SDFP exclusive series The History of Neighborhood House: From 1918 to the occupation in 1972
By Maria E. Garcia
Tony Silva, Celso Luque, Simon Castillo, Joe Maas, Joe Nuñez, Vogie, Louie Espinosa, Robert Vasquez, David Saterrian, Coach Pinkerton, Angel Negrete, Nando Ojeda (Angel Negrete – with striped socks, holding bat )
Mr. and Mrs. Angel Negrete were kind enough to invite me to their home to discuss his memories of Neighborhood House. Most of Mr. Negrete’s memories are from the 1930’s. He asked me several times why I wanted to interview him. He is one of the most modest men I have had the privilege of interviewing.
“…though some of the boys complained about sleeping outside, he loved it. As he said “we wanted to see the stars. We wanted to be outside.”
Mr. Negrete learned wrestling at Neighborhood House. It was a skill that he took to San Diego High School, where he became Southern California Champion. Their team went to San Francisco for this event and he remembered it was “a big deal.” Later in the late 1940’s he would become a volunteer wrestling coach at Neighborhood House.
Mr. Negrete was one of the Neighborhood House kids who had the opportunity to go to camp. He remembers riding in the back of a truck, along with several other boys to reach Camp Dehesa. Today the first concern would be taking of boys without the benefit of seat belts on the ride up the mountains.
Girls and boys attended separate camps. Camp, as he remembers, lasted four or five days. They slept outside, and though some of the boys complained about sleeping outside, he loved it. As he said “we wanted to see the stars. We wanted to be outside.” One can only imagine how special it was to a group of kids who were living in small houses or very small apartments, to be away from home and enjoying nature.
He, along with a group of other boys, signed a petition requesting a boy’s cooking class. He refers to this as having gone on strike.
He was one of the students in the Neighborhood House preschool class and remembered the little chairs and tables. The school was located in the building in the back of Neighborhood House, known as Harbor House or “la escuelita.” The building had been donated to Neighborhood House by Miss Ellen Scripps. He continued taking part in the many of the activities there until he was well into his late teens. Many of the skills he and other students learned at Neighborhood House became the foundation for playing an instrument, participating in various sports, or academic activities as they entered junior or senior high.
The boys noticed that the girls in cooking class had the benefit of taking home the pies they made. Boys were not allowed in the cooking class, thus they did not have a pie to take home. Mr. Negretes’ favorite pie was lemon meringue. He, along with a group of other boys, signed a petition requesting a boy’s cooking class. He refers to this as having gone on strike. Shortly thereafter you saw both boys and girls walking home carrying a pie.
When I showed Mr. Negrete a picture of one of the Marston Garden parties, he quickly remembered the musicians. He said “that’s ‘Lefty’ and his brother.” As it turns out “Lefty” is Joe Legrete, Carlos’ dad. Mr. Negrete graded them as “quite good” adding that “at least we thought so.” This group of musicians not only played at the Marston’s Garden parties but was well known throughout the city of San Diego.
Mr. Negrete’s father also played a role in this history. He was employed in the the preparations for the California Pacific Exposition in 1935-6. He also led the team of men that put stucco on the outside walls at Neighborhood House. This is a prime example of giving back to Neighborhood House. Mr. Negrete still remembers how proud the men were of the work they had done.
Maria Garcia is a retired school principal and has been an activist in the Chicano movement since 1968.