Logan Blue: A Short Story About Logan Heights
"Ponganse a trabajar, bola de grifos flojos!"
Esefredo "Rocky" Diaz, hadn't been back to Logan Heights, since 1950, when he left for the Sangre De Cristo Mountains in New Mexico. He had found out that his so called friend Fat Herbie Solomon and the LA Mob, had worked a secret deal with the State Highway Commission to use Eminent Domain to destroy Logan Heights in the interest of progress.
Published on LatinoLA: April 18, 2017
They cited the need to acquire land for the principal artery of the freeway and an equally large number of parcel for frontage and rightaway expansion. This meant that about 80 per cent of the parcels in Logan Heights would be taken. The deal was to have a short turn around on the eminent domain process where the affected property owners, had only a short period of time to accept the market value offered by the Highway Commission or the State would seize the land.
The LA mob had one of the Highway Commissioners on the take, so they knew the exact alignment of the proposed freeway, prior to the public disclosure. The Mob wanted Fat Herbie Solomon to use Rocky Diaz, to start buying up all the property in Logan Heights so they could turn around and sell it back to the Highway Commission, at a great profit.
Rocky Diaz damn near killed Fat Herbie Solomon, when he confronted him with the truth and told him he was going to warn the people he cared about; family and friends, who spent their lives in Logan Heights and their homes however modest, was their only possession. He didn't care that the LA Mob wanted it to be kept an absolute secret. This wasn't the first time Fat Herbie Solomon had tried to screw Rocky Diaz. Fat Herbie Solomon had been busted on a morals charge, with underaged hookers in a Downtown Hotel.
The San Diego PD's vice lieutenant, knew that Fat Herbie was an associate of Rocky Diaz and offered him a deal, to drop the charges. It seemed that FBI and the Justice Department and the SDPD, acting on behalf of the San Diego Congressional Delegation and The House Un-American Committee wanted to get Phil Usquiano, labor leader and community activist, because he had outwitted them in a hearing held in San Diego in 1950. The FBI, Justice Department and the Downtown Big Shots wanted Usquiano, in the worst way. How dare he, a Mexican, stand up in the hearing and use the Constitution as a defense. Calling the House Un American Committee, Un American for violating the rights afforded him by the Constitution.
They knew Rocky Diaz and Usquiano were friends. They wanted Rocky to spy on Usquiano and set him up for bogus charges. Rocky Diaz refused. He liked and respected his fellow New Mexican, Phil Usquiano. In fact, his father and Usquiano's father had been compadres back in New Mexico. Not only did he not spy on Usquiano, he also found out which Mexican labor guys were in on the set up and he gave Usquiano their names and information about a crooked lawyer who was behind the set up.
Ironically, it was a lawyer that Usquiano had encouraged all the Mexican union guys to use. Rocky was disillusioned with his life, in California and San Diego. He longed for the Sangre De Cristo mountains of his native New Mexico, where he could heal his soul and get his head right again. Los Lunas, a small little town made up of small family farms was where by the fall of 1951, Rocky Diaz settled in. These farms were owned by the Baca, Chavez and Griego families. It seemed everything and everybody was either a Chavez, Griego or a Baca, but that was the New Mexico way, with its tradition of parientes and compadrismo dated back centuries. Having cleared his head, Rocky felt he was in a good place; he was back to being his old self again. He had forgotten all about the Logan Heights scam, Herbie Solomon, LA Mob and all that chingadera.
