By Anna Daniels
San Diego Free Press writer Maria Garcia hosted a very special thank you luncheon for the men and women whom she has interviewed for her award winning series “The History of Neighborhood House in Logan Heights.” The event, attended by over sixty people, was held on August 9 in the community room of the Logan Heights Library.
These men and women, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, shared personal details of their lives and old photographs during their interviews that enabled Maria to weave together a unique social history of Logan Heights with Neighborhood House as the focus. That history spans from World War I to the early 1970s, with the take over of Chicano Park and the occupation of Neighborhood House.
Attendees were greeted at the door by Maria’s niece Adriana Segovia. Maria had reproduced all fifty-four articles in the series and displayed them on one wall of the room. Guests pointed out their articles and provided additional details. A slide presentation of some of the most memorable images from the series was projected throughout the event.
Maria and Connie Zuniga, who volunteered to proof read all of the articles and is President of the Logan Heights Friends of the Library, personally welcomed the guests, proudly pointing out the beautifully refurbished mural and original bar in the room that had been saved when the Aztec Brewery was demolished.
During the luncheon of carnitas with all the fixings and cake, Maria took the opportunity to address the group, beginning with her thank you to the extensive network of friends, family and participants who made the series and event possible. In doing so, she framed her remarks in terms of the importance of comunidad.
Maria, the committed chronicler and patient interviewer chose to shift the emphasis from her work on the series to a deeply moving acknowledgment of the story tellers themselves. Looking across the crowd she began with the words “From you I learned.”
From you I learned…
About a Settlement House [Neighborhood House] and how a settlement house can unite a community.
I learned that two women– Helen and Mary Marston– could make such a difference in the lives of so many people and help a disenfranchised community year after year.
There is no doubt that the name Marston opened doors and gave our community opportunities we would not have had.
I learned that girls played baseball in in the 1930s. Women such as Concha Estrada and Tina Hernandez were breaking the glass ceiling long before we learned that term.
I learned that some of you went to preschool or kindergarten at Neighborhood House and learned to drink castor oil on a daily basis.
I learned that there was a community outdoor oven where your mothers and grandmothers learned to bake bread. The late Joe Serrano said he learned to eat bread at Neighborhood House.
I learned that the double standard for girls and boys was much worse than I could ever imagine. Boys spent sun up to sun down at Neighborhood House and it was accepted as normal. The girls went to Neighborhood House for a specific activity and returned home the minute that activity was over. You went to craft/sewing and baking class and then immediately returned home.
I learned that boys played sports at Neighborhood House and won letters and in general had one heck of a good time. You played the belt game; tormented Lupita; you even asked for a boys baking class just so that you could take cookies or a cake home.
I learned that boys and girls went to (different) camps, riding in the back of a flatbed truck. You loved camp and had the opportunity to sleep under the stars.
I learned that you would “borrow” small boats from caquita beach and go to Coronado and steal fruit.
I learned that the news media had convinced you that San Diego would be invaded by the Japanese. You formed Tortillas Army and dug a trench around Lowell(Perkins ) School to save your beloved neighborhood. Boys between five and sixteen marching around the barrio preparing for this invasion. Boys like Manuel “Tortilla” Ojeda who lead this army, or Nando Ojeda who served as information officer, then there was Bill Lopez who had a chemistry set and leaned to make stink bombs to protect us. Tortillas Army had many of the boys in this room marching and protecting us from an invasion.
I learned that dance classes were held there year after year with different instructors. Luis Lopez, Nachita Hernandez, Señora Villagrana and Albert Flores taught you to dance. You danced at the Marston Garden Parties, Balboa Park, the Del Mar Fair and at neighborhood events. Rosita Torres, Emma Lopez and Ricardo and Suzi dancing all over our city. After the war Armando Rodriguez would take dance lessons at Neighborhood House to impress one Bea Serrano.
I learned that at Neighborhood House a young girl named Tulie Piña won a blue ribbon at the age of ten for a cake she baked and as Tulie Trejo won the Pillsbury bake-off six different times.
I learned that you fought in WWII and left the safety of Logan Heights and went off to fight in the Pacific and in Europe. You returned with purple hearts and commendations. You fought as Americans but returned to be treated as second class citizens. You came home and went to school on the GI bill.
As part of the war effort women from Neighborhood House wrapped bandages to be used by service men. They went to work at the cannery, and as Rosie the riveter. They stepped up to the plate and received little recognition for all their work.
