Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series about Sacramento resident Mannie Viera.
At 88 years old, Sacramento’s Manuel J. “Mannie” Viera, Jr. has experienced many things in his life, including growing up as the son of a railroad worker.
While sitting inside his home in Sacramento last week, Mannie spoke about his father, Portuguese immigrant Manuel J. Viera, Sr. (1892-1962).
“My dad came over (to the United States) from Faial, Portugal by himself when he was about 12 years old and he had a sign on him that (read), ‘California, Sacramento,’ and a loaf of French bread,” said Mannie. “I guess he had enough money to travel (to Sacramento) by train. When he got here, he lived on the corner of 6th and U (streets), right across from Southside Park. He never told me much about that time. All I know is that from then he went on to work at the (Southern Pacific) shops. He would go over there and work on the engines and stuff like that. And later on when I got older, I went to the work for the railroad, as well. So, I worked on Front and J (streets) and he worked over (at 4th and I streets) at the shops.”
Manuel Viera Sr. married Goldie Mae Dias (1893-1974) in about 1920. Mannie was born in San Francisco, and moved to the capital city when he was about six months old, when his parents adopted him.
Mannie said that his father was well known by many locals for his ownership of Viera’s Place, a bar at 1914 3rd St., between S and T (streets), in the Southside Park area.
He added that during that time, the Southside Park area was populated with people of different cultures.
“There were a lot of Portuguese, Italians and Slovenians who all lived right there in that area,” Mannie said. “There’s a lot of history down in that neighborhood.”
Although Mannie said that he does not know exactly when his father established the bar, he said that he believes the business was actually open and selling “beer and wine and stuff like that during the bootlegging days” of Prohibition.
Additional information regarding Mannie’s father and his bar was discovered during research for this article.
The 1921 city directory, for instance, shows that Manuel J. Viera, Sr. was already associated with 1914 3rd St. at the time, but was then operating a grocery store at that address.
However, it is possible that the grocery store was then doubling as a bar, despite the fact that Prohibition had already gone into effect.
Mannie said that his father closed the bar in 1923 due to the risks of running an alcohol vending business during Prohibition.
Following the repeal of Prohibition, Mannie’s father reopened the bar on April 14, 1933.
From senators to goats
Included among the clientele of Viera’s Place were Senator Earl Desmond, who served in the Legislature from 1933 to 1958, and other senators and assemblymen.
Mannie said that one of the more unusual customers at his father’s bar was a goat.
“This customer of my dad’s, he used to come in after work and have a beer and he’d bring his goat into the bar,” Mannie said. “And my dad said, ‘What about your goat? Do you want to buy him a drink or do you want to be a cheapskate?’ And (the customer) said, ‘Why? Do you want to feed him a beer?’ So, my dad got a bottle of beer and the goat came up on the bar and my dad had a beer bottle opener, of course, and he put (the bottle) in the mouth of the goat and the goat drank the whole darn bottle of beer. So, that was a ritual every day. When the fellow came off of work, he’d stop by my dad’s bar and he’d get a bottle of beer (for the goat) along with his order.”
When asked whether the goat showed any effects from drinking beer, Mannie said, “No, he cut him off at one bottle.”
Mannie added that the bar was also a place where people would pick up their paychecks.
“My dad owned a rooming house at (nearly) the same address (as the bar) at 1914 4th St.,” Mannie said. “A lot of their checks would go to my dad’s bar and since it was only a block away, they’d come pick up their checks.”
In addition to the barroom, Viera’s Place also included a kitchen, an office and restrooms.
While looking at a vintage photograph of the inside of the bar, Mannie pointed to a picture that was hanging on the wall to the left of a clock and said, “My dad always had a picture of Will Rogers on the wall. He liked Will Rogers.”
Rogers’ popularity in Sacramento reached a higher level in 1935, when he came to the capital city for the filming of “Steamboat ’Round the Bend.”
Mannie said that he was among the people who went to the banks of the Sacramento River to view the filming of the movie.
In addition to his previously mentioned employment, Manuel earned money by participating in boxing matches at the old L Street Arena at 223 L St.
“He would go down there and box whenever he needed some extra money,” Mannie said.
Land Park move
When Mannie was 6 years old in 1929, he moved with his parents from 430 ½ T St. to 3200 Riverside Blvd., across the street from where Vic’s Ice Cream opened 13 years later.
The Vieras property was one of four lots in the vicinity on the west side of the street.
‘Nothing but hayfields and Japanese gardens’
Mannie recalled a very rural area from his vantage point on the boulevard at that time.
“(The area) wasn’t very populated at all back then,” Mannie said. “My dad had chickens and he had rabbits and he had dogs, cats, a regular menagerie. And at that time, when we lived there, you could look from there over to where Holy Spirit Church (at 3159 Land Park Drive) is now and there was nothing but hayfields and Japanese gardens. A lot of strawberry farms were out there at that time. The Swanstons rented the land out to Japanese (strawberry) farmers. And (Sanford A.) Woodruff, the guy who had a house a block down from ours (at 3300 Riverside Blvd.), had a stable (at 2643 Riverside Blvd.), right by where the Riverside Clubhouse is now (at 2633 Riverside Blvd.). He had horses he rented out and people used to ride them out by the levee and come down by Riverside Baths (the old public swimming pool at 3640 Riverside Blvd.).”