A Story from Audrey Mcnab
My family came to East Los Angeles in 1944 from Arkansas. We lived at 115 S. Concord (between Fresno and Lorena Sts) and my sister and I went to First St. School, then to Stevenson Jr. Hi and Garfield Hi school. A trek to Evergreen plunge was almost a daily occurrence during the summer and every two weeks (when the books were due) meant a walk to the Robert Louis Stevenson Library. The Ben Franklin Library was too intimidating. Sears on Olympic was THE PLACE to shop. Wyernwood was private, upscale apartment living and Estrada Courts public housing was on everyone’s wish list. In the WWII housing crunch our family of four lived in a three-room add-on. Aliso Village and other public housing was most desired: two bedrooms and low, low rent.
I had friends who were first generation Russians, Japanese kids just returned from the camps, and Mexican friends from hard-working, upward-mobile families. As a sixth grader at First St. School I was in a brand new world. I may have seen two or three Black persons in my life and here I was in a veritable multi-racial bouquet. This experience was life-changing and one of the most valuable in my life: we all have our strengths and shortcomings – the hue of one’s skin or one’s cultural background only makes our society richer.
The “gangs” were farther west –Alpine, Dogtown, Flats – and northeast, and mainly the source of romantic fiction. I knew one girl who dressed and wore her hair “gang” –funny vivacious, everyone wanted to be Dora’s friend. Many times I walked home in front of “White Fencers”. They never bothered me and in those times gang members were not known for terrorizing innocent citizens, but these same boys were scared of Stevenson’s Boys Vice-Principal. Mr. Shaw was old (I think this even now from my adult viewpoint) belly hanging over, crippled, barely able to walk using a cane; but when those “pacheous” saw him coming they scattered! Gang members mainly shouted insults and had occasional fist fights with other gang members: a chain was considered a high-powered weapon and, if possessed, mainly a bragging tool. When Garfield played Roosevelt Garfield Principal. Mr. Brothers would always warn, “If you boys get into fights with the Roosevelt boys we are never playing them again”. Of course the boys did and we always played them again. I never heard of any serious injury.
I am fond of saying, “Everything I know I learned at the movies” and that is pretty much true: I started out with the Unique Theatre on First Street east of Indiana and was totally delighted with the exotic Spanish language coming attractions. As soon as I was riding the streetcars and buses my movie watching expanded to include the “Meralta” on the North side of First at St. Louis or the “Joy” across the street. Double features every Saturday and Sunday afternoon. It didn’t take me long to ride the streetcar all the way downtown and experience the never-ending feast of first-run movie houses: Lowe’s State, Warner’s, Million Dollar, Orpheum, United Artists and the Olympic that showed vintage films.
I went the opening ceremonies of the Lou Costello Foundation and many times braved the construction of the Santa Ana Freeway to get there. A Rite of Passage was to climb over the fence of the Evergreen cemetery, terror-stricken the security guard would catch us. Exploring Hollenbeck Park –artist Leo Politi called it the most beautiful of all the Los Angeles Parks — was always an adventure. Whoever approved cutting across it for the Santa Ana Freeway must never have experienced its delights.
After graduation from Garfield Class of ’51, I went to East Los Angeles Junior College, got married, had five children, finished college at Cal State, and had a 23 yr career with the Los Angeles County Public Library. I have had a rich, full life and I got much of the preparation in this area.
- Audrey Mcnab
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