Boyle Heights in the 50's

by Tom Jurado

"I find that the further back I go, the better I remembers things, whether they happened or not!" - Mark Twain

The Early Years

I lived the first 17 years of my life in a big house on 2nd and State Streets in Boyle Heights.

During my first few years, the only places that I was allowed to go on my own were the back yard and front yard, just like most other kids my age.

The front yard never seemed too terribly interesting during those early years but there was always something to do in the back yard.

Our back yard was a pretty good size by today's standards. Upon walking out into the yard, one would find a clothesline, which was used to hang laundry to dry. You still see them once in a while but when I was a kid everyone had one.

The next thing one might run into would be the incinerator, which was used to burn trash. I don't believe everyone had one because I don't remember seeing one in all my friends' back yards. I think our incinerator was built by my grandfather because he liked to work with cement and that's what made up 90% of this contraption. It looked kind of like a freestanding fireplace. I guess the "rite of passage", that is, when you knew you were grown up, is when you were allowed to put the trash in and start the fire yourself.

Also back there was a garden that my grandfather worked on quite a bit.

The garden section was always changing but at one time I remember pumpkins being grown there. We also had two peach trees that produced a ton of peaches every year, an apricot tree that never produced anything, and an avocado tree. The avocado tree was easy to climb and it had this large trunk that curved parallel to the ground, providing a nice place to sit for long periods of time without becoming uncomfortable. I spent a lot of time in this tree.

One time my brother Be-Be and I were back there playing and I climbed up a grape trellis. When I got back down, Be-Be pointed out a big green catapillar with a horn on its head (remember what Mark Twain said) on my t-shirt. As I tried slipping the t-shirt over my head, the catapillar got closer to my face. That's when I starting crying. Someone came out of the house and knocked it off, but I guess it did make a lasting impression on me.

Behind all this was an old dilapidated garage that held a lot of old, dusty stuff. There were old pieces of furniture, old bowling balls, weight lifting equipment, an army helment, old trunks and a full female mannequin complete with everything a female mannequin should have. I guess my brother and I thought we knew everything about women after that.

The Neighborhood

Eventually I did start to discover interesting things in the front yard, and what better place to start than the front porch.

Here's a picture of my brother Be-Be, me, and cousin Dolores Flores (Aunt Dora's daughter) sitting on the front porch. A porch is something that is missing in most new homes these days. There were a lot of photos taken on this porch and some of them are displayed in this web site!

Across the street was Tom Honda, a Japanese kid who was a little older than myself. Down the block was Curtis and Glenn Yamate, also Japanese. Next door to Curtis and Glenn was Jimmy Rodela. These basically were the kids in the neighborhood even though there were also others that came and went.

Besides friends, I also discovered the people that delivered goods and services.

The Helmsman - There was a bakery delivery service that came around once a week (Monday through Friday) in a panel truck. The truck was painted a pale yellow with a little black somewhere I think. The driver would blow a little whistle to let you know that he had arrived and if I was out in front playing, my job would be to run inside and let someone know that the Helmsman was here.

When we (an adult and myself) came out we would meet the driver at the back of the truck. The driver would open up both doors and pull out these long drawers that slid very smoothly out. In the drawers you would see long rows of donuts, chocolate eclairs, napoleons, pies, cakes, bread, and every other type of baked good imaginable. Of course, since everything was fresh you could smell all of these good things. Thinking back now, I'm wondering why the drivers weren't all a lot heavier.

The Good Humor Man - There was also the Good Humor Man that would deliver ice cream. You could always hear this guy coming from probably at least a couple of hundred feet away because the truck would be playing this twinkle-twinkle bell-like music. It was always fun when he came around because you would have to motion him to stop, you'd reach in your pocket and hopefully find enough change in there to buy something or you'd have to run inside the house and ask someone for some money. The side-walk sundae was always my favorite.

I attended kindergarden at 2nd Street School (which was kitty-corner to our house). I had my first fight there, which I won, (also the last fight I ever won).

