By Maria E. Garcia
Mary Dora Hollman Garcia grew up on the 1800 block of Newton Avenue in Logan Heights and attended kindergarten at Neighborhood House during the 1930’s. In the days before Lowell Elementary School was built she attended Burbank School.
The walk to Burbank School was carried out under the watchful eyes of families and neighbors. Dora would leave her house with her aunt watching her walk down the street. She would walk two doors down, pick up a little friend there and then they would walk by Irene Mena’s house and pick her up.
With every person that was added to the group another neighbor or family member would take over the responsibility of watching the kids walk to school. The last stop brought the walking brigade to a total of eight children walking to Burbank School.
By the time Dora entered fourth grade, Lowell School had been built and the kids around Neighborhood House started attending Lowell. At Lowell the girls became Girl Scouts and wore their uniforms to school on the day of the meeting. Dora loved being a Girl Scout not only for the uniform but for the camaraderie that was established among the girls.
On her first day at Memorial Junior High School, Dora and one of the other girls went to school proudly wearing their Girl Scout uniforms. You can imagine the teasing and the remarks that took place. Dora says the boys from the neighborhood were the worst at teasing and making fun of the girls.
After school that day, Dora and her friend went to Neighborhood House to talk to Mrs. Judith McClure, who was employed there. The girls talked about the humiliation they had endured and how much they enjoyed the club type activities that they had participated in while attending Lowell.
Mrs. McClure was held in high esteem by the girls not only for her kindness but also because she was the perfect confidante. Dora recalls that Mrs. McClure walked with a limp, but what caused the limp was never discussed. What was important was her ability to take care of all of the girls. They knew they could share any problem with her and it was kept top secret. Mrs. McClure suggested that they form their own club at Neighborhood House. It was agreed they would invite their friends to attend a meeting the following week.
At that first meeting thirteen girls came and thus the Lucky 13 club was born. This is the time period around 1942/43. Later, there would be a Senior Lucky 13 but the original Lucky 13 remained intact through the girls’ high school years. In his book “Becoming Mexipino,” author Rudy Guevarra Jr. notes that these were all children of fish cannery workers who wanted to make a difference in the community as their parents had done and that the Lucky 13 would evolve to include a few Filipanas who lived in Logan Heights.
The Lucky 13 club provided an environment for socializing and also served as a service club. The group attended each others weddings and birthday parties. Some of the girls still get together, though six of the original members are deceased. In 1999 The Lucky 13 had a reunion and of the ten women Dora was able to contact, eight were in attendance.
The Lucky 13 would go to nursing homes and sing carols at Christmas. Since it wasn’t always possible for all thirteen girls to attend, other girls would be invited to go along with them to special activities, however they were not invited to join the club. Neighborhood boys took the responsibility for driving some of the girls to the various nursing homes.
The Lucky 13 attended the cooking classes at Neighborhood House and learned to make stew. Caldo (soup) was very familiar to all the girls but stew was not a familiar dish. This was the first time Dora had ever seen the round green summer squash, or as she puts it “the one that looks like flowers.”
They also learned to make a fish spread! Fish was donated regularly to Neighborhood House, therefore it had to be used. The girls themselves cooked or baked everything that was served for the Christmas parties. They also had to figure out how much food was needed and how much it would cost to provide the party treats. Dora said without them being aware of it they were learning about budgets.
Dora participated in tennis and learned to foxtrot from Mr. Hemphill, the dance instructor at Neighborhood House. She learned Spanish dancing from Nachita Hernandez. Her dance lessons proved helpful when as a member of the Pan American Club at San Diego High School they performed for various school events.
Dora was not allowed to go to the Neighborhood House camp with the other girls. Her parents were not about to allow her to go away for five days. When it was time to drive up to camp to pick up the girls at the end of the week, she was allowed to go. They went up in a car and she remembers her excitement when she saw the creek and the waterfalls.
Like many things that went on in those days there was another side to how the families treated the sailors. The women would make rice, beans and tortillas for the young sailors to eat, because “Pobrecito está aquí sólo.” (Poor guy he is here by himself.)
She had not taken a swim suit or any clothes that would allow her to play in the creek or get wet. Soon the girls that had been attending camp brought some of the clothes to share with those that did not have the proper clothes for playing in a creek or under a waterfall. She remembers loving it.
During WWII a USO was established behind Neighborhood House in a large house next to the clinic (escuelita). USO dances were held one night a week and on Sunday afternoons. In last week’s article “Sailors, Pachucos and Life In-Between” I wrote about the changes that WWII brought to Logan Heights, particularly with the presence of sailors there.
Dora was not allowed to attend the Sunday dances at the USO, mostly because of the commonly held perception that nice girls should not hang out with sailors. A common saying in the neighborhood was “Yo no dejo a mi hija que vaya allí” (I do not allow my daughter to go there.) A common put down in the neighborhood was “She is a sailor babe.”
Like many things that went on in those days there was another side to how the families treated the sailors. The women would make rice, beans and tortillas for the young sailors to eat, because “Pobrecito está aquí sólo.” (Poor guy he is here by himself.) One of the rules for attending the USO dances was that you would not be allowed to give your address out. There were very few phones in homes at the time and for that reason girls were not warned about giving out a phone number.
Dora graduated from San Diego High School at age seventeen. It was her father’s dream that she would go to college and become a teacher. Her plan was a little different. She proceeded to convince her father that she should attend San Diego College of Commerce.
When Dora was in the seventh grade at Memorial Junior High she had met a kid who was working to help build the Boys Club. He was actually part of a group of boys digging ditches. Two years after she graduated from high school Gilbert Garcia became her husband. They lived on Dale Street until her husband was drafted for the Korean War.
When Dora had her babies she returned to Neighborhood House to show each new child to Mrs. McClure. On one of her last visits she was told that Mrs. McClure was no longer with them. She didn’t know if that meant Mrs. McClure was no longer employed at Neighborhood House or that she had passed away.
The problem came when she sent her children to Valencia Park Elementary and the principal did not allow the children to speak Spanish.
In 1955 Dora and her family moved to Valencia Park. A couple of doors down lived Carlos Cazares who would later become a judge. The young families on the block had children that played together. It was a multi-racial neighborhood where kids played on the street and you would hear English speaking kids yell “Throw me the pelota.”
The problem came when she sent her children to Valencia Park Elementary and the principal did not allow the children to speak Spanish. As she put it, she couldn’t take that principal. The kids were moved to Saint Rita’s School.
In 1955 Gilbert became a police officer. He began working with the youth in the community and started a Boy Scout group with kids from Imperial Avenue. Her husband received recognition from the Elks Club for his work with youth and with the Boys Club. He was the first mayor of the Boys Club.
After nineteen years of working at Corona furniture, Dora went to work for San Diego City Schools where she worked in the credential office. The friendships Dora formed at Neighborhood House and in the neighborhood continue to this day.
Besides the Lucky 13, she attends a once-a-month “old timers” breakfast held at the National City IHOP where she joins many of the same people she grew up with. The topic of conversation is often the memories of Neighborhood House.
The complete History of Neighborhood House in Logan Heights series is available here.