Friday, September 02, 2011

Staycation: San Juan Capistrano Pt. 1

When I hear or think of San Juan Capistrano I think of swallows.  Isn't it the swallows that return to San Juan Capistrano, year after year?  They used to try to return to our home in Washington, but their little mud nests were met by The Dad of Destruction!  I used to feel bad for them until they tried to nest in every crevice of our home and pooped it up splattering the roof and exterior walls.  I think it was a successful well-strategized attack with unpleasant results for all.

San Juan Capistrano was one of our summer staycation destinations.  Our day trip was filled with unique history, beautiful sights and a surprising meeting with lifetime local Babe Ramos.

Our first stop was at the Los Rios Street Historic District.  Its history dates back to 1794.  Wow!

Along the historic wall are a number of stories providing the visitor with a glimpse into the past of San Juan Capistrano.  One plaque was of a young woman, Modesta Avila.  Her expression spoke volumes.  It really affected me.

Modesta Avila was a young woman who lived in what is now San Juan Capistrano on her mother's property.  When the Southern Pacific Railroad laid tracks through San Juan Capistrano they were placed just a mere 15 feet from Avila's front door.  She demanded they pay $10,000 to go through her land.  They claimed they had the right-of-way.  Remember, there are two sides to every story. 

Anyway, some reports say Modesta hung a clothesline across the tracks (this is what the plaque in the Los Rios district reads),  others report she put up a fence or a railroad tie across the tracks.  She obviously was a feisty girly who was willing to stand up for what she believed in and she believed the train tracks should not run through her family property without compensation.  I can't fault her with that.  What an annoyance.  I guess these were the early days of eminent domain, but I didn't find an article reporting her family was paid for this intrusion, or confiscation of property.  Remember, her home was just 15 feet away from the traveling train.  When constucting a home today, 15 feet is barely regulated setbacks.

According the the Los Rios plaque, Modesta removed the clothesline prior to the train coming.  Other writings say the fence or railroad tie was removed by a railroad employee.  One way or another the obstruction was removed, but Modesta was arrested for "attempted obstruction of a train."  Her defiance and subsequent arrest made her the first felon in Orange County.

In her first trial, the jury came back tied (excuse the pun) failing to convict her.  Following her first trial, rumors were circulated she was pregnant, thus destroying Modesta's moral reputation.  She was tried a second time and sentenced to three years in San Quentin. 

After serving two years of her sentence, she died of fever.

Such a sad story, and Modesta's photograph on the historic wall speaks to this sadness.

Modesta Avila

While standing at the wall, a spunky man walked up smiling from ear to ear.  He was holding a disposable coffee cup.  He had been sitting with a couple friends discussing old times at a nearby outdoor table.  I think he meets with his buddies regularly.

We were thoroughly reading the wall plaques and commented on the sad story of Modesta.

This jovial gentleman then began to share additional pertinent local history with us.  His name was Babe Ramos.  He told us he was the youngest of eight children, five brothers and two sisters.  Known to his family as "Baby," his given name was Lawrence. 

According to Babe, he was known as "Baby" all his life until he married. 

This is the story he shared with us.

One day, when he was walking down the street with his wife, they crossed paths with a local gal, named "Honey." 

Baby shouted, "Hi Honey!" 

She responded, "Hey Baby!" 

And that was the end of him being called "Baby." 

His wife let him know what just did not sound appropriate and he became known as "Babe."

My parents with Babe Ramos

Babe grew up on Los Rios Street.  He's now over 80 years old.  His brothers all served proudly in the U.S. Military.  Three served in World War II and four of the siblings served in the Korean War.  Babe wears a baseball cap in honor of his service.

Babe's family is of Acjachemen descendant.  He shared it is a Southern California Indian Tribe, not recognized by the U.S. Government.  Interesting. 

His uncle, Thomas Ramos, built one of oldest buildings there 100 years ago.  It is now The Tea House Restaurant celebrating the 100 year anniversary this year.

My parents in front of the sign
Close to the Tea House is a very old adobe building known as the Montanez Adobe.  It is listed on the National Historic Register.   

Home to Polonia Gutierrez Simard (1829-1917), one of the four local midwives and religious instructors for the children.

The Crew

Without the Sunglasses
I have more to blog about San Juan Capistrano, but this is a lot of information to digest.  Who knew one little portion of a street could possess such interesting history?

1 comment:

Gentle Dentist San Juan Capistrano said...

This story is so nice and like it.