- Associated Press - Sunday, February 8, 2015

WACO, Texas (AP) - Only a handful of landmarks remain of the “Calle Dos” neighborhood where Rudy Solano grew up.

There’s the grove of ancient live oak trees that the bulldozers of federal Urban Renewal spared when they razed the downtown Mexican-American neighborhood half a century ago. There’s St. Francis Catholic Church, where Solano used to walk for Mass.

And half-buried beneath the grass at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and University Parks Drive are the plugged-up concrete remains of “La Pila.”

In Spanish, it means “the basin.” To Solano, it means much more: The memory of a gushing, spring-fed fountain where neighbors would gather to gossip, laugh and bathe.

“You could sit in there like it was a tub,” he told the Waco Tribune-Herald (https://bit.ly/1uStnBw) one morning last week, standing at the site.

“There was water flowing out everywhere, and around it was a lot of green grass, like it was manicured.”

Now, a Hispanic heritage group seeks to recover that lost history and apply for a state historical marker for La Pila and Calle Dos. The nonprofit Waco Hispanic Museum board has recruited an archaeologist to study and excavate the site.

The nonprofit board, which includes Council member Alice Rodriguez, intends eventually to create a Hispanic museum at the South Waco Community Center. The group chose the La Pila marker as its first project.

Board chairman Louis Garcia said he was originally interested in a marker for the oak grove, but the focus shifted to the fountain after Solano, also a board member, began talking about it.

“I had never heard of it,” he said. “Once he brought it up, I said, ‘Yes, this has got to happen.’”

The archaeologist, Katherine Turner-Pearson of Woodway, will apply for an antiquities permit from the state allowing her to excavate the site. She said this is a rare opportunity to document a historical site while there are still people around who remember it.

“When I talk to them, their eyes light up when they talk about these memories,” she said. “We’re going to see what’s left of the fountain but also learn (its) history. I think it’s going to be a fun project.”

The fountain sits on a corner of the Indian Spring Middle School campus, and the Waco Hispanic Museum is talking to school district officials about creating a landscaped area there with benches.

Calle Dos, which means “Two Street,” was a neighborhood loosely bounded by the Brazos River, Barron Street, Fourth Street and Washington Avenue.

In the decades before World War I, the area was a notorious but legal red-light district known as “The Reservation.” The city shut down The Reservation in 1916 at the insistence of Army officials at Camp MacArthur.

Around the same time, Mexican-American laborers and refugees from the Mexican Revolution began settling in the area. Spanish Franciscan monks started a mission in the neighborhood in 1924 and built a landmark church building there in 1931. A Hispanic community organization called Sociedad Mutualista Mexicana de Jornaleros, which still exists, began in the neighborhood.

Solano, born in 1936, grew up a half-block from the fountain. His family moved from the Calle Dos area around 1950. Now a retired city of Waco employee, he has vivid memories of living in a poor but vibrant neighborhood.

He remembers the family’s house with cardboard tacked up to keep out the cold, and the outdoor bathroom that 11 families shared. He remembers the Franciscan monks reading their breviaries in a fruit orchard near St. Francis, and the men of the neighborhood bathing in a warm spring on the banks of the Brazos.

He remembers wondering at the faded grandeur of the home of Mollie Adams, once the leading madame of The Reservation, and running behind the city mosquito truck as it fogged the neighborhood with DDT.

He remembers his mother warning him about playing along the steep, sandy banks of Barron’s Branch, which folks said was haunted by the ghostly “La Llorona” of Mexican legend.

“You had the feeling of being part of a big family,” he said. “You had a feeling that those people were there if you needed them. You knew who the grouches were, the happy ones.

“The Baptist girls from Baylor would come over and talk about Jesus. They had their easels and felt boards. Now, we were supposed to be Catholic - I’ve been trying to be Catholic all my life - but how can you resist? They’d come over singing ‘Jesus loves me for the Bible tells me so.’ That was a taboo for a strict Catholic.”

Solano and others in the Hispanic heritage group have yet to determine who built the fountain or when. But Solano said it was well known around Waco when he was a kid.

“It was good water,” he said. “People would pull up in their fancy cars and load up their fancy glass containers. I wondered why they would come to get this water. We’d look at them and they’d look at us, and they’d drive away.”

Solano moved from the neighborhood years before it was torn down in the mid-1960s under federal Urban Renewal. Between 1958 and around 1970, local leaders used federal eminent domain powers to declare areas as blighted and to acquire the properties after compensating their owners. The cleared area ran along the Brazos River corridor from the modern-day Ferrell Center to several blocks north of Waco Drive. The downtown square was part of the demolition.

Solano said he accepts that cities change, but something was lost when Calle Dos was razed.

“If I look at it through my eyes now, I see a lot of things I didn’t see then,” he said. “What strikes me is how people survived.”

Louis Garcia, the Hispanic museum official, said he grew up in Speegleville but the Calle Dos neighborhood is significant to him, too.

“We all had ties to that area,” he said. “Everybody remembers it. It’s really a special place.”


Information from: Waco Tribune-Herald, https://www.wacotrib.com

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