A Historic Building with a Broken Heart

The building at 219 North Cloverdale Blvd. was built in 1875, was first owned by Isaac Shaw, and is on the Historic Registry. In the 140 years since it was constructed, many businesses have been housed in that building, including the post office, the town newspaper, Weston’s Jewelry, restaurants, a coffee shop, a bakery and a print shop. Currently, it is owned and occupied by Bolt Fabric & Home. The owners of Bolt have done a beautiful job renovating not only the inside, but also the outside of this structure, and finally 219 has been returned to its former beauty. When you walk in you feel warm and welcomed, making one feel like they are truly “at home.”  Of course, looking at the many colorful bolts of fabric on the shelves and interesting creative household items on display is a treat.

In the 1930s the building was leased to Christo Potter, an Albanian immigrant. Divorced from his wife, he came to Cloverdale with his only son William (Billie). Christo, as remembered by current residents, was a friendly man who dearly loved his son Billie. He opened up a coffee shop, which also served as home for the two of them.  The shop was a typical “soda fountain” that served delicious treats such as Golden State Ice Cream, soda, sundaes, floats, milk shakes and malts. In addition, hamburgers, sandwiches and other lunch items were available.  What a great place it must have been! Thinking of those wonderful soda fountains reminds me of my childhood trips to Woolworth. I would sit on one of the tall round stools at the counter and twirl in circles, Since we only went there once a year, I was allowed to order whatever I desired, which for me was only one thing: a grilled cheese sandwich and, of course, a Coke. A perfect meal!

When I first started volunteering for the Historical Society, I heard many stories regarding a possible ghost at 219. Whether ghosts really exist or not is for each person to decide. But I can recount some of the strange “happenings” in that building.  People felt like someone was either pushing or pulling them out of the building, or felt cigarette smoke being blown in their face – when no one was smoking!  It was hard to imagine that Christo Potter, such a happy person in life, had become an unsettled spirit.  

While looking at a picture of Christo and Billie taken during the mid-1930s, I realized that Billie appeared to be around 9 years old. I suddenly realized that he would have been at the right age to serve in the military during World War II. After going through military records, I found a William Potter who was an Army Pilot. Further research indicated that he was shot down in combat over Belgium and was eventually buried in a Belgium military cemetery. In other words, he never returned home.

After Billie died in the war, public records show that Christo went into a decline, overcome by grief. He could not handle his own affairs. Eventually Christo ended up in a hospital, where he died in 1952. His body was returned to Cloverdale and buried in an unmarked grave in the cemetery.

It was so tragic for Christo to lose his only child, and with no close family to help him. One can only understand how sad Christo was to have lost his only child. Additionally, there was no grave site where he could have some tangible reminder of Billie located close by where he could mourn. So he died unresolved regarding his son’s sudden death.

So the stories of “ghostly happenings” might be Christo protecting his home, waiting for Billie to return. On an interesting note, with the building now completely renovated and feeling so “warm,” no further ghostly happenings have occurred. But I will never forget the story of Christo Potter and his son Billie. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about how much it would take to bring Billie home, to be buried with his father.

— Susan Bennett is a Cloverdale resident and volunteer at the Cloverdale Historical Society. She also serves as the Cloverdale Cemetery docent. Send comments to reveille@cloverdalereveille.com.

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