began in 1894 as a dairy at at 41st and Howe streets. A soda fountain was added in 1927 where "soda jerkers" tugged on a handle to add carbonated water to flavored syrup for ice cream sodas. Fentons is planning to bring that history back to life at Myrtle’s Lodge, which will open just across the street from the creamery at 4221 Piedmont Ave in mid- to late September.
“This has been a dream for 10 years,” said Scott Whidden, Fentons' owner since 1987. “We wanted to pull out nostalgic items and have them on display. We wanted to take people into a room and share what a soda jerker did—not just in pictures, but in reality.”
As with many dreams, the road to realization was long and complex.
“It’s a re–creation of something that doesn’t exist," Whidden said. "We had to assemble the items from private collections, auction houses and antique shops. We had to time travel backwards, which is a slow process.”
Whidden and his partners searched far and wide and ultimately turned up an authentic phone booth from Stanford University, early 20th century display cases from Oregon, an Amish preacher’s pulpit turned reception stand from Pennsylvania, and a fully operational 1922 oak, nickel and glass soda fountain from Fentons itself.
In addition to the lengthy treasure hunt, the lagging economy also slowed the realization of Whidden's dream.
“We had a lapse where we saw a 40 percent escalation in our cost, so there was no room for extras. Fuel surcharges started, then dairy items followed,” Whidden lamented.
But with his gung-ho attitude, familiar to regulars who treat Fentons as if it were their second home, Whidden wouldn't let Myrtle's Lodge stay down for long.
“Fentons did Rocky Road ice cream when there was the Great Depression,” he said, “so in a recession, we think people still want enjoyment. Ice cream is a less expensive luxury.”
Whidden, along with his wife and business partner, Nini, trace some of the establishment's lasting success to storytelling.
“When we’re giving tours, people share their experiences,” Whidden explains. “There just aren’t that many soda fountains left. For us, it’s a conversation piece.”
In addition to showing off how a soda fountain works, Myrtle’s Lodge will offer other novelties including retro toys and ice cream-making tools (you'll still have to go across the street if you want a milkshake).
The lodge will also have a changing display of art on loan from San Francisco’s George Krevsky Gallery. A baseball series (the Whiddens are serious A’s fans) will be featured each year, in keeping with what Whidden calls Fentons' all-American flavor.
The Whiddens have hired Ray Lai, a local ice cream maker and educator, to develop classes for everyone from children to grown-up foodies at the lodge.
“We have a new process that makes popsicles in six minutes,” Whidden says, “and we’ll have sauce making, candy creation, topping preparation, vegan, soy milk, coconut and cordial ice creams, and then you get into cake making. …” He let the sentence dangle before finishing, “There’s nothing more wonderful than firing up the imagination of a little person.”