Memories from The Depression to Duet Garcia
By Maria E. Garcia
Mary Fisher Garcia attended Neighborhood House as a child during the 1930’s. Miss Anita Jones was the director of Neighborhood House at the time. Jones had trained under Jane Addams, lived in Mexico for a number of years and spoke fluent Spanish. Mary credits Miss Jones with starting many of the programs that became so popular with the kids that attended Neighborhood House.
She remembers Miss Jones as being very strict, but she was also someone you could go to if you had a problem. Mary, like many of the other people I have interviewed, remembers the big fruit truck delivering fruit to the neighborhood and parking in the alley behind Neighborhood House. Word of the free fruit would spread quickly throughout the neighborhood. Free fresh fruit was clearly not taken for granted in the 30’s.
An important component of Neighborhood House, like other settlement houses in the country, was public health services. This included what we would now call well baby clinics, home health visits and nutritional assistance. Like most kids in the neighborhood, Mary had her tonsils removed at Neighborhood House. Her grandmother, Mrs. Ojeda, took both her and her Uncle Manuel to have their tonsils removed at the same time. She says the auditorium was full of kids who had had their tonsils removed waiting to receive the pint of ice cream that had been promised.
In the 1960’s Mary would move her family from the Barrio because of her health concerns for her youngest son Anthony.
Mrs. Wilfreda Brackett was employed by Neighborhood House as a nursing assistant and interpreter. She also lived in the community. Residents had no hesitation to knock on her door any time of the day or day of the week when medical advice was needed. Mary’s family had been very close to Mrs. Brackett—her uncle, Joe Ojeda, named one of his sons after one of Mrs. Brackett’s sons who had been killed in WWII.
Mrs. Brackett also went to the home of her patients to assist with a cure for whatever illness was of concern. Some of those illnesses would ultimately become associated with living in the Logan Heights neighborhood itself. In the 1960’s Mary would move her family from the Barrio because of her health concerns for her youngest son Anthony.
They left the neighborhood when a doctor said that breathing was a problem for her son Anthony because of the pollution in the bay. This had to be difficult for a women whose grandmother, mother and she had all lived within a few blocks of Neighborhood House and had used the extensive services available to them for decades.
The lids of the big lard cans were transformed into baking pans.
Mary remembers her mother making bread in the outdoor community oven that was built for Neighborhood House in the 1930’s. When Mary was a young girl she learned to make cakes in the indoor oven in the kitchen. There was a problem, however– there were not enough cake pans for all the girls to bake a cake. The lids of the big lard cans were transformed into baking pans. At times the large lids from the sugar cans were also used. It was an era in which people learned to make do with what they had. Mary learned to make biscuits, cakes, and cookies at Neighborhood House.
Mrs. Garcia learned to dance the tango from Neighborhood House dance instructor Albert Flores. Along with her partner, Esther Ortega, she performed at Neighborhood House, Balboa Park, the Metro, and the Cornet theaters. She also took Mexican dances from Conchita, an assistant dance instructor who probably assisted Albert Flores.
Because of their love of dancing, Mary and her friend Libby Rodriquez, (Laura Rodriguez’ daughter) would take the bus to Pacific Square Ballroom on Pacific Highway or the USO to attend dances. They would return on the bus to Main St. where Laura would meet the bus to assure the girls got home safely.
Mary holds Coach Pinkerton, director of boys’ activities at Neighborhood House from 1943 to 1970, in high esteem, crediting him with encouraging her son Roy to play tennis. She remembers that the team played a tennis tournament in Rosarito, Mexico. The flow of traffic back and forth across the border was rather common and it was natural for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans to share experiences.
She remembers the boys building their own bikes or wagons because they knew they would not receive these gifts for Christmas.
Mrs. Garcia remembers that Christmas was special at Neighborhood House as well as in the community. Neighborhood House held a party that usually included a play, some musical performances, and dancers with the big finale being a visit from Santa Claus. Santa Claus brought a stocking filled with candy and some fruit.
Mary believes that those Depression era celebrations were better because “no one was better than anyone else.” Most kids received clothes for Christmas, one set for school and one set for going out. As she says it was not like now when kids receive a room full of gifts.
She remembers the boys building their own bikes or wagons because they knew they would not receive these gifts for Christmas. Families made baked gifts for other neighborhood families. She emphasized the friendliness of the community. Years later her son Roy would play a mouse in one of the Christmas plays. Christmas was a festive time around Logan Heights with emphasis being on family and friends gathering to celebrate.
Mary Fisher married Roy Garcia in 1945 at Guadalupe Church. Roy had come to San Diego from Albuquerque, New Mexico. They lived and raised their family in the Neighborhood House area. Roy was a singer who performed at various places throughout San Diego. As parents, they took their small children to play in the Neighborhood House playground or to attend family events there.
Mary also participated in a women’s group that by her description sounds like a Mommy and Me club. The mothers would gather and catch up on neighborhood news while the kids played. Her daughter Yolanda took a modeling class at Neighborhood House and Mary will proudly tell you that Yolanda modeled Catalina swimsuits.
As her children grew older, Mary joined Roy to form a duet. They were known as the Duet Garcia and performed in Old Town, Encinitas, and at weddings or anniversary parties.
Three generations of Mary’s family participated in Neighborhood House events and used their services, from her mother’s reliance on the community oven to her daughter’s modeling class and son’s tennis lessons. When asked what she wanted people to know about Neighborhood House Mary replied: “Neighborhood House was a house that everyone went to.” Neighborhood House was the heart of the community for generations and would continue to be for years to come.
Correction: Mary’s husband’s name is Roy, not Ray, as originally printed.
The complete History of Neighborhood House in Logan Heights series is available here.