Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tour of Simons and Montebello, Cal.

It was a perfect, sunny Saturday morning to be outside, March 22nd, 2008. I met up with my friend who lived at the Simons brickyard as a young man (he asked to remain anonymous.)  He promptly arrived at 9:30 a.m. as we planned. He drove us through Montebello, and along the ride into “town” I rapidly took notes so I would not miss any of his recollections, no matter how minute or inconsequential. As he headed down Montebello Boulevard, just before reaching Olympic Boulevard, he pointed out that the boulevard used to be a two-lane street.

My friend has three sons, one in Long Beach, another in Upland, and one in the desert. He also has four grandchildren: two girls and two boys.  [Recently another grandchild was born this year, 2010.]

Turning south on Garfield Avenue from Olympic, he said that the street used to end at the railroad, as there was no railroad overpass. One would have had to detour at Vail or Atlantic.

Soon, we were entering into the former streets of Simons, heading south down Vail pass the school. At some point, I asked him about Montebello High School: I think he said that the old high school was at Montebello and Whittier; in the late 1940’s, the high school was converted to a junior high school. (He attended the newer high school campus.)

Montebello High School
(Click on image to zoom in)

We drove past a business, Meyers Electric, in “Simons”. My friend said he used to work in that building. We headed for the “church”, which was Our Lady of Mount Carmel, located where the Home Depot stands, along the 5 Freeway. South of the “church” was a farm, run by Japanese. He said they were taken away during World War II. He recollected there was a wide irrigation channel to water the crops.

He pointed out other buildings that used to be there: the Prado house, which was the largest in Simons, near the corner of Vail and Rivera. Mr. Henry “Genaro” Prado was the superintendent who patrolled the company grounds with sheriff-like authority, and he had two daughters, Ernestine and Mercedes. Another large house was the Romo house, to accomodate the company bookkeeper. We both acknowledged meeting a daughter, Dora Romo Gurrola, on several occasions recently. Rivera Road would have ran behind the current Home Depot. At the end of Rivera Road there was a town hall.

West of Vail, not far from Rivera, were workers’ houses, and beyond the houses were the maquinas, and beyond was the East Los Angeles Airport. My friend said there were numerous airports around, and the East LA Airport was not a part of the nearby Vail Airport. He worked one summer (1949) as a lineboy at the East LA Airport. His sister worked at a hamburger eatery at the airport. His job entailed refueling planes for the flight school. He pulled planes out on the line to refuel. When planes returned from flight, he would check the gas gauge, as well as prop the engines poised for self-cranking by the pilots. In the course of his job, he drove a Studebaker, although he did not possess a driver’s license! I asked him if it was difficult to get a job, and he replied “no”. Apparently, the previous worker quit. My friend happened to be at a restaurant when he was approached about filling the job. The job fell in his lap!

Some other airport recollections: he remembers once there was an Army plane flown by a drunken pilot who managed to land the plane in an open field. He also remembers a woman flight instructor who took him flying at least four times. She even offered to teach him to fly, but regrettably, the flight school closed soon after. His summer job did not last long, because the gasoline gave his skin a rash.
He mentioned that at the vicinity of Atlantic and Slauson there was another air field. An eucalyptus tree served as a boundary marker for the town, but it appears the tree has disappeared. Rivera Road led to Telegraph Road. He pointed out the sunken formation of the land west of Vail, and he said it was due to the clay excavation. West of Vail also had a narrow gauge railroad running through it.

He then turned off into Condor Street from Vail. Continuing east a bit, we passed Tanager. This, he said, was the entrance spot to El Hoyo (The Hole). The heart of El Hoyo was by Condor and Supply Avenue. Al pointed out that the area adjacent to El Hoyo as higher ground. The following is a description of El Hoyo written by him in 2007:

'El Hoyo' was where last of the 'maquinas', the 'rakas' and the kilns were located. It was also where most of the houses were. We lived in 'El Hoyo'. The other areas of Simons were 'La Vail' and 'El Barrio Verde'. 'La Vail' was right on Vail Avenue, the only paved street in Simons. I understand that 'El Barrio Verde' was so named because the houses were once painted green. There were also a few houses on Rivera Road but it was considered as part of 'La Vail'. Rivera Road is now an extension of Sycamore Avenue. (2/22/2007)

We passed another commercial building (Blister-pak). My friend commented that he worked in the building when it was an electrical manufacturer.