During my years in grammar school, I was an altar boy, a cub scout, and a paper boy. I delivered the Rapu Shimpo newspaper to the Japanese community and my paper route was Boyle Avenue on the west, Soto Street on the east, Brooklyn Avenue on the north, and 4th Street on the south. It was a large area for a boy of 10, thinking about it now. I think I made $30 a month and I think we even made more than the paperboys who stood on street corners.

Here's a picture of Be-Be, me, and cousin Rocky (Uncle Alex's son). We're walking in the alley between St. Mary's school and the church. These old alleys are another thing that is missing from a lot of new neighborhoods too.

I attended St. Mary's grammar school on 4th and Chicago from the 1st through the 8th grade. We used to take our morning and afternoon recesses at Hollenbeck Park across the street from school. Many times I remember coming back into class and having a pain in my chest every time I inhaled too deeply because of the smog. This was the early 50's. One thing that stands out in my mind during the early years in grammar school was the smell of the clothes closets. Every time you went to the back of the classroom and opened up the closet, a very pungent odor of rotten eggs would come out - I wonder if it's still the same today? Also in the closet would be that one coat that remained in the closet for the whole year.

Of course my brother and I were driven to school every day during the first few years then as we got older our boundries started to expand.

Our first "wandering privilege" was probably to go directly across the street from our house. As I mentioned we had a friend across the street so we would go over there. Later we were able to walk to George's Market, which was a walk down the alley of about 250 feet. My brother and I would walk there with a note in our hand with a list of things to get. As we got older we would walk to George's just to buy a loaf of Gordon's bread because they would enclosed with each loaf, a picture of a bird or dog which was part of a collector's series.

Suzie's was a little Mom and Pop type store on the corner of 1st and State that was run by Suzie and her husband. Sometimes their son Teddy worked there too. They were also Japanese. Suzie's, for being a small store, had a little of everything but we would go there mainly for sodas or candy. They had a Coke machine in there that was a big box that opened on either side in which the sodas stood in a few inches of ice-cold water. Aunt Martha liked Delaware Punch. We had sodas that I don't see to often any more like Mission, Bubble-Up, Double Cola, Nesbitt's, Nehi, and the list goes on. In the back of the store was a meat display counter that had a big glass jar of pickles sitting on top. Somebody told me that if you ate too many pickles your blood would turn to water. I believe there was also a jar of pigs feet which we ate once in a while.

Eventually we started to walk everywhere and Sundays were special because we would go to the movies. Usually it was the Meralta on 1st and Chicago but if there was something better we would walk either to the Brooklyn, on Brooklyn Ave, a couple of blocks east of Soto Street. Once in a great while we would walk to the Vern which was on Olympic Blvd, somewhere by the big Sears store. Going to the movies was special. We used to go with Joe and Eddie Duran or cousin David Flores. Since we lived up State Street they would come and pick us up and then we would walk to the show. Each show would include two movies and a cartoon. Sometimes when a movie was good we would even stay to watch it again. Of course if the movie happened to be scary and it happened to be getting dark on the way home we would try and scare each other all the way home.

The Games We Played

Hide 'N' Seek - One of my all-time favorites. We played this game mostly during the summer when it was still warm in the evening and we could stay out late.

Mrs. McDaniel, our next door neighbor, probably didn't know it, but she had the best shrubs and bushes for hiding out. There was this huge oleander bush that our friend Tom Honda used to take a flying leap towards to get as far in the center of that bush as he could. The bush was probably as big as a medium-sized car. Tom would start out from about 30 to 40 feet out, run full speed and jump as high as he could so that he could land as close to center as possible. Of course once he was laying there he couldn't move an inch or the person who was "it" would know someone was hiding in that bush.

I remember playing real hard and every once in a while running into the house for a quick glass of milk. I would serve myself in one of these types of aluminum tumblers (see picture). I got this picture from ebay, the auction web site. These glasses are now collectibles, not very expensive though.

Anyway, getting back to Hide 'N' Seek. Oh wait, on the other side of our house lived another lady and her husband who had this beautiful hedge that was sculptured from the Japanese boxwood plant that had these very small, shiny leaves. She had one long hedge on each side of the walkway leading up to her house. Beautiful hedges. I know it was wrong now, but back then my brother and I used to throw ourselves backwards over those beautiful hedges. Once in a while we'd get caught and be scolded, but we didn't think it was such a bad thing, we just thought that the lady was having a bad day. This is getting off the subject because we never used those hedges to hide because the lady had a chain link fence and a gate that she would close at night, so this was out of bounds for Hide 'N' Seek.

Usually our porch was "home". Now "home" is where the person that was "it" would start counting as he covered his eyes and started counting to 100 or whatever number the rest of us felt we needed to find a good hiding spot. We would probably go no further to hide than about 5 houses down the block on each side of the street. It was fun.

Poo-Poo Man - That's right, Poo-Poo Man

I don't think this was as popular as Hide 'N' Seek but it was a fun game. It was basically a game of tag, initiated spontaneously, which made it all the more exciting. You just never knew beforehand when a game would start, let me explain.

In a nutshell, a person would be walking with a friend or friends, accidentally step on dog poop, and automatically become Poo-Poo Man (henceforth referred to as P.P.M.) The person would remain P.P.M. until he could tag someone, then making that person P.P.M.

A typical scenario would go something like this. A small group of us would be walking down the street deep in conversation, probably discussing world affairs or politics, not paying any attention to where we were stepping. (Contrary to popular belief, boys our age were not always discussing the size of Annette Funicello's breast). Since we would be walking three or four abreast, one or two of us would be walking on the parkway, that small strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street. Except in our day not everyone was so lucky to have grass growing in that spot, usually it was hard dirt with a few weeds if I remember correctly.

Anyway, someone would either step on it and become immediately aware of the situation or perhaps walk a short distance with the "excess baggage" and become aware of a certain odor following them.

Now if the person became immediately aware, he had two choices, he could tag the person closest to him and start running as fast as he could away from the new P.P.M., or he could take his time, clean off his shoe as best he could and then go after Glenn, if he happened to be with us, the smallest and slowest guy in the group.

On the other hand, if the whole group became aware of a certain odor following them, everyone would stop and pick up their foot and take a look under their shoe to see if they were the chosen one. It never failed, if you found that it was your "lucky day" and tried to hide it, someone would always be there looking over your shoulder to let everyone else know that it was you that had been blessed. Before you could put your foot down, everyone would be at least 25 feet away.

Now, the rules were always changing. Sometimes you could run to your own house and jump on the porch and yell S-A-F-E!!! and P.P.M. would stop dead in his tracks (no pun intended). Other times it just didn't matter, you'd yell S-A-F-E!!! and P.P.M. would be making up some obscure rule like, "Not on days that start with the letter 'T'", or some other lame excuse. Like if Tom Honda was P.P.M., you knew that the only way you could really be safe was to run inside your house, he never believed in the porch rule.

So that was Poo-Poo Man. I don't remember who made it up but it was fun. If you can just imagine three or four kids about 7 or 8 years old, walking down the street talking and then what may seem like for no apparent reason start to run in all different directions.

As I said I don't think this was a national thing, probably just popular around 2nd and State Streets in Boyle Heights.

Football

Every boy plays football. We played out in the street once in a great while but usually it was on someone's lawn. Curtis and Glenn Yamate's lawn was a beautiful dark green dichondra that Curtis and Glenn's dad worked hard to keep looking nice. That's right, you guessed it. Once we were playing football on their lawn and George (Curtis and Glenn's dad) came out and gave us a scolding, he asked us why we didn't go over to the school to play, which was kitty-corner to our house. We just thought he was having a bad day.

Well those were the games that stuck in my mind (sometimes on my shoe, too).

To Be Continued...