the Vacaville Inn on Merchant St. caused big damage. Sat. Club took it over. All went well, until BofA decided to enlarge its Main St. branch. It liked the club property and offered to build them a new clubhouse on Kendal St. in exchange for its Merchant St. site. It’s still the club home.

In the 1960s, Central Calif. Federal Savings & Loan sent Obie Ladd here to open its first satellite branch. It opened in a tiny space on Main St. Not long after, the S&L bought the site near the tip of Parker-Merchant, Obie’s son, John, told me. His dad built it, and we all came. In later years, the S&L name was changed to Heart Federal S&L. In 1971, the time capsule was embedded in its walls. One item was a column by me: “Greetings to the people of Vacaville of 1980,” and so on. In 1971, Obie’s branch moved across Merchant, the capsule with it. It’s still there, in the base of a flagpole. The intent was to open it in 20 or 30 years.

SATURDAY Club got its new home and BofA built its new bank. It soon outgrew it, and built its present branch on Parker St. Heart Federal wanted BofA’s vacated site on Merchant, and got that. The building is now home to US Bank. (Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz.) The capsule followed them, and so did Obie Ladd’s name—it’s on the plaque at the base of the pole. Another S&L moved in behind Heart Federal. Then came the Wassermans. They were operating their travel agency in the Cal-Hawaii building on Mason St. In 1994, WWII pilot Morris Wasserman, his wife Betty and daughter Wendy made a bid for the building for a new Wasserman Travel. They got it. In 1982, Wendy and Jim Kellogg were married. He became part of the family, and the company. In the latter 2000s, a dark cloud moved in over them. Morrie died in 2017, Wendy in 2018, Betty in 2021. COVID raged. Travel all but stopped. Jim had to lay off employees, and worked at home. “The agency isn’t closed,” Jim told me this week. “I am taking and making calls–(707) 447-1100–honoring trips contracted but not taken during the pandemic.” I flashed on times when one of my flights to Europe ran into a snag. A frantic call home called Morrie into action. In no time, a new ticket was waiting for me at the terminal. It’s called service.

Weeks ago, Jim sold the building to Tom Rapisarda; he’s on a roll toward his own future. By honoring a past that filled his life, so is Jim. One of these days we’ll explore what’s inside that time capsule. I wonder what I predicted 50 years ago.

The author is former publisher of The Reporter.