At some point during the driving tour, I inquired where he thought his former street, El Carmel Street, was situated. He pinpointed it to be near the present-day address of 2854 Supply Avenue.

He named off the old streets that ran in the east/west direction: Guanajuato, Jalisco, California, Montebello, El Carmel.

My friend explained about his dad’s life at the brickyard: he died in April, 1980. Some of his father’s responsibilities at the brickyard entailed setting up cables for the conveyors of freshly molded clay. He also watched the kilns in operation and made adjustments to the valves during the baking process. I asked whether his father suffered any health problems as a result of working in a brickyard. He didn’t have occupation-related illnesses, my friend said. After the brickyard closed, the family moved nearby to present-day Commerce.

We drove into the dead-ended Church Street. He pointed out that in order to get to church, church-goers had to walk across the railroad tracks. Once, he remembered, a slow-walking woman froze as a passing train came through and managed to miss striking her.

Front entrance of a business on Vail Avenue, in the heart of Simons.
The old brickwork looks suspiciously like Simons bricks.  (Click on images to zoom in)
We drove around and around. We were driving north on Vail again pass the school. (The school was an elementary school during the company’s reign. Today, it serves as Vail Continuation High School.) My friend refers to the administration building, which is fairly old, as “new” since he remembers when there was another building there before its time. Furthermore, there were more school structures where Vail Street runs now, but they were torn to accommodate the widening of Vail Street.

West of Vail, near the rakas, was where baseball was played.

Old building converted to a residence in the old Simons neighborhood.
He drove and pointed out where the neighborhood grocery stores where. He pointed one building near Maple and Espanol, now converted to a residential structure, in which Ernestine Macias’s father-in-law had a grocery store. He told me that at Maple and Date Street, Maple was moved, probably in order to accommodate a business.

Along our drive, my friend said that he worked in the brickyard one summer. He used a mule, named "Chiquita", which pulled a wagon to collect empty pallets from the rakas and transport them to where the molded clay was readied.


Home in Montebello
We finished in “town” but headed north into Montebello so he could show me where the Malone houses are. He was not sure what Malone’s role was at Simons. As we headed north on Vail, past Washington Boulevard, he pointed out that the northwest parcel by Vail and Washington was land that was filled in, because it was an old clay excavation zone. Along the way, we drove on Madison Street. He said there was a time when the street was named Washington Street. Soon, we came upon a brick home on 10th Street, near Madison. It was a modest home. We then drove to Fremont and Poplar, where a magnificent and handsome brick home sits.

I asked him if he ventured out of Simons much, and yes, he said, he met school friends, and often caught the bus to Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles.

My friend delivered me back to our starting point. I took some photos of him, and he said he was heading off to a birthday celebration of a former Simons neighbor and friend, Victor, who was turning 80 years old.

For more information and photographs, visit the Simons Brick Company pages above

39 comments:

  1. It was a pleasure to take you on the Simons tour. There's a couple of out of the way places we didn't cover. Maybe someday we can do so.

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  2. Tales From The Simons Brickyard
    By Frank Baltazar

    When we were living in Simons, our neighbor was a little old lady, Panfela, we called her Panfelita, Panfelita lived by herself and when she needed something from the Mom & Pop store she would ask me to go for her, she would ask me two or three times a day, I would jump on my bike go to the store for her, when I would come back and give her what she had order, she would tell me “might God pay you for your kindness” I would say to myself “yes because you will never pay me a dime”.

    Anyway, Panfelita had a big white rooster, getting ahead of myself here on the rooster story.
    In Simons there was lots of open land and the roads were all dirt, we didn’t have street lights. At night us young kids would light up a fire, one night one of the guys had an idea, “lets go steal Panfelita’s white rooster and we’ll cook him here on the fire”, so here we go about 4-5 of us kids, now this rooster was big and mean so nobody wanted to go into the coop and get him, finally Gilbert who we called Pachie said he would go into the coop, now Pachie was the smallest of us guys, don’t think he weighted more then 60 lbs, Pachie goes into the coop and suddenly there‘s a cloud of dust and all we could see was Pachie little feet stick out of the cloud of dust now an then. After a while Pachie won the fight and got the rooster, but let me tell you, that rooster beat the hell out of Pachie.

