Old Laredo Story Room: Laredo TX
Webmaster: Erasmo "Doc" Riojas AKA: El Ticitl on cyberspace
Add your remembrance HERE!
Story by: Mr. Victor J. Dodier
you : The Laredo Morning Times
Thanks to LMT's R.R., I received a snail mail from Mr. Victor J.
Dodier of PO 11495, Portland OR including six pages of History of
the "Ladrillera", his drawing of a "matachin"
and map showing Fort McIntosh, Laredo Water Works, Eagle Pass RR
tracks and listing all the streets from Washington northerly to
Jefferson, and showing the block where the "Ladrillera"
used to sit. Thank you very much Mr. Dodier.
has arrived to post it. My sincerest Thank You,
Victor J. Dodier
Kirk Douglas wrote book a bout his life and hard times titled "The Junk Man?s Son" in which he complains about the prejudice he encountered because he was a junk man?s son. He was luckier than he believes. He could have been like my brother or me, "The Money Changer?s Son" and attending the St. Peter?s Parochial School in Laredo Texas.
My father had a small dry goods store at 217 Convent Ave. Laredo TX. This address is about two blocks from the International Bridge on the Rio Grande. On the Mexican side of the river is the city of Nuevo Laredo Tamaulipas Mexico. The year was 1927- 1928.
About a year later we moved the dry goods store across the street to 216 Convent Ave. He went into a new enterprise. He sold patent medicines only, no prescription drugs. Those premises were a part of a large building which extended from the corner to about the middle of the block along Convent and housing four groceries and my father?s place. None of these stores had back exit doors because along what would be the rear of this building was a large garage and auto repair shop on Grant St. This store had at least 25 by 40 feet for a total of 1,000 square feet of floor space. It had glass show windows and a glass door.
For me, those years from about 1929 to 1937 were not the most pleasant of my life, especially after 1932. My brother and I were either at school or at the family business. My brother and I were both in the 9th grade at St. Peter?s High School. For about one year, give or take a few days in 1933 my brother and I alternated one day on and one day off because working together had gotten too quarrelsome. But that was just a respite.
And so everything was going along quite well at home and our business. The Great Depression started in the Fall of 1929 and life was tough but my father was making a decent living. My brother and I helped at his business so that he did not have the expense of hiring someone. Until this year, he would always here somebody to help us in the running of our small business. I remember the names of some of the people who worked for him. Maria and Xenovia, Rolando Garcia, Mario Chavez, Dora Chapa.
The great depression was not a bad time for everyone with a fair and a steady income from government bonds, business rentals or a good job. Any person in Laredo with a steady income, even a modest income, could have servants , dress and eat well, could travel, drive a good automobile and own a good home. Our cousin who lived in Corpus Christi Texas once told me that he had gotten on at the Post Office about the year 1928 and that thourghout the depression he was earning $5.00 a day and that one of his biggest economic problems was trying not to flaunt his "wealth." His good luck and was difficult to suppress in front of his neighbors whom were struggling to survive.
We kept regular business hours from 0800 AM to 1900 hours PM six days a week until the year 1933 when father started the money exchange ( USA dollars to Mexican pesos) business. The hours then were adjusted to include working at night and we opened seven days a week. This was a hard-scrabble business in these times. The rate of exchange was very steady and the profits were $0.15 cents on the sale of 100 pesos. This worked out to about $0.75 cents per $100.00. Divided by the number of hours it took to earn that, it was basically a nickel and dime operation. Luckily, father seldom ever drank a beer, much less hard liquor, but he had a passion for the game of dominoes. That was dad?s most precious pastime.
During those years, and especially before prohibition was repealed, the Missouri Pacific ( or the International & Great Northern) used to have "excursions" from San Antonio Texas to Laredo Texas during national holidays and some weekends. The 4th of July was good for the money exchange business in Laredo because of this flow of tourist into Mexico.
I remember that it would cost the passengers a couple of dollars for a round trip and usually they would transport several hundred people about 99% being men. The train would arrive in Laredo early in the morning before daylight. Of course the main objective of these people were to be entertained in the many Nuevo Laredo saloons with cheap whiskey. The travelers did not have a lot of money and they did not waste it on taxis. They arrived from all directions to Convent Ave. and at the money exchange in mobs from the train station on the west side of town which is about five miles away. They exchanged their dollars and rushed on South of the Border towards the promised land. Our goal was to get to the money exchange early enough to get a little extra business but sometimes it was disappointingly small. For a large part of my life I disliked holidays because they remind me of the many times that I had to get up in the darkness before dawn to go down and work the money exchange so as to make an extra buck or two.
In the summer of 1934 my brother quit school to go to work at the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), a government relief program. He was an office boy working 14 days then being off work for two weeks. He was being paid $25.00 per month. Of course with that huge salary came his independence and he flat refused to help my father any longer and I was stuck with being the lone slave at my fathers place of business.
I was working there practically every free moment while I was not attending school. It got so stressful that once in a while I would play hooky and go to the movies. My mother was aware of this and she gave me her permission. I graduated from High School in May of 1935. I continued to work full time for my father. I also worked for Mr. Ezequiel Salinas, a lawyer, and later on I also worked for the Halsell Electric Co.
My life was stressful, I felt tired of working so hard and about June of 1937 I rebelled and stopped going to my dad?s Money Exchange business near the international bridge in Laredo TX. My father was forced into hiring someone and it was at this time he begun to supervise his business with greater attention. My dad continued his obsession with the domino games until he became extremely ill in 1949. That was his final Illness.
Mr. Norman Baker, lived in Laredo TX. A book titled "Border Radio," contains a lot of information on the life of Mr. Baker. He moved to Laredo in the year 1932. This book states that he had discovered a cure for cancer and had left a hospital and a radio station in Muscatine, Iowa. It is believed that he was more or less forced out of that town in Iowa. Mr. Baker opened a hospital in Laredo and then he went to Nuevo Laredo and built a powerful radio station, XENT, that beamed to the Midwest United States, from where he drew his patients by offering cures for cancer and other diseases.
The reason Mr. Baker is part of my life in Laredo Texas is that he bought the property where we had our business on Convent Ave. from Mr. Serna. One half of 216 Convent along the south wall, where we sold radios and victrolas. My father and Mr. Serna were friends. Mr. Serna?s business failed and dad bought all of his merchandise including a bankrupt electrical supply store for $200.00. There was a huge supply of pretty glass shades, both large and small. The electrical wire and stock was mostly obsolete. We helped our father partition off the rear third of the store and placed that new stock in the back and along newly built shelving along the north wall. We sold the small one bulb shades for $0.25 and the large ceiling platters for $1.00 to $2.00.
Following Mr. Baker?s purchase of this building and property, he arrived to collect the rent from my father. My father paid the rent and Mr. Baker angrily stated that he wanted the full month?s rent. My dad told him that was the amount that he was paying Mr. Serna for a full months rent and showed him his old receipts. Baker stormed out of the store to confront the rest of his tenants. Since nobody wanted to pay what Mr. Baker was asking for rent, they were given notice to move out in 30 days Every merchant moved out and the building was converted to offices. Baker realized he had been taken in, he refused and it became impossible to negotiate a fair increase in rent. He was angry at having been made a fool and took out his hostility on all the tenants.
Mr. Serna?s cunning and dishonesty coupled with Baker?s ignorance and greed, my father, and the other businessmen, were deprived of a favorable business location and forced to move to substandard places. All of us were barely able to scratch out a bare living for the next several years in money exchange. Father could not pay my brother, or me, or my mother. We did not have a weekly allowance like the other kids in school.
Had we been able to stay on at our location we could have continued with the drugstore, and perhaps added a prescription department and later enlarged to a complete Drug Store. We also could have given up on the medicine business and expanded the electrical supply business. In 1932 it was a time my brother was beginning to demonstrate that he understood electronics. We could?ve branched out into electrical or electronic merchandise. We could?ve also converted into a grocery store, or whatever. That location at 216 Convent Ave. was good because of the show windows, a wide sidewalk and glass doors.
My mother?s diary shows that on October 30, 1932 was the closing day of our drugstore. We survived one month without working while dad was looking for a place to open his business. Finally, he found a "hole in the wall" place which she wrote that it was 7-8 feet wife by 20 feet deep and without any sanitary facilities except for one water faucet. The address is 114 Convent Ave., and closer to the bridge. The great flood of 1932 left high water marks on the wall about fifteen inches from the floor all around the room.
We set up shop here and we promptly disposed of what was the reaming stock of patent medicines and that is when father started the money exchange business. This location was about the only type of business that it was suited for. The money exchange from dollars to pesos was a pretty much fixed rate, unlike the present state of that business, and the profits were really and truly only a tiny handling charge.
Next to 114 Convent was a little cafe. It closed down and we moved into that location. We gained some floor space but there was no toilet. It is beyond my imagination how a cafe could have operated at that location and passed the sanitation codes. These building were a group of shacks constructed on cedar post stilts and starting from 112 Convent to 120 Convent Ave. and were owned by Mr. George Reuthinger. George had paid $5,000.00 for all this property, all shacks and he never spent a nickel on repairs, improvements whatsoever. Our rent here was as high as the rent was at our 216 Convent address. We spent our time and our money to hire a handyman to help us put in a ceiling made of salvaged cardboard from shipping cartons, and other repairs.
My brother succeeded my fathers money exchange business and subsequently went into the insurance business was still at that location until about 1963.
Jacobs Photo Studio occupied at 114 Convent for a couple of years after we moved next door. Mr. Jacobs had a reputation of holding some liberal ideas on government and was referred to as a Communist by some of the local people of Laredo. Elias Faena went catty corner to Amado Leal?s old place, Jose Cruz suffered a heart attack and soon died. What became of the other merchants I do not know.
During the time that we were having trouble barely scraping out a living from that miserable money exchange we had a different situation at home. My father had purchased the house at 1412 Victoria St. for $2,000.00 in the year 1919. Even then it was an old house in need of major repairs but he intended to tear it down and build a new house on that very well-located lot in a nice neighborhood but it was right after WWI and his fortunes took a turn for the worse. My parents? dreams were shattered when his dry goods store, the Union Dry Goods Co., burned down about 1923 with little or no insurance. By being the owner of his home, he did not have to pay rent. Even back in those years an older home in a good neighborhood commanded a rental of $20.00 to $25.00 per month. Supposing that my father had been luck enough to find a house for $15.00 per month? That meant that he would have had to pay out $0.50 cents per day in rent but by not paying rent he therefore had fifty cents daily available with which to buy food. Incredible as it may seem, we ate T-bone steak daily in our house, it cost more of less twenty cents a pound. In Nuevo Laredo, across the river, T-bone was twenty five cents a kilo (two and two tenths pound.) We ate Falfurrias Creamery butter which cost sixty cents a pound which was double what Cloverleaf butter used to cost. Yes, that fifty cents available each and every day made a very, very large difference in our budget. After my parent?s deaths I bought my brother?s half interest in the old house and rented it for several years but in 1989 I had it torn down and the property was sold. The taxes on this house were minimal but we found out my father was not paying them. Our house was protected from seizure for taxes by the Texas Homestead Law. During my brother?s and my young adulthood we helped my father pay off the 10 to 12 years of accumulated tax debt.
What I learned from all these years of living in Laredo Texas:
1412 Victoria St. home made me a believer in home ownership.
The Union Dry Goods Co. made me believe in insurance.
116 Convent Ave. made a believer of business location out of me.
When we first married I promised my wife that soon rather than later we would have our own home, however humble it would be. I was lucky in that within a few years we were able to build a debt-free house on a lot my father-in-law gave us.
I guess that my experience as a young man in Laredo made me decide that we would always own our own home and that I would have insurance for everything we owned When I started my own business in 1955 the very first thing I did was buy a lot at 102 Gustavus St. and I got insurance on the stock. I have always been lenient, perhaps too much so, in my relations with my rental tenants.
Thank you very much Victor, I am sure a lot of us can relate to your growing up in Laredo.
Dear Doc Riojas,
Any reproductions made from the WCHF can be published with our permission and credit is to be given to the Foundation. The credit line should appear as Webb County Heritage Foundation, Laredo, Texas. Thank you for allowing us to download the photos in your website. They will sure help us in the on going research of Laredo's history.
Sincerely, Research Assistant