SDFP exclusive series The History of Neighborhood House: From 1918 to the occupation in 1972
By Maria Garcia
This history of Neighborhood House has introduced readers to some of the programs and activities that placed this organization firmly at the center of life in the Logan Heights community in the 1920’s and 30’s. Past articles have referred to the popularity of formal sports training at Neighborhood House, particularly for baseball. Neighborhood athletes were coached, provided with the required equipment and could participate in tournaments. The team was a source of enthusiastic neighborhood pride.
The Neighborhood House baseball team provided children with tremendous opportunities while it also exposed them to discrimination, as the recent interview with Dr. Bareño revealed. Memories of Coach Bill Breitenstein are inextricably intertwined with the accounts of so many people I have interviewed for this series. Mr. Breitenstein died in 1928, but his influence was felt well into the 1930’s. This “shining star,” as Dr. Bareño called him, deserves a special place in the history of Neighborhood House.
Bill Breitenstein had played minor league baseball and “was credited with having ‘made’ baseball in this county” by the San Diego County Baseball Managers’ Association. He was forced to give up baseball when he started having problems with his arm. During World War I he joined the Army and was athletic instructor at various bases. After the war and in the early 1920’s he came to Neighborhood House and was made athletic director.
He added wrestling, and boxing, along with the much loved baseball to the activities available to the boys. The boys formed a “club” that met every Saturday. They charged dues and used the money they had collected to purchase uniforms and athletic equipment. The boys from Neighborhood House became well known for their sportsmanship. The boxing ring was set up behind the Neighborhood House building and a small fee was charged for watching the game. Boxing matches took place on Monday nights.
One newspaper article credits him with teaching the boys that gathered at Neighborhood House how to play “fair and clean.” My tendency is to think that like boys in every other neighborhood, the kids from the Barrio made their own rules and without the benefit of an umpire called plays as they wished. Other newspaper articles from that era refer to the boys as being “hard boiled types” who had a tendency to fight over games. Again, I see this as normal behavior when adults are not supervising the games.
Articles constantly refer to the boys as headed towards juvenile delinquency while praising Mr. Breitenstein’s efforts to provide an alternative. There is no question that his contributed greatly to the boys in the neighborhood. However the question remains were all these boys headed to a life of crime or was this a reflection of prejudice at the time?
Dr. John Bareño, who played baseball under the direction of Mr. Breitenstein remembers that people throughout the city wanted to play baseball for Neighborhood House. He attributes this to “everyone wanting to play for Bill.” Dr. Bareño refers to Bill as “a great man.” On May 25, 1924 the San Diego Union reported that “the biggest playing list submitted so far by a manager of junior team is the one submitted by Bill Breitenstein, Neighborhood House director.” It also quoted Mr. Breitenstein as saying “you’re never too young to learn sportsmanship.”
Bill Swank, author of Baseball in San Diego: From the Plaza to the Padres, writes about a game that took place in 1925:
Neighborhood House met Encinitas in a crucial game. The beach boys only had seven players, so good sport Bill Breitenstein generously let them borrow Johnny Hernandez and Alfredo Vidal. Vidal collected four hits for Encinitas. NH had difficulty hitting the famous Hernandez curve and lost, 14-6.
Mr. Breitenstein took two boys back east to watch a professional baseball game. The two boys selected were Tito Canes and Al Vidal. When they returned from their trip, along with their stories of what they had seen, were stories of how they had been discriminated against. Formal baseball had come to Logan Heights, along with the dream of someday playing on a professional team.
Sponsorship for the teams varied, however it was not unusual for these teams to be sponsored by a neighborhood liquor store. Al Johnson, a well-known figure in the community and owner of the El Carrito restaurant, sponsored teams throughout the years. Today the outcry that would follow if any little league team was sponsored by a liquor store would ring from the barrios of Logan Heights to the barrios of East Los Angeles. In those days it was not looked upon in a negative manner.
The complete series of the History of Neighborhood House in Logan Heights is available here.