    We ate the rooster.

    Next morning my Mom and Panfelita were talking over the backyard fence, Panfelita was crying, I walked up to them and ask “what’s wrong?”, my Mom looked at me and said “somebody stole her rooster”, my mom gave me that looked that told me she knew I had something to do with the caper of “The Missing Rooster”.

    We were not bad boys, I would like to think that we were just a little “mischievous”

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  3. Tales From The Simons Brickyard
    By Frank Baltazar

    "The Rabbits"

    Everybody in Simons had some kind of animals, cows, goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits, we had a goat, chickens and rabbits. My job was to get up early in the mornings and feed the critters. One Saturday my friend Beto’s brother, Kelly, got married, that night they had a big wedding party, Next morning, Sunday, I get up early to feed the critters, I fed the chickens, goat and when I got to the rabbits, the cages were empty, I went and woke Pops up.
    “Pops, we don’t have rabbits anymore”
    What happen mijo?”
    “Don’t know Pops, but the cages are empty”
    “I’ll find out” said Pops
    He woke my older sister Rachel up.
    “Rachel did you go to Kelly’s wedding party?”
    ‘Yes” said Rachel”
    “Did they feed you?” ask Pops
    “Yes” said Rachel again
    “What did you eat?’ ask Pops
    “Don’t know for sure, but it tasted like RABBIT” said Rachel

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  4. Tales From The Simons Brickyard

    "New Shoes"

    By Frank Baltazar

    My friend Richard came from a big family, 7-8 kids and like most people in Simons it was hard on Richard’s parents to buy nice clothes/shoes for all the kids at once, one at a time the parents clothed their children. I mention before that we kids would built a fire every night in Simons, one night we are at the fire and one of Richard’s younger brothers kept putting his foot on a burning log, he had just gotten a new pair of shoes and none of the guys had said “hey, nice shoes”, by putting his foot on the burning log he was hoping that we would notice that he had new shoes, well we all notice alright, his shoe caught on fire!….

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  5. Our address in El Hoyo was '55 Railroad St.'

    Frank "kiki" Baltazar

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  6. A link to my blog

    http://westcoastboxersofyearsgoneby.blogspot.com/

    Frank Baltazar

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  7. Alfonso "Poncho" LemusJanuary 20, 2011 at 9:19 PM

    There was a feed store on Greenwood Ave. just east of Simons. At one time the owner was giving away baby chicks and the one they gave turned out to be my pet rooster. One morning the rooster was nowhere to be found. It just vanished. Many years later it dawned on me that it disappeared on Thanksgiving Day and my pet rooster was our Thanksgiving dinner.

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  8. Poncho, nice running into you here at Elisabeth L. Uyeda blog.

    Kiki Baltazar

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  9. "The Boyfriend"

    Tales From The Simons Brickyard
    By Frank Baltazar

    My older sister had a boyfriend, Ramon”, who, when he would come over in the evenings to see her, he had to come inside the house as sister was not allowed to go outside with him. Ramon drove a 1939 Chevy that didn’t have a key, he would just hot-wire it. As soon as Ramon would walk inside the house, I would walk out the back door, I would come around the alley jump in Ramon’s ‘39 Chevy, hot-wire it and go pick-up my friends and go joy-riding around the barrio, I knew about what time Ramon would be leaving, so I would park the ‘39 back in front of the house 15-20 minutes before Ramon would be leaving, Ramon would hot-wire the Chevy ready to leave, look at the gas gauge and go nuts “they stole my gas again”

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  10. Frank, LOL, love that story about cruising!

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  11. Thanks Elisabeth, Ramon never did figured out what was happening to his gas.

    We kids had a good time growing up in Simons....

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  12. Kiki....Did Ramon live on Vail Ave.? If so, I didn't know he was Rachel's boy friend at one time.

    Yes, we did have a good time growing up in Simons!

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  13. You know, Poncho, I do think he lived on Vail. Ramon was Rachel's boyfriend for a short while, not long enough for me, because I used to enjoy hot wiring his car and Like Elisabeth says "cruising" the dirt streets of El Hoyo.

    By the way Rachel just lost her husband, Bob, they had been married about 45 years. They lived, Rachel still does, in Napa on their 162 acres of vineyard.

