Subject: Old-time Beaumont
Many have written me asking who the author was of the email on "Old-time Beaumont". It is Chapter 9 - 11th and Calder from the book Deerwood by Jeff "Rusty" Russell III. He wrote the book after his wife died a few years ago as therapy. Jeffery is a graduate of BHS 66 and is a cousin of James Holland. Obituary for Jef Russell III.
Chapter 9 is the only reference to Beaumont in this book. I don't think it has been published yet as he wrote it for his children in memory of their mother.
Very Long, Well Worth The Read!!!
Oh The Memories!
The intersection of Calder Avenue and Eleventh Street was the epicenter of the universe for those of us growing up in Beaumont, Texas, in the 1950s. The Northeast corner was anchored by the A& P Grocery store (known as The A&P) where my Mother would shop for all varieties of household necessities. The friendly sackers dressed in white shirts and ties who would summarily deliver the "groceries" to the car. Mom would always tip the gentleman a nickel or dime. The Northwest corner was the location of the Phelan family estate which covered an entire block. It was awe inspiring; especially during the Christmas season when the grounds were covered with every conceivable decoration. Cars would be backed up along Calder awaiting the opportunity for their occupants to gaze in amazement at the bountiful display of opulence. On the Southeast corner stood a Texaco gas station. However, the stellar attraction of the entire intersection was immediately south of the "service" (the windows would be washed, the oil level and tire pressure checked and the floors swept with a whisk broom for no more than a few dollars of petrol) station. It was the majestic, heavenly Carnation Ice Cream Shop or simply The Carnation. My mouth is watering (along with my eyes) just thinking about the unimaginable pleasure the treats served therein brought to me and my family.
The Carnation was the epitome of all things good and great; it was the quintessential dining experience. The burgers and fries were ambrosial, and the shakes and malts breathtakingly luscious. And, on really special occasions, we would be treated to one of their decadent sundaes, hot fudge, banana split, Tom and Jerry (one scoop vanilla + chocolate with chocolate sauce) and The Peter Pan (chocolate with marshmallow sauce). As the customers walked through the entrance, just to the right was the ice cream display. It was always a challenge to pass it by on the way to a booth or counter seat. The entire cooking operation took place in the center of the room in an open air setting, and the aroma of the griddle fried burgers would fill the restaurant with mesmerizing consequences. On those times that we didn't order sundaes, a visit to the ice cream counter was de rigueur. Two scoops of peppermint, please! Some things should NEVER go away!
The Southwest corner was home to St. Anne Catholic Church (St. Anne's) in all her godly splendor. A majestic Mediterranean white washed, pristine building was the most recognized place of worship in town, probably because its location gave it the highest profile. Beaumont had, and continues to have a large, highly respected and influential contingent of Catholic parishioners, many of whose children attended St. Anne Catholic School which was founded in 1937 as the parish school. It is one of the only things that remain today as it was in my formidable years. Another is St. Mark's Episcopal Church near downtown where my family was counted among the "members" during the Fifties.
Leaving the renown intersection landmark, we will travel east on Calder toward downtown. At the northeast corner of 10th Street was Beaumont's most heralded patisserie, Rao's Bakery. My grandmother Nan would occasionally stop to treat me and my brother to their decadent cherry tarts, chocolate éclairs or cream puffs. Along with St. Anne's, it too remains intact. In that same quadrant and on the same side of the street (a soft wedge shot away) was the remarkably ethereal bastion of Southern cuisine, Youngblood's Fried Chicken! It was the precursor to the ubiquitous chain KFC. Orders arrived in wonderful sturdy paper containers, piping hot, smelling of its ambrosial fresh fried flour coating. It remains, to this day, the quintessential mass produced example of its ilk ever served. The Youngblood's restaurant operation began in 1945 when "Pap" Youngblood and his sons opened their first location in Waco to advertise their poultry business which was located just west of the city. By 1967, there were thirty plus restaurants in Texas. In 1968, their plan to franchise nationally was "a day late and a dollar short" as the market had become flooded with fast food fried chicken operators. In 1969 all of the Youngblood's outlets closed.
My family enjoyed numerous picnics on the rice farm (Chapter 6) during my childhood. Youngblood's Fried Chicken was always featured, along with Uncle Henry's tamales (more on this later), homemade potato salad, deviled eggs [they were so incredibly divine!], Big Red, Grapette and RC sodas, watermelon, etc! These were mystical events, and it never failed to fascinate me that the folks who lived and worked on the farm would suddenly materialize as the feast began; and, there was always plenty to be shared by all. These were glorious occasions. Hopefully, such picnics are commonplace in Heaven.
