1437 Gibbs St., where the Nelsons lived. Photo by Ren.
New reader Greg Nelson sent me a long, fond epistle a few weeks back about his childhood in Pomona. Warm, detailed, it’s worth reprinting in full. I did cut one section for use at a later time. And now, take it away, Greg:
“I just stumbled on your blog and loved every picture and phrase. My family moved to Pomona in 1956 when I was 4, from New Orleans, and I didn’t leave until I went to college. Our first house was at 1714 Calatina Drive. It was down in the south and right on the edge of the wilderness at the time. It got its name from the developer, who crossed the L instead of the T in Catalina. They decided they liked it like that. We moved uptown later.
“I graduated from St. Joseph’s in 1966 and from Damien in 1970. During my first year at Damien it was still called Pomona Catholic, or ‘PC.’
“We dated the girls from Sacred Heart and St. Lucy’s, and occasionally from Pomona, Ganesha, and Fremont Highs.
“At St. Joseph’s I served many a mass (more than a hundred) for Monsignor English, the 6-foot five pastor, who was a millionaire before he entered the priesthood, and built St. Joseph’s with his own money. It was hard to serve mass there because the altar was a lot higher than at most churches because of his height. Sometimes we went to mass at Sacred Heart because they had a 7 PM Sunday mass.
“My best friend was Lloyd Purpero, whose dad, Carl, owned a pancake house called Breakfast At Carl’s, and also a place called Perp’s.
“Summer nights we went to hear the town band play Sousa marches in the bandstand at Ganesha Park.
“We loved to roam in the hills of old Ganesha park, and we went swimming in that pool every summer, even though my dad was a lifeguard at the St. Joseph’s pool until it closed. There was an abandoned outdoor Greek Theater around there somewhere that we used to frequent.
“I also remember the old newsstand downtown with the Playboy magazines. I never could get past the guy who ran it either.
“My first job was summers renting five horsepower outboards to people at Puddingstone. I usually got there before sun-up and went fishing when nobody else was there.
“In those days the smell of the orange blossoms from the many Sunkist contract farmers filled the city each spring, and we would walk through the orange orchards with our hands over our heads touching the bottoms of oranges. When the slightest touch made one drop into your hands, you knew it was really a ripe one. They were better than candy.
“That was with one of my other best friends, Joe Bouchard. Joe was the oldest of 13 kids! His dad sold life insurance and had an office in the Home Savings building downtown, and I had a terrible crush on his younger sister, Doreen. What a beauty she was!
“We lived on Gibbs, around the corner from the little gem known as Lincoln Park. The Bouchards lived a few blocks down.
“I sprained my wrist there once when I was about 6, jumping off the bathroom building trying to see if I could fly.
“We never missed the Christmas Parade on Second, but we also loved the Fourth of July parade in Ontario, which was called the ‘Parade of the States’ and had a float from every state in the Union. On every street corner Sunkist had free orange juice stands!
“I was the oldest of six kids, and many Saturday nights my dad and mom would pack us all into the old Chrysler Imperial (purchased at Shadoff’s Chrysler) and head to the Mission or Towne Drive-In movies. We loved to go play in the playground up in front of the big screen.
“We loved Espiau’s, but our favorite Mexican restaurant was down in Chino. This was when Chino was nothing but farms. It was called Cinqo de Mayo. But the greatest place to eat in the region to me was a wonderful authentic Basque restaurant down there where sheepherders would wander in and the menu was always Table d’hote. I can’t remember the name of the place, but it started with an M, I think.
“I got my Eagle Scout Award in Pomona’s famous old Troop 4 of the Old Baldy Council, sponsored by the Pomona Knights of Columbus, and I was in the Navajo Lodge of the Order of the Arrow in Pomona. Red Mahan was my first scoutmaster. He was a local bandleader in the town who had a small dance band. His son Tommy was in the troop. My first Senior Patrol Leader was a kid named Fuzzy Barrett and he was followed by Tony Recupero. Those guys and those entities are all gone now.
“I got awarded my Eagle with a guy named Craig Cox, whose dad was Pomona’s mayor for a while.
“My family rode several times in the Christmas parade once my father became a big deal in town. He was a grand marshal once or twice. He was an actor and had a show called ‘Peyton Place,’ which was very popular in the ’60s. His name is Ed Nelson and he played Dr. Rossi on that show.
“I nearly grew up in the Fox theater, which was my unofficial babysitter on the weekends, and I sat in on many of the ‘Sneak Preview’ showings that the big studios would show at the Pomona Fox to see if people were going to like them. The manager there for many, many years had been a silent film star before talkies, and was friends with my dad.
“But I also spent many hours in the United Artists theater just down the block. Once a week for years we ate at Chungking around the corner. My favorite was the Cashew Chicken. That was about the only place you tasted Cashew nuts in those days. We also frequented Betsy Ross and the Washington Monument. I got my first taste of Pistachio ice cream there.
“Pomona was an idyllic place to grow up in. I bought my first watch at Hamilton Drugs, got my hair cut at Don the Barber’s and ate ice cream at the 31 Flavors. I remember the Helms truck and all the rest.
“Each summer the county sent around a roll of tickets to all of the elementary school students with a free ticket to the fair. We all looked forward to seeing that roll of tickets on the teacher’s desk, and I lived for the thrill of crossing under the arch into the FunZone. After the obligatory trip in the giant cages of the Ferris Wheel we would head for the rides that made us sick.
“My parents would go see the horses run and I would walk through the car show and all the other stuff. My scout troop would camp in the fair one night and put our scout skills on display.
“Now I live in an old town called St. Charles, Missouri, and I moved there because the first time I went there it reminded me of Pomona.
“My name is Greg Nelson and I love your Pomona blog and I love old Pomona.”
Clearly you do! Thanks, Greg.