Chilo Baca and Rocky Diaz had served in combat during the war. Chilo had spoken very highly of Los Lunas and both vowed to one day celebrate at Rocco's Bar if they made it back home safely. Rocco's Bar was a popular watering hole for the Los Lunas area. It was south of Albuquerque on State Highway 314, near Trujillo Road. Right after the war, the veterans from Los Lunas and other parts of New Mexico would gather at Rocco's Bar and at times, at Trini's Bar or the Country Inn, to try and help each other out with their veteran benefits. These meetings also helped to identify and reach out to those fellow veterans who were slipping off the rails and not adjusting to the world. Who else, but another combat veteran, could really understand, the price they paid for their country? In the end, some were helped, some not, but the idea that Mexican-American G.I.'s organized to help each other, would live on. With Rocky Diaz now living in Los Lunas, Chilo Baca thought maybe they could start the same thing for guys coming back from Korea.
By the fall of 1951, the first levy of troops who had gone to Korea (many of them from New Mexico) were scheduled to be home by Christmas. Rocky promised Chilo that he would be glad to do it, only first he had to go help a friend in San Diego. Rocky Diaz received a letter from his dear friend, Apolonia Jones, from San Diego. Apolonia Jones and her sisters Micaela, Rafaela and Gumercinda along with a lot of parientes and friends had come to Logan Heights in late 1917, from Loreto Baja, California. They crossed in Mexicali, then settled in Calexico following farm work. They came to Lemon Grove and eventually to San Diego, settling in the community of Logan Heights, which had a high concentration of Baja Californian families. Because of the Baja California connection, a bond was formed and they supported each other in the new experience of America.
Rocky Diaz met Apolonia Jones and her family in 1945. She had just buried her husband Liborio and all but one of her kids, Liborio Jones Jr., alias "El Pecas," had moved on with their lives creating families of their own. The house on Newton Avenue now seemed very large for just her and Pecas. Apolonia decided to open her home as a boarding house for gente decente. Rocky had just gotten out of the marines and didn't want to return to New Mexico, just yet. He wanted to get a job in San Diego, then maybe go back later. So it came to be, at the suggestion of his marine corp buddy, Artie Martinez, who knew Apolonia and her family, that Rocky Diaz became the first boarder at Apolonia Jones's Boarding House 2721 Newton Avenue, Logan Heights.
One of the first things Rocky Diaz asked Apolonia was, "How in the hell, do a bunch of Mexicans from Baja California, have the last name of Jones." She explained that in the early 1800s, ships from England landed in Loreto and other parts of Baja, California. Some English sailors were so captivated by Baja and its people that they jumped ship. Eventually they married, the Mexican girls, creating a lineage of English surnames, among people who were completely Mexican. She further shared that she had cousins whose last names were Smith, Cunningham, Collins, Robinson and other common English surnames.
Apolonia treated Rocky Diaz, like he was family and in turn he grew very close to her. She would confide in him about her concern for her Pecas. Apolonia was concerned that Pecas was hanging out with Pachucos at Memorial and getting in trouble. The school would send Mr. Lopez, the only Spanish speaking teacher, to her house to chastise her about her son's behavior. She was very worried about her son's behavior but it had nothing to do with Memorial. It had to do with the idea that he was spending his weekends in Tijuana with his cousins the Wilsons. Huero Wilson, a cousin to her late husband Liborio, was the crime boss of Baja California and had ties on both sides of the border.
The Wilsons were operating out of Colonia Libertad, Tijuana using a dulceria which had several stores, a system of warehouses and a very large fleet of trucks. They also had permit to sell in California, thru a food distributor out of Los Angeles. They had warehouses in San Diego, Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Fresno and Oakland. They also, surprisingly had a sales agreement with the association of Independent moviehouse operators, to supply some of the San Diego theaters with Mexican candies. Two of Huero Wilson's, four sons Arturo and Celestino were lawyers in Mexico City working for the federal government. The third son, Pascual had an accounting firm in Mexicali, Baja California. The fourth and youngest son Pepe Wilson, ran the dulcerias along with his father. Pepe was considered the most notorious of the Wilson's. He was suspected of at least three murders in Baja California and was a suspect in an LA Mob hit. He was very connected. He had a battery of lawyers and powerful friends in San Diego and Tijuana to do his bidding.
