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.
A Story from Olivia Dueñas
Memories of my School Days at Bridge Street School in Boyle Heights - Olivia Dueñas
I recall being in Kindergarten at Bridge Street School, playing in the sandbox and on the swings, and learning to read from the Dick and Jane book, “See Spot Run.” My teacher’s name was Mrs. Gulag, who by the way, years later, became my own daughter’s kindergarten teacher when she too attended Bridge St.
Then my life changed when we moved to a house on Bunker Hill, near Boston and Figueroa. My sister and I attended Alpine Elementary School. Little did I know that in the 3rd grade, I was in the same class with Alberto Dueñas, my future husband. We were not aware of each other there. We stayed at this school until my parents decided to separate. We returned to Boyle Heights with our mom and grandmother and back to Bridge St. School. Meanwhile, Alberto and his family also moved to Boyle Heights. His father owned a printing shop on Brooklyn Avenue near Echandia, Sierra Printing. Then Alberto started at Bridge St. with my sister and me.
World War II had started by then, and at school we were taught the anthems of the Marines, the Army, and the Navy. We had a Victory Garden across the street from school. I loved working in this garden. We grew squash, tomato, carrot, and other vegetables. The teachers also took us to Prospect Park, where we learned the names of the different trees.
Our teachers also saw to it that we attended our religion classes. We Catholics went to the Bronson House, accompanied by our teacher. Our Protestant friends went to the church, “El Salvador” and another one, a little white building, across the street.
Since this was war time, we collected newspapers and practiced air raid drills. We were given dog tags, which I still have. We met out on Bridge Street, where we assembled and received our instructions, then marched to our rooms. An alarm would sound, and we would crawl under our desks. I would get so scared and still remember my feelings.
I recall the metal stairs we had to climb to reach our classrooms. We girls hated this, because the boys would look up and see our panties. We assembled every morning outside to receive our news for the day from our principal Mrs. McCann. Then we had to climb back up those nasty stairs!
Mrs. Strong taught music. Mrs. Fox was our 3rd or 4th grade teacher. We would sing to her, “A hunting we will go, a hunting we will go, We’ll catch Miss Fox and then we’ll let her go.” She did hear the kids sing it to her, and she laughed with us. Mrs. Deiderick was another teacher. Mrs. Benton was our 6th grade teacher.
I graduated from Bridge Street School in 1945 and went to Hollenbeck Junior High. I attended and graduated from Roosevelt High School. I still get together with my friends from Bridge St. School:
Jessie Godoy, Ralph Rivera, Jesus Landeros, Billie Ruiz, “Slutsky", and Alberto Dueñas, who was my husband for 52 years.