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  14. "My Pops Goat"

    Tales From The Simons Brickyard
    ...By Frank Baltazar

    Pops had a goat that I would have to take out to pasture on the small hills and open land that we had in Simons. I would let the goat run loose to eat, after two hours or so I would go get the goat and bring it back home, one day I couldn’t find the goat, I went home and told Pops.
    “Pops, I can’t find the goat, its lost”.
    “Don’t worry mijo, we’ll find it” said Pops.
    Next day one of Pops drinking buddies knocked on the door.
    “Chicano, come and have birria and beer with us”
    Pops was called Chicano by his compa's and birria is Mexican BBQ cooked in a hole on the ground.
    Pops went with his compa and ate birria and drank beer, when he came back home he told my Mom.
    “I just ate my goat”
    “Pops, they stole and killed your goat?!” I was mad.
    “ Yes Mijo, But at least they invited me for some birria” said Pops

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  15. Kiki: Do you remember when the train ran over ab=nd killed the Vargas' cow? When the newsa got around some of the men showed up with knives and proceeded to dismemeber the cow. I guess they got some free steaks.
    I used to like to places where they slaughtered a pig, whoch wsa quite often in Simons, for the fresh chicharrones coming right out of the vat.

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  16. Wow! I did a very poor job of spell checking my last comment. It's full of typos.

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  17. Poncho, I remember the Vargas cow getting hit by the train and all of Simons running to get steaks.
    Us kids were play on top of the hill by the dump when that happened, though I actually didn't see it happen.

    The chicharrones?, my grandma Lupe used to slauhtered a pig now and then, and like you said,they were great coming out of the vat.

    "The glory days of Simons"

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  18. Kiki,Your Grandmother Lupe also used to make cheese and sell it for 10 cents a cake. Each cake was a 4" round and about 1 1/2" high. It was the best cheese!

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  19. I remember the cheese, Poncho, because she would give me some on a hot tortilla, I would eat it but, I didn't like it, I of course won't tell her that,it was just I don't like dairy products.

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  20. Tales From The Simons Brickyard
    “Mama Lupe’s Apricots”
    By Frank Baltazar

    Besides animals, everybody in Simons had fruit trees. My grandma “Mama Lupe” had a few trees. My cousins Robert, Jesus and I would steal her apricots when they were still green, we would eat them with salt, man, were they good!. One day she busted us stealing the green apricots, and I knew we were in trouble when she came running out of the house with a belt.

    “You come here” she said to Robert.
    She put her hands in Robert’s pockets and pull the apricots out and whacked him one with the belt.
    She than called Jesus, and does the same thing, while she is whacking Jesus, I walked to the outhouse and threw my apricots down the hole, when she went through my pockets she didn’t find apricots.
    But the following day when I went to her house she got a hold of me.
    “You thought you were being smart, didn’t you?”. Whack went the belt!

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  21. Your maternal grand parents were our next door neighbors. I don't remember your grandmother's name but your grandfather was Antonio Adame. He rode his bicycle everywhere. As I recall, he played the violin and on some occasions he joined the other local musicians, including my father, playing in heighborhood parties.

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  22. Maria was my grandma's name. My Papa Tony did indeed ride his bike everywhere, did play the violin. When he died nobody knew for sure how old he was, some said he was 97, other said he was 104, I go with 104 because; as far back as I can remember he was already old. His oldest son Louie died a year ago (Dec. 2009) at the ripe old age of 94...The Adame's live a long time....

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  23. You know Kiki, I remember the belt that your Mama Lupe used to whack you guys with. One day Jesus and Robert got ahold of it, cut it in half and they each threw their half in the outhouse hole. I don't remember if she ever replaced it.

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  24. Poncho, I vaguely remember Robert and Jesus cutting the belt. Grandma Lupe had a mean swing with that belt....LOL!!. Though I just remember her whacking me once with it, once was enough for me though...LOL!!.

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  25. Your uncle Luis and my cousin Tony built a low wattage transmitter with a very limitted range. The signal could be picked up by the radios in Simons and probably South Montebello but not much farther. Luis and Tony would tell jokes and comment on the local gossip. The call letters for their Spanish language "radio station" were KKCK. I don't think the FCC ever nailed them.

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  26. "Man And His Fence"

    Tales From The Simons Brickyard
    By Frank Baltazar

    As I mentioned before in one of my stories, we used to built a fire in the evenings in Simons, when we would run out of wood to burn, we would ripped the fences from the nearby houses, Tacho’s house was the one nearest to us, so he was always fixing his fence. One day my dad was walking by and seen Tacho working on his fence, my dad: “fixing that fence again?”, Tacho: “eso’s cabrones (meaning us) keep burning my fence.

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  27. My uncle Louie used to have a radio show out of his house,he would play Mexican music and he would advertise the local stores, Pete's, Nacho's et al, and pool hall. Check out the web site below.

    http://simonsbrickyard.blogspot.com/

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  28. Maybe you guys used Tacho's fence as fuel for your fire but we raided the "rakas", helped our selves to the pallets and used them for firewood. The night watchman, my Tio Gildo, would stop by and tell us; "No vallan a quemar paletas, muchachos". He must have known we were because the evidence was out in the open.

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  29. Gildo busted us a few time burning paletas at the fire.One time he ran after us and felled in a hole we had dug, the hole was about 4 feet deep and he couldn't get out, we ran home and left him there yelling....

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  30. Hello
    I'm trying to locate people from Simons. I'm actually writing this for my mother, who also grew up in Simons along with 8 sibling, Joe, Maria, Juana, Rudy, Magarita, Victoria and Celia Atilano. Please feel free to write back with any info at sansooqueen@yahoo.com

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  31. Hello, This is Virginia again. I forgot to leave my e-mail. diazvirginia.0922@yahoo.com

    Anyone knowing my dad's Uncle Felix Duenas and and his cousin Rosario(Chayo) Duenas, or my Godmother Cata Segura, please contact me.

    Very Much Appreciated

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  32. im a montebello native and i believe my neighbor's home is probably a Simon's home

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  33. Hello Anonymous Montebello native: yes, I am sure you are right that there are some remaining houses still standing.

    If those houses could speak...

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    Replies
    1. hi my name is gloria im also from simons my grandma was concha an my garndpa was don chonito we lived on 2910 vail av my sister is mary bothers manuel an johnny my grandfather would kill and cook animals that people would bring him for various parties in a hole in the ground .I would like to go to future reunion didn't of any.please call me at 626 6385327 a big hello to bebop an coy. I remember you guys.

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    2. What great memories, I remember the area quite well. Most of the houses on Date and Espanol st, still stand, as well as the bar on Date st in which the last name of the bar was Vickys bar, and before that was the bikini bar. my friend lived on Espanol st, which is now a trucking busines.

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  34. HELLO MY NAME IS LISA MARIE PRADO. MR. HENRY "GERNARO" PRADO
    IS MY GREAT GREAT GRANDFATHER. MY GRANDFATHER I NEVER GOT TO MEET ROBERT WILLIAM PRADO JR. DO TO A MOTORCYCLE ACCIDENT WHEN MY DAD WAS 1 YEARS OLD. MY DADS NAME IS ROBERT WILLIAM PRADO II . MY MOM AND DAD WENT TO MONTEBELLO HIGH SCHOOL. . MY GRANDMA THAT JUST TURNED 90 HAD TOLD ME STORIES ABOUT MY GREAT GREAT GRANDFATHER. SHE ALSO TOLD ME MY GRANDFATHER AND HER WENT TO NICE DINNER. WHERE THERE WAS DANCING. SHE SAID THE SIMMONS WERE VERY NICE . I JUST WANTED TO SHARE THIS. I JUST SHOWED MY DAUGHTER SOME HISTORY ABOUT THE PRADOS. IF ANYBODY HAS ANY INFO I WOULD APPRECIATE ANY THING THEY CAN PROVIDE. IM THE YOUNGEST OF 5. SINCERELY LISA MARIE PRADO

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  35. hi liza, contact me at victorfil5@att.net and I will fill you in in some history, I also a granddaughter of henry prado

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  36. love your blog, I am a history buff and I was looking to see if I could find more information on Vail field. Here is my blog
    lifeaccordingtoerick.blogspot.com

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Erick, enjoyed perusing through your blog; man after my own heart! Vail Field existed during the era when there were so, so many air fields around. Vail Street, named for Walter Vail. Charles Lindbergh made a stop at the field. I think there might be a plaque commemorating Vail Field somewhere in Commerce. Perhaps someone at Commerce Library or the city hall could tell you where it is.

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