Pepe Wilson remembered his father's cousin Liborio fondly, and wanted to help his son, Pecas. He began using him to unload the trucks that came from Tijuana to the San Diego warehouse on lower Fifth Avenue. The Dulceria Wilson candy boxes were full of mexican candies and were painted a bright yellow with a little red sombrero pointing down on the seal. Huero Wilson and his family operated with impunity, in Baja California. It was still a territory governed out of Mexico City through a military zone commander and a lawyer who represented the interest of the Federal Government. Both were on the payroll of Dulcerias Wilson. Through these connections, a couple of arrangements with two supervising US Customs agents, and a SDPD border chief, the Dulcerias Wilson trucks were allowed border crossing through an access road, deemed for emergencies only. Since all they were doing was importing harmless Mexican candies, was an innocent venture in and of itself; No Harm, No Foul and everybody gets a little piece from the set up.
The Association of Independent movie house operators in San Diego had given a contract to Dulcerias Wilson, to sell its Mexican candies in the three theatres that it operated in Southeast San Diego, the two Mexican movie houses on Logan Avenue. The Coronet at 1796 Logan Avenue and the Metro at 2171 Logan Avenue and The Victory at 2558 Imperial Avenue, which also happened to be, the only Negro movie house in San Diego. The Victory Theatre sold more Mexican candy than did the the Metro and Coronet combined. The agreement between the movie house operators and the Wilsons had been negotiated through the personal lawyer of Huero Wilson, Lisenciado Hiram Collins, who had previously been Mexico's Secretary of Foreign Affairs and one of the most disreputable Lawyers in the history of the San Diego Bar Association.
The one and only San Diego Jones, who operated out of the back of a hillbilly bar on 32nd and Main Street. San Diego Jones had survived several disbarment attempts and arrests and somehow continued to practice his unique style of lawyering. He was a dealmaker, he proudly said. "If I have to appear in court, we already lost the case." San Diego Jones clients' were the hoodlums and junkies of Logan Heights. Mostly Mexican and Negroes, with a few okies here and there. He was their lawyer but most of the time their accomplice. He worked his street business through a tough guy, Ignacio Toledo Mota "Nasty Nacho," as he was called. Nasty Nacho was a Tijuana native, whose family had moved to Logan Heights in 1930.
Most of the Mota family worked at Sun Harbor Cannery and were considered gente decente. Nacho served with distinction in WWII. He came back from Europe with a box of medals and a heroin addiction, courtesy of the Sicilian underground. He got out in 1944 and by 1950 he had done two stretches in San Quentin. Both of which got reduced because of his war record and the promise of employment with San Diego Jones. Melvin "Chowder"Johnson was the other employee of San Diego Jones. Chowder was a slow witted giant of a man, who had been left in his charge by his father Big Moose Johnson, who had fled back to Arkansas, after killing a guy in a bar fight.
Huero Wilson's plan was to smuggle heroin in the bottom half of the leche quemada candy bars. They would be put in special boxes that instead of having the red sombrero seal pointing downward, the special boxes would have a blue sombrero with white arrows pointing north and south. The blue sombrero boxes, once crossed, were to be taken to the warehouse on Fifth Avenue.
The special boxes along with the regular reds would be delivered on Tuesday afternoon by Chowder and Pecas, to the storage room at the rear of the Coronet Theater. It was important to do it on Tuesday, because the Coronet would hold its Pedro Infante movie and dish raffle night, starting right at 4:00 pm. That meant that half of Logan Heights would be at the Coronet and no one would be paying attention to what was happening in the alley behind the show. Then early Sunday morning, before the show opened at 11:00 am, Nacho Mota and his long time crime partner Sapo Ortin would take the blue boxes out of the storage room and load them in a Dulceria Wilson panel truck and take them to Linda Vista. They would take them to a garage on Linda Vista Road, called "Big Mike Repair and Speed Shop."
Big Mike Trