Chad and Erika Harris, whose Fremont Diner in Schellville is a favorite breakfast and lunch stop for locals and visitors, recently purchased the old service station at the corner of Broadway and West MacArthur Street and plan to turn it into a diner.
They want to save the old station building and then rebuild it so their diner will have the look of the original Signal service station owned and operated by Lee Clerici on that corner for 30 years.
Lee, who passed away in 1995 at the age of 85, ran a popular business, practicing the art of “service” that was the trademark of top service stations of that era. He was also very active in public service in Sonoma.
During my youth, and especially after I learned to drive, I bought a lot of gas at Lee’s station. He was also the guy I went to first when something was wrong with my car.
Lee, like many gas station owners of his day, greeted and waited on his customers personally. He was a friend and neighbor to many and baseball coach to at least two generations of Sonoma Little Leaguers.
During his boyhood he was a talented baseball player on school teams and later as a member of the Sonoma Merchants, a local semi-pro team.
After his playing days and while he was running his business at Broadway and MacArthur, Lee became the manager of the Sonoma Valley Little League Bears team starting in 1951 when the first ever SVLL games were played here.
He continued to manage the Bears for the next 14 seasons. I was just 9 years old and played on the Tigers, managed by Ernie Mangiantini. Local Fire Chief Charlie Basch managed the Lumberjacks and Stu Hoxie managed the Indians. During most of the years Lee was Bear’s manager, they were at or near the top of league.
Lee was in business in Sonoma Valley when gas station owners could actually make a good living. He and his family owned a nice home on the east side of Sonoma and Lee was always involved in supporting local causes.
A respected civic leader, he served on the Sonoma Public Service Commission and the Public Utilities Commission for from 1957 through 1964.
For a brief period, he and his partners, Dr. Dario Marioni and Wesley Haire, ran a Dodge automobile agency in the 1970s at the old Sonoma Motors property at Broadway and East MacArthur, across from his station.
That property, now vacant and looking forlorn, could use a revival similar to what is going to happen at Lee’s old station.
I think Lee would be happy that the business at which he spent a good portion of his adult life will give pleasure and good service to many local folks.