By Maria E. Garcia
Mary and Richard Castillo met in 1956, at a dance at Neighborhood House. Mary was a member of the Drifters, a girl’s social club which was sponsoring the dance. When it came time for the Sadie Hawkins dance, Mary, like most girls her age did not want to ask one of the guys to dance. As Mary puts it “there was a group of guys holding up the wall.”
Finally she spotted a friend and felt comfortable enough asking him to dance. The young man was Reyes Chavez who refused the dance but offered his friend as a dance partner. That friend was Richard Castillo. Both Richard and Mary admit that he was not a good dancer then or now. His poor dancing however did not keep a romance from blossoming and the couple will soon celebrate 55 years of marriage.
While attending pre-marriage classes at St. Rita’s Church, Mary would ask questions about what they were being taught by the priest. Mary is a very bright woman and I am sure her questions were thought out. But the priest did not appreciate her questions and sent her home from class. Even on their wedding day the priest questioned Richard as to any doubts he may have had regarding his marriage to Mary.
The Castillo family involvement at Neighborhood House can be traced to the 1919’s. Richard’s father Carmen came to San Diego in 1913, at the age of six months. Mr. Carmen Castillo’s family left Mexico to escape the revolution. As a young boy Carmen Castillo hung around Neighborhood House. As Richard puts it his father was very much into sports. It seems that Carmen Castillo was a true athlete.
It was not unusual for him and a friend to swim from Logan Heights to Coronado. Later as a teenager he would play baseball for both the Neighborhood House team and the San Diego High School team. Bill Swank wrote in his book Baseball in San Diego “Neighborhood House always had good team.” At San Diego High, Mr. Castillo played baseball with Dr. John Bareño.
In a playoff game, Mr. Castillo hit a home run off a relief pitcher named Ted Williams. That year San Diego High School’s baseball team would become state champions. The Neighborhood House team played various teams throughout the city. On December 7, 1941 (Pearl Harbor Day) the Neighborhood House team was playing a Navy team, when word came that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. The sailors were called to return to the base immediately and thus forfeited the game.
Even though Ted Williams lived in the San Diego High School are–he grew up on Utah Street in North Park– the story goes that he made the decision to attend Hoover High School. According to various sources, having seen how well the Neighborhood House team played baseball and knowing that these same guys would be playing at San Diego High School, he decide to attend Hoover. In other words Mr. Williams was not confident that he would make the San Diego High School baseball team. The men that have repeated the story take great pride in the fact that they learned to play baseball at Neighborhood House and that the Neighborhood House teams were seen by others as “good teams”.
Like Dr. Bareño, Mr. Carmen Castillo remembered going to camp with Neighborhood House. Richard recounts a story told to him by his father about camp. According to Mr. Castillo the group that Art Linkletter was with was described as “snobby”. The belief, whether true or not, was that those boys looked down at the kids from Neighborhood House because they did not dress as well. The kids from Neighborhood House waited until it was dark and the “snobby” boys were asleep. They took water hoses into the sleeping quarters and soaked the boys and their beds.
After graduating from high school Mr. Carmen Castillo worked as a coach at Neighborhood House. He also had the additional duty of administering ether to those having their tonsils removed at Neighborhood House. Imagine a young man working as a coach and then being allowed to work as what today we would refer to as an anesthesiologist.
Mr. Castillo was quite the business man. In the age of prohibition he was a bootlegger. One of his best customers was the local police chief. Camen Castillo also taught himself to play golf. He would hit golf balls in empty lots found near Neighborhood House. A self- taught golfer he earned money as a caddy at both the Coronado and the San Diego Golf Courses. After working as a caddy he was allowed to play golf for free. Since money was scarce it was a reward to use the golf course. Later Mr. Castillo taught his son Richard to play golf.
Mrs. Castillo, Richard’s mother, worked cleaning houses and taking care of the children of a physician in Coronado. Mrs. Brackett, the nurse’s assistant from Neighborhood House, arranged this employment for Mrs. Castillo. Neighborhood House was a major influence in the lives of the family of Carmen Castillo.
Prior to World War II the majority of the cannery employees were male. Mr. Carmen Castillo left Neighborhood House and went to work at the cannery. In the 1930’s the canneries like many other businesses did not hire a lot of Mexicanos. In the early years the foremen were Anglo and when hiring, priority was given to other Anglos. Labor organizing occurred during this period that resulted in the United Fish Cannery Workers Union (UCAPAWA) local 64.
Mr. Castillo was very involved in bringing the union to the canneries. Soon the union became the norm for cannery workers and the number of Mexican workers increased. Union meetings from various groups were held at Neighborhood House. As seen in this picture of New Year’s stag party there was a large number of Mexican Americans working. Many of the workers were Mr. Castillo’s family members. Mr. Castillo was a true union man. For the rest of his life he would be a firm believer and supporter of unions.
Richard attended preschool at Neighborhood House and vividly remembers that they were given milk in little glass bottles. He also remembers playing basketball on the courts at Neighborhood House. Mary lived in the Valencia Park area of San Diego and did not “hang out” at Neighborhood House. From time to time her cousin Norma who lived on Newton Avenue and she would walk over to see what was going on there. However the dance that Mary attended in 1956 at Neighborhood House affected her life forever. Both Mary and Richard have had very successful careers. Richard retired from his law practice and Mary from working for the State of California.
The complete History of Neighborhood House in Logan Heights series is available here.