I learned that you were subject to police harassment not only when you left Logan Heights but in your own community. You were told to get your brown behind south of Market. When Frank Peñuelas was working at the Boys club, he was taken downtown by the cops because no one believed a Mexican was director of the club and were certain that he had stolen the set of keys he was holding.
My favorite story about the changes that have occurred is based on the memories of Armando Rodriguez. As a kid on the Neighborhood House wrestling team Armando and the team went to a tournament in LA. At the Los Angeles Athletic Club they were told they could not enter through the front door but would have to use the service entrance. Years passed and Armando returned to the club, but now as the commissioner of the Equal Opportunity Commission. He walked through the front door.
I leaned that Mrs. Brackett was not only a nurse but “la doctora. She was called upon at any hour when someone was ill.
I learned that each and every one of you admired a man that came to Neighborhood House in 1943– Coach Pinkerton. Coach Pinkerton not only organized your athletic activities, but was your supporter, your friend, your mentor and your supporter. If you got in trouble he went to court to testify about your character; he found jobs for you all over this city especially in the aircraft industry. He took you to his home for barbecues. When you received your ribbons, he held celebration banquets. He saw the good inside your heart. He also introduced tennis and golf to the community. Neighborhood House is where the Carriedo brothers started their very successful tennis careers.
I learned that there was an Italian grocery store known as Navarras. The family’s roots were in Logan Heights. In the 1930’s the Navarra family would use the medical services at Neighborhood House.
I learned that when the Korean police action began, you once again went to fight in a country you had probably never heard of. Johnny Leyva is an example of one of those boys. This war also brought employment opportunities to the community. There was a population spurt in San Diego and a construction boom that opened doors to you that had not always been available.
I learned that the 1950s brought social clubs and let me emphasize the term “social clubs” not “gangs”. Los Lobos, Los Chicanos, Los Gallos, the Shebas, the Blue Velvets, the Madonnas, the Faberges, to name a few.
Los Gallos went to Sacrament to testify about the ways to prevent juvenile delinquency. Here are these guys that some would probably view suspiciously trying to help solve the problems of delinquency. Los Lobos were very proud of their club jacket which in those day cost a whopping seventy-five dollars.
These clubs gave back to the community by hosting cartoon shows for kids and Christmas parties. All of these clubs sponsored dances that were known throughout the San Diego community. The dances supported the club activities they hosted in the community.
I learned that interstate five and the Coronado Bridge divided the community and forever destroyed the cohesiveness of the past.
I leaned that Al “Pelon” Johnson not only served as a mentor to Los Gallos but sponsored club activities that kept you out of trouble. He was part of the community activism before many of us were in school.
I learned that Chicano Park united the young and the old in the community with a common cause. The citizens in the community had fought for crosswalks, stop signs and a small park. When it was determined that a Highway Patrol station was to be built on that small parcel of promised park land the community united. Mario Solis, a city college student went from door to door alerting the people of the situation. The community united under the bridge to assure that there would not be a highway patrol station built on that site. Today there is a Chicano Park because hundreds of people were willing to work and not take “no” for an answer. Jose Gomez was crucial at the Park and would be vital at Neighborhood House.
The stories of Laura Rodriquez lying in front of the bull dozers at Chicano Park or chaining herself to the doors of the Neighborhood House are well known. What some of you may not know is that after her father’s death Laura spent part of her youth growing up in the Marston House. Laura’s memory of what Neighborhood House once was contributed to her desire to bring health care back to the community. By the 70s, the Neighborhood House of your youth was no more. The settlement house concept was gone and had been replaced with some services and a lot of administrative offices in that beautiful building.
A group of community members both young and old were concerned with the changes that had taken a place at Neighborhood House. On October 4, 1970 the decision to take over the building was put into action. There is no doubt that the victory of Chicano Park provided the energy and the confidence to attempt the takeover. A list of demands were put forth, many of which sounded like those of the Neighborhood House of days gone by. The takeover took months and after a great deal of negotiating the Chicano Free clinic was born.
Neighborhood House at 1809 National Avenue is gone but your memories will live forever and are now a part of history.
The San Diego Free Press is very proud to have played a role in Maria’s forty year long labor of love and commitment to the community of Logan Heights. All of us, across San Diego, have had the opportunity to learn, as Maria has, from the people’s story in that very special place.
Since we began publishing the series in May of 2014, three of the people that Maria interviewed have passed away– Dr. John Bareño, Joe Serrano and Mary Fisher Garcia. Tulie Trejo‘s husband Joe recently passed away. Their voices will be missed. And they remain presente in their own words and in the words others have said about them in The History of Neighborhood House in Logan Heights.