In the original 1953 movie "War of the Worlds", there is a scene that mentions the Puente Hills just south of our neighborhood, the scene shows the news reporter as well as the world waiting for the outcome of the atomic bomb to detonate and wipe out the aliens that were not only invading La Puente and the San Gabriel Valley but the entire world. In those days, Puente was considered far, out in the boonies, just under 20 miles from Los Angeles, at least in 1955 miles. Even though the mail was addressed La Puente, our neighborhood was actually in a section of L.A. County called Bassett, bordering Baldwin Park and West Covina. Interstate 10 was under construction during the mid 50's and finally opened in 1956. Cutting through the San Gabriel Valley connecting downtown L.A. through the towns of Alhambra, Temple City, San Gabriel, El Monte, Baldwin Park, West Covina and Covina up through Kellogg Hill onto the east side of the Valley and on into San Bernardino some 20 miles beyond.
Author James Ellroy described a 1950's gritty version of it best in his book "My Dark Places". Describing the San Gabriel Valley as the arm pit of Los Angeles County - a 30 mile stretch of contiguous hick towns due east of L.A. proper. The San Gabriel Mountains formed the northern border, the Puente-Montebello Hills closed the valley in on the south. Muddy riverbeds and railroad tracks cut through the middle. The eastern edge was ambiguously defined. When the view improved, you knew you were out of the valley. The San Gabriel Valley was flat and box shaped. The mountain flank trapped in smog. The individual towns - Alhambra, Industry, Bassett, La Puente, Covina, West Covina, Baldwin Park, El Monte, Temple City, Rosemead, San Gabriel, Irwindale, Duarte - bled together with nothing but Kiwanis Club signs to distinguish them. The San Gabriel Valley was hot and humid. Wicked winds kicked dust off the northern foothills. Packed-dirt sidewalks and gravel-pit debris made our eyes sting. Valley land was cheap. The flat topography was ideal for grid housing and potential freeway construction. The remote the area, the more land your money got you. You could hunt coons a few blocks off the local main drag and nobody would give you any grief. You could fence in your yard and raise chickens and goats for slaughter. You could let your toddlers run down the block in dirty diapers. Again as James Ellroy decribes a 1950's setting.
My parents purchased their modest 4 bedroom home brand new for $12,500 in 1955 – these homes were all cookie cutter – 5 models to choose from. The square footage was 1,246 sq ft. California stucco, mid-century, flat roofs, no attics, angled only slightly and tar-papered with various color gravel to match the trim colors. Each home came with it’s own incinerator in the back yard, (which was later banned to use in Los Angeles County, due to the smog). Kitchens had formica countertops with various popular googie patterns available. They came in splattered speckled colors of pink and turquoise, or in triangles with stars in gray and pink. Definately a myraid of vintage designs from the 50's. The entire house was tiled. Kitchens and bathrooms had the speckled three color pattern that looked like someone splattered paint all over the tiles and all the other rooms, living, dining, hallway and bedrooms all had dark brown imitation woodgrain. The windows were all installed with putty. Each window had a little crank that opened and closed them. Built during the “I Love Lucy” days on Network television. Strange how the homes were big then. When I drive down the street now and visit the neighborhood, I can’t get over how small and fragile everything looks. Goes to show how our perception of the world as a child seems so big looking out, but when given time and the opportunity to look back in, it looks so small.
I remember late at night when it was cold, you could hear the trains horn's blowing as they rolled along Valley Blvd.
I was born in West Covina, California in 1957 at what was once Lark Ellen Hospital. Funny, the doctor that delivered me was Dr. Sauer. His partner was Dr. Scherger, they became our family doctors. Just seemed funny to refer to them as "Dr. Sugar and Sour".
Tree lined streets in suburbia. Helms Bakery trucks with drawers full of donuts. There was also “Jack the Ice cream man”, an older cragley man. Teeth missing. Animated leather face like Popeye the sailor man. Chain smoked and he owned the streets when it came to the ice-cream business. My favorite things were the candy necklaces on elastic strings. Also the wax juice bottles. Another fond memory was looking for soda pop bottles in the ivy as I pulled my red radio flyer wagon so I could have spending money for the week. I always cashed in my bottles at George's Liquor on Francisquito, long gone now.
Looking back, life seemed black and white then, no color. Sometimes fuzzy black and white, of course it depended on how well you could twist the aluminum on the TV antenna, fuzzy snow. Dick and Jane were popular then. Felix the Cat came on at 1:30 each day. Timmy and Lassie came on every Sunday night on CBS at 7 p.m. Years later I found out that Timmy (John Provost) lived in Pomona to the east of us, and his mom would drive him into Hollywood (driving thru Covina and La Puente) every day to film the Lassie show. Remember Fizzies? Remember Maypo? Our local grocery stores were Alexander's on Puente Avenue, George's Liquor Store on Francsiquito, Thrifty Drug Store and Food Giant on Amar Road. It was always cool to go to the Thrifty Drug Store at the soda fountain. They had the best Malts and Shakes and along the food counter, they had little portable juke boxes spaced every two seats apart. I remember the carnivals that would come into town and set up in the open field to the west of Grants. I was terrorized on the Octopus and The Rock-O-Plane. Our two local elementary schools were Florence Flanner and Van Wig. I went to Flanner school, fortunately it was right across the street from me. I can still go down the list of teachers from my school days and remember each one. I can recall a funny story now... but when I was transitioning from kindergarten to the upper grades (into 1st grade and on... ) I remember one summer, I was at the school playing on the playground swings with other, older kids. During that same time the teachers were also prepping their classrooms and we could see them coming in and out of their rooms. Well there I was listening to a conversation of two older kids commenting on one of the teacher's that was there and who they referred to as "Mr. Bell Ball Binger". Well me, trying to make a great impression and being the people person that I am at the ripe old age of 6, I decided to walk over and introduce my myself to him. So there I go.... marching over toward his classroom and there he stood , a balding man, probably around the age of 35 to 40. I went up to him and stood right in front of him with a big proud smile on my face with direct eye to eye contact and said (Same tone as Dennis the Menace) "Hello Mr. Bell Ball Binger".... and then it was silent. He just stared at me with a smirk. Maybe a minute went by and he just nodded his head and walked away. Of course thinking he was rude I walked away. It wasn't until September when school started when I realized that his name was Mr. Belding, NOT Mr. Bell Ball Binger.
Kids, kids, kids, for a time during the 1960's, La Puente was known as Kidsville, USA. More children per household than any other city in America, Kids were everywhere in those days. Seems that everyone at one time lived in La Puente, California. Kids ruled, they owned the streets. I remember days where I would be out from 7 a.m. and was all over the neighborhoods until (The Golden Rule) when the street lights came on that was our signal to come home. On Halloween, the streets were packed with kids, the doorbell rang until 11 p.m. ! My neighborhood friends, Frank, Mark or Randy, those were my closest friends as a child. Kick the can. Hide n go seek. Throwing eggs at houses and running for our dear lives not to get caught as the BIG kids tried to get us. I hope this read for you wasn't a waste of time, life spins off and time marches on and waits for know one. I guess this is my way of trying to keep some memories alive for all the other members of our neighborhood from that era. When I drive through the old neighborhood today, it's very clear that age has taken it's toll - it was 45 to 50 years ago, and it looks like it as well. But it was where we started, so many memories and so many monsters on Barrydale Street. No matter what street you lived on in La Puente when you were a child, they were all the same, full of memories and moments, smells and sounds. Mine just happened to be on Barrydale Street. Any memories? SEND ME AN EMAIL