Continuing along the Avenue, the transportation of my dreams takes me past Calder Cleaners at the southeast corner of 8th Street. Across the street in a muted red/orange brick building (it must have been a residence at one time) was the office of Dr. Henry Simpson, a delightful practitioner of all things medical. Between 6th and 7th streets was a Weingarten's grocery store where my grandmother occasionally shopped, and across the street a Toddle House/Dobbs House (Dobbs bought the operation in 1962) offered breakfast and burgers 24/7.
The next stops of note included Felix's Mexican Restaurant, home of the world's greatest chili con queso, and just across the tracks (that's railroad tracks) on the opposite side of the avenue The Pig Stand. The first "Stand" opened in 1921 on Broadway in San Antonio. Neither is in existence today. Time for a bit of a detour as we turn right at the Gulf Service Station and travel south on Mariposa Street and over the viaduct to one of my grandfather's favorite haunts, Uncle Henry's Tamales. Uncle was ensconced in a diminutive white washed (well, it was almost white) cubicle that looked much like an outhouse, and through the small opening, he delivered either his magical concoction by the half dozen for 50 cents. Forget all you know about traditional tamales. These were a melding of masa and mystery meats so profoundly luscious as to render one almost senseless. There are still two or three outlets of much more sophisticated stature remaining in town. The original has long since been no mas. A short distance south was the venerable Patillo's BBQ on Railroad Avenue (now Spur 380. What is up with that? Railroad Ave. has much more character). In any event it was number one on my father's list of favorite haunts. He called it The Club, and his all time dish was a pork sandwich with extra sauce. Mr. Frank (Patillo) was an exceptionally large black man who was the master of the pit. Before being exposed to Central Texas BBQ as a student at the University of Texas, it was incredulous to me that anyone except black folk actually cooked Q. They were the only bbq masters in Beaumont. That location fell under the dozer in preparation of new highway construction. Before the site was completely cleared, it was my obligation to secure a brick from the pit. It was one of my Dad's grandest possessions.
Returning to the intersection of Mariposa and Calder and continuing east, the first television station in the area, KFDM Channel 6 (CBS) was located in a fine two story white structure on the north side of the street. Across the street was the venerable Mildred, an apartment building of nonpareil grandeur, where my parents enjoyed their first digs as newlyweds. It was built in 1929-30 by Beaumont oilman Frank Yount, who named it for his daughter. The three buildings in the complex comprise 18 apartments, a parking garage, and 12 commercial spaces.
At the southeast corner of Calder and Center Streets was the little house of horrors, the office of Dr. Stevens, my childhood pediatrician. My heart would flutter in terror each time my mother dragged me through those doors as each visit resulted in the dreaded "SHOT." This warlock would even make house calls to administer same. Actually, he was an exceptionally kind gentleman and thoroughly respected M.D.
Two blocks nearer town (downtown) and one block south of Calder was the majestic Sears department store, complete with an escalator. The memory of my first ride still resonates within me. Now this was THE place to be just before Christmas as there was a mystical display of all things Santa Claus in the display window at Magnolia and Broadway. It makes me tremble just to think of that marvelous sight. The store and parking lot took one half on an entire city block on Magnolia between Broadway and Liberty Streets. The building now houses some innocuous hodgepodge of government offices. The post office was immediately adjacent and "behind" Sears on Willow.
The American National Bank was located on the corner of Orleans and Broadway in the middle of downtown. It was the bank of choice for my family; my father and grandfather had offices on the 10th floor. Just down Orleans a bit was the classiest shopping venue in town, The White House. Mom would occasionally happen upon it with my brother John and me in tow. It always seemed like such a fancy ladies' place to me.
Just cattycornered from that store stood Woolworth's. And, down the block was the Hotel Beaumont. Next to the hotel at Fannin and Pearl was the venerable Jefferson Theatre where Organist Al Sacker reigned supreme. My fondest memory of The Jeff was watching Gone With the Wind in reserved seats!
My family would go downtown to the show and always have dinner at the glorious Piccadilly Cafeteria. There was another movie Theatre option, the Liberty; however, it was not nearly as opulent as The Jeff. Now for the really good stuff, The Quality (Quality Café). Opened in 1930 and operated by Battista Girolamo until 1983 when it was purchased by Sam and Helen Danna, it was THE quintessential blue plate special diner. The Danna's son Leo and wife Pam were also in the mix (Leo's wonderful salad dressing is used by Jason's Deli nationwide). Can you spell paisan? It was always packed, especially at lunch when the cooking crew would shine. Daily specials (meat and 3), burgers and fresh cut fries, scrumptious fresh baked pies. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Miss Helen pretty much ran the front of the house while Mr. Sam handled the cash register. It was an exemplary family business where everyone knew everyone. The building was devastated by Hurricane Rita in September, 2005. Now reopened by kinfolk Cheri and Gerard Parigi, it once again beckons the downtown crowd for breakfast and lunch.
The compass is once again at the original marker for a trip south along 11th Street. The first intersection of note is at Laurel where the glorious Pig Stand (one of three in town) ruled the roost. It was a hang out for a mostly Beaumont High crowd complete with the various muscle cars of the day - Super Sports, GTOs, Barracudas, etc., car hops, burgers and fries, and chili dogs a la the movie American Graffiti. Down the road a piece was another classic fried chicken joint, Gandy's. Kinsel Ford was located on the east side of the street just past the tracks at Hollywood Street. My parents bought all of their cars from Mr. Kinsel; he was a dynamic man whose son Joe Bob Jr. was a year my senior. We both attended Beaumont High and UT.
Two blocks down the road was home to Gateway Shopping Center, and its development in the late 50's marked the beginning of end for retail in downtown. Even the venerable White House opened there in 1957. Vic & Al's, the place for a "fancy" meal or pizza before taking one's date home, was in the block immediately south of Gateway, and across the street was Baptist Hospital. And then, there before you was the famous, infamous and redoubtable CIRCLE (The Circle). It was literally a round traffic "thing" that connected 11th Street to College Street (US Hwy 90) and caused all varieties of nightmares for the traveling public. Whoever created such a confusing labyrinth was surely demonically possessed. Taking a left, in a roundabout manner (get it?), deposited one eastbound on College and The Hub Diner. Down the street a bit stood the epic Circle Drive-In Theatre. It was there where my sheltered life was lost forever. Sloe gin and Coke did the trick, and that alone makes it even more remarkable that any alcoholic beverage was ever consumed by me again. That was some vile swill. Actually, the Coke was more refined than the gin (a misnomer of unparallel proportions!). The next stop on the tour is Little Mexico Restaurant, the Tex-Mex eatery in town. It was there where my grandfather would partake in a cold beer along with his meal. It always pleased me to watch Pop enjoy his cerveza. Muy bien. [Remember Patrizi's restaurant, spaghetti and meatballs wearing red and white checked bibs and the spumoni ice cream?B.A.]
Back to the starting point once again and north on 11th to the block bounded by North and Harrison Streets where stood the citadel of all things great and good, The Gaylynn Center. Anchored by The Gaylynn Theatre, the collection of businesses therein was unequaled. Mom would take us to the Kiddie Show on Saturday mornings. It seems that for 50 cents one could gain admission for two "shows," a cartoon and serial (generally of a western or Flash Gordon genre) and have enough cold hard cash remaining to score enough sugar to render us hyper for a week. For some unknown reason, Luden's Wild Cherry Cough Drops always were a priority. They must have contained a variable of heroin. Our graduating class at BHS went to a midnight movie there following a year end dance. Also located in the Center was the Beaumont State Bank (my Dad would become President there many years after), Luby's Cafeteria where Mr. Hubbard was el jefe. It was decorated in some funky 50's motif, but the eats were always first rate. Next to Luby's was Mark's which was operated by the Brookner family and served as our place to go for all varieties of clothing and sneakers. Gem Jewelry, Morgan & Lindsey 5 & 10 Cent store and Sommers Rexall Drug were all part of the mix of tenants. Remember buying baseball cards at M&L and wandering aimlessly throughout the drug store marveling at the shiny interior and fantasizing about taking a seat at the counter for a cherry coke. It always smelled so "clean" in that emporium. There was also a record store owned by Mrs. Ackers (where one could listen to .45s in sound proof booths), barber shop, Buster Brown Shoe store and Swope's Travel. It was simply nirvana.
My grandparents lived on Harrison between 8th and 9th Streets, east of the Center, and my folks bought a place on the northwest corner of Long (one block north of Harrison) and 9th. We moved in just before my sophomore year of high school. It was a magnificent two story white home with columns and an expansive balcony and front porch. The yard was sizeable enough so that dad broke down and purchased a riding lawnmower for his two yard men, me and my brother. John was prone to "pop wheelies" on that machine which left a respectable gouge in the grass. Mom and Dad seemed to always have some social event at the place, and Don Meredith, The Cartwright family (Little Joe was the favorite) of the Bonanza television series, and Clint Walker were guests during the Spindletop Charity Horse Show which sadly is now defunct. There were outdoor oyster feasts at which we became experts at extracting the slippery mollusks from its shells. It required a special blunt edged knife, a custom shucking chair and lots of time to fulfill the task. Those feasts would come complete with shrimp or crawfish, corn on the cob and other delicacies. And, of course, copious amounts of cold beer were served. Another feature was a laundry shoot where soiled clothing would be deposited to the first floor and a button under the dining table for summoning the help from the kitchen. It was rarely used! That was a grand house and home.
There was a fifth member of our family who was as loved and cherished as any of us - Agnes Shotwell (Ag). She joined our family prior to our move to Long Street; she was a friend, confidant and translator of French (not that we ever needed that particular skill). She was from south Louisiana, and oh she could cook. Her surgical kitchen skills were laudable, and she magically produced fodder for Gods. She made the most incredible biscuits of all time, and Mom claimed that she could take leftovers and create a masterpiece worthy of royalty. Mom'll get a second on that from me. One word of caution - she had a tendency to use plenty of red pepper. On occasions, so much so that it was possible to tell what was cookin' three blocks away from the house. She worked with our family for 35+ years in four different homes. We lost a dear friend this year when Ag passed away at age 89. Mom attended the funeral.
Now traveling west on Calder past the Phelan estate, there is a mixture of businesses and undeveloped land (today, Interstate 10 crosses over that same path, and a new thoroughfare, Phelan Blvd, separates from Calder near 18th Street). One block south is McFaddin Street, and the home of my earliest childhood was taken to make room for IH-10. It was a delightful one story white washed two bedroom, one bath bungalow. We had good sized front and back yards. It continues to surprise and amaze me that even today it is possible for me to draw a blueprint of the interior of that house. The memory of that house remains brilliantly clear and continues to resonate within the deepest recesses of my soul. In addition to Mom, Etoy was in charge of keeping things in order. She was a splendid lady of color who was my mate. On one occasion, she took me by bus to do some unbeknownst task, and we had to sit in the back as "colored" folk were not allowed in the front. It was apparent to me, even as a very young child, that it was wrong to treat people that way; it was profoundly confusing and disturbing. In any event, after only a few years Etoy departed to start a beauty salon. My mother cried for days.
Just down the street and around the corner was Longfellow Elementary. We rode our bikes the three blocks to "go to school." And, a grand place it was. Mr. Cecil Redd (his son Dickie was one of my best friends) was the principal, and it was not a good idea to do anything that might cause a visit to his office. Mr. Neismith (his first name was coach) [his real first name was Tilden & I had a crush on him. B.A.] took care of our physical fitness needs. The ubiquitous whistle between his lips was used constantly, and the shrill sound could be heard throughout the school. It was his constant companion and calling card. One of his favorite activities was to match the six graders against the fifth graders in a game of battle ball. It was contested in the gym, and it was borderline dangerous. Volley balls were hurled at maximum velocity to try and hit an opponent. If successful, that player was out of the game. If, on the other hand, the target caught the guided missile, the one throwing was kaput. On one monumental contest, we (the 5th graders) defeated the 6th grade team in what was an upset of epic proportions. Tobe Mabry caught the final ball, and we erupted with unbridled glee. One other teacher remains branded into my memory bank. Her name was Mrs. Cherry, and she taught music. As a result of my ineptness in her class, it was always difficult for me to summon the strength to pass through that door.
We moved from McFaddin to 21st Street in Russell Place, a development in which my father built the homes. We had a grand neighborhood filled with wonderful characters. The Livesays, Monroes, Frank Kinsels, Redds, Claytons, Easthams, Sleepers, Goodyears. Good times. Every year after Christmas, the neighbors gathered all the used Christmas trees and deposited them on Laurel Aveune, a dead end street. We had a grand bonfire that everyone attended. One remarkable landmark in the environs was The Big Hill which was located near the drainage ditch on 23rd Street. We would pretend to be soldiers and barricade ourselves on top to defend the area. Halloween was another joyful occasion in the 'hood as the streets became filled with trick or treaters all vying for as much candy as possible. One lady would always give homemade popcorn balls and another full sized candy bars. We lived in Russell Place for a couple of my elementary school years and for all three years while attending Austin Junior High, home of the Falcons.
