My story about poverty and inequities in San Antonio’s Westside last week generated some interesting commentaries from my Lanier High School friends. I grew up in the Westside 78207 neighborhood that I wrote about. The stories included in this article are a contribution to the ongoing effort to preserve our Latino history and culture. Several stories touch on how poverty impacted families and households as the authors grew up in the Westside.
Cisco Perez [Lanier class of 1957] wrote about his
neighborhood near the Railroad Depot on Frio & Commerce Street:
My grandfather Senibio Gallardo worked for Missouri-Pacific Railroad all his life, along with two brothers and his son Dolores (Lolo). My grandfather ran repair crews from Cotula, Texas –North and South. Just before he was to retire, he bought a home on South Pinto Ave, next to Rosita Fernandez’s house which is on the same block as the Guadalupe Community Center.
My cousin Alice and I would take grandfather a lunch and a flask of whisky (when it was freezing) to his post in front of the depot on Commerce and Frio. He worked as a crossing guard for pedestrians and vehicle traffic.
Grandfather had a little hut where he stayed until he was needed. He worked nights with a lantern, and I remember the huge steam engines with the giant driving wheels making noise, fire, and steam. The railroad was parking cargo cars in the yard there and sending them one by one coasting till they banged into the others and hooked up. I think the site was the Missouri/Pacific Depot. Much later on Robert Lopez, and I would catch rides on those rolling cars as far as they were going. (Calle Guadalupe anyone?)
On the topic of the Westside neighborhood near the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas depot [MKT]. Gene Cortez wrote:
Those initials MKT stand for the railroad line called the Katy, and it ran north and south. My experience with the Katy depot started when I was a kid on the loose. I was reminiscing about my youth, and I remembered this railroad that doesn’t exist anymore. We lived between South Laredo and Guadalupe St., right behind the railroad tracks.
My grandma, always in need of charcoal for the wood stove, sent me out to pick up coal that was dropped from the engine as it traveled through my neighborhood. Also, my cousins and I laid long nails on the track so that the wheels would flatten them out, and we would use them as swords.
Later on, I had a chance to meet President Harry Truman when he made a whistle-stop on the campaign. It was a Saturday, and we lived close to the depot located on Durango Street between South Flores and South Laredo Street. The next president I met campaigning was Dwight Eisenhauer who also stopped in San Antonio. Both Presidents spoke from the caboose for half an hour and moved on. Attached are photos of the depot.
Arturo Limon commented on the photos of the railroad station:
These are truly awesome historical pictures. I used to work as a bicycle delivery boy at Basila’s Pharmacy for Mr. Gregg Basila, Sarita Basila, Tom, and his wife (owners) down from the Nacional Theater on the corner of Houston and Santa Rosa Street. I would bike all the way from Zarzamora and Guadalupe to downtown. I became familiar with the different hospitals, the Nix, Santa Rosa, as well as the San Antonio Drug Company. I used to get barbacoa tacos at Zaz (25 cents each) and play some 10 cent pool next door to La Botica Socorro. I remember that this drug store had a beautiful lion painting on the side facing Santa Rosa.
I remember the Zaragosa Theater that used to display the movie themes on the sidewalk– jungle scenes and sugar canes when showing Tarzan and machine-gun bunkers with military helmets when showing John Wayne movies. And who can forget La Feria Department Store, known as “La Casa de la Novia” [Home of the bride]. These were famous business places.
I also recall the sign “Cuartos de Renta” [rooms for rent] across from La Feria Department Store that offered a shower for 50 cents. In addition, you could walk down Dolorosa St and get a 50 cent haircut at the Barber College on Main St., across from Kaufman’s western store.
Boy-oh-boy, what beautiful memories to see those old photos. This is only one of the many reasons I like to maintain friends with my San Antonio buds. Gracias amigos for the history learned and the memories recovered.
Santos Villarreal, a Lanier graduate wrote: Great information, and it brings back a lot of thoughts that I want to express before I forget everything. I started working at the San Antonio Express-News when I was 15 years old. Many of my classmates from Lanier also worked there, and I made many friends from Tech High School working there. We used to insert one section of the newspaper into another on Friday and Saturday nights in the mailroom.
After I graduated from high school, I enrolled at St. Mary’s University as a pre-law student. Two years later in July 1957, I couldn’t find a full-time summer job, so I worried I would not be able to return for my third year. I joined the Marine Corps and served for two years. In July 1959, I enrolled in school again and kept going. I didn’t have the money to continue four more years of law school so I changed to Business and finished school in December of 1961.
After I returned from the Marine Corps in 1959 I began working at the Express again. I was invited to a meeting at the Union Hall downtown because employees were going to try to unionize the mailroom. Our speaker, Henry B.Gonzales, [prior to being elected to Congress] talked to us about the benefits of joining the union. After the meeting, we went to breakfast at the Quick Lunch on Commerce, and I sat at the table with Gonzalez [known as HB]. He told us that the owner of that place was one of his first supporters. Many years later I met the owner’s son Bobby Kawasay, a Tech High School graduate.