We return to Calder Avenue at 21st Street where the Nichols family had a small strip shopping center. It had the offices for Nichols Homebuilders, Bill Thames Pharmacy, West End Supply (we would buy model car and airplane kits), barber shop, etc. H.G. and Ellen Nichols had a wonderful home building business and four sons (Howard, Reed Ell, Ken and Alan), one of whom, Kenneth Barton (Nick) was and continues to be my dearest friend. Mr. Nichols' homes were more elaborate than those my Dad built so there was never any competition between the families. Back to Nick. We were fast friends beginning in kindergarten. We had roughly the same body frame, and he was (and is) exactly two weeks younger than me. An entire chapter could be dedicated to the memories of our relationship and the myriad shenanigans that we enjoyed. There was wiffle ball in his backyard; swimming in his indoor pool at another house just down the street (Mr. Nichols would build a house, move the family in, sell the house, and so on and so on); many fun times at Nick's beach house in Singing Sands on the Bolivar Peninsula; Spindletop Little League baseball where he was a member of the Sports, and me, the Bellaires. We couldn't be on the same team as we both played first base. With a bat in his hands, Nick could flat wear that ball out; he had a sweet swing. Then there was the time that we were watching the Texas v Arkansas football game on television at the indoor pool home. On one particular play, we both rose to our feet and simultaneously returned to the couch with a resounding crunch. We splintered that bad boy. Don't recall that it caused us to miss the remainder of the game. Nick and his wife Paula (Miss Pooh) have four sons (Barton, Adam, Neal and Luke) of their own and still live in Beaumont.
We go a couple of blocks west to Calder and 23rd Street where Price's Hamburgers was firmly ensconced on the southwest corner. The burgers were about 19 cents, so for mere spare change, one could enjoy a royal feast including fries and a soft drink. Across the street on the southeast corner was another Sommers Rexall Drug Store which was an all too convenient bike ride from our home, and it was passed daily on our trips to and from Austin Junior High. There was a train track just behind Sommers. Today, it is Phelan Blvd., and the drug store is part of history as is Price's. A couple blocks west of burger heaven, on the northeast corner of Calder and West Lucas Drive was the esteemed Jack's Pak-It, Beaumont's first and only small "luxury" grocery. It was operated by Mr. and Mrs. Joe Fertitta, both storekeepers extraordinaire. Dad would occasionally enter this vaunted space for some delicacy not easily obtained elsewhere in town, and Mr. Fertitta would greet him with a "Hello, Mr. Russell" from behind the cash register. Don't believe he ever called anyone by their first name. When dad had finished his shopping, he would pay for his treasures, and Mr. Fertitta would say, "That's only $28.92 (no matter the amount, it was always "only"). He was a grand gentleman. He also offered charge accounts, and dad would politely refuse saying to me afterwards, "Don't ever open a charge account at a grocery store. It will get you in trouble." It was, and continues to be sage advice.
The tour is over; however, some salient points about the Beaumont of my youth remain. We grew up with the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy's assassination, The Beatles and the British Music Invasion, Elvis and the advent of color television (we received two channels - CBS and NBC). There were no cellular telephones, and most households had one black rotary dial phone centrally located in the house, no computers, The Beach Boys, 5 cent Cokes and candy bars, full service gas stations (as mentioned earlier). Every young person said "Yes Sir" and "Yes Ma'am." We did The Twist by Chubby Checker at dances, and a serious date including a movie and something to eat at the Pig Stand or Carnation could set one back seven or eight bucks. There were no drive troughs at restaurants (McDonald's changed all of that after we were out of high school). We played outside to entertain ourselves. Russia ignited the Space Race by launching Sputnik into orbit on October 4, 1957. It stayed in orbit three months. There was no 24 hour anything except hospitals. The Jefferson County Airport was served by Eastern, Delta and Trans Texas Airlines. The Big Oak Club, Lou Ann's and Buster's which were just across the state line in Louisiana served alcohol to anyone old enough to get their money on the bar. The band of choice was the Boogie Kings with Jerry "Count" Jackson and Gee Gee Shinn. Al Caldwell ruled the radio airwaves spinning rock 'n' on KLVI 560 AM (and, he still does!). Thanks, Al! Steve-O the Night Rider was also a featured DJ. The Beaumont Exporters minor league baseball team.
OK, now for the bitter pill. During my days at Beaumont High, there were six public high schools and two independent school districts - Beaumont and South Park (in a town with a population of 120,000). The schools were my own Beaumont High School Royal Purples (my father and grandfather also attended BHS), South Park Greenies, Hebert Panthers, French Buffaloes, Charlton-Pollard Bulldogs and Forest Park Trojans. Today, only two of the same building house high schools and neither have the same historical name, NONE of those schools exist today in name and mascot. For me personally, this is a tragedy of unprecedented scope. Gone forever are the traditions, rivalries, fight songs, mascots and history. Only the class reunions remain, and after our generation is out of the picture there will only be a thin veil of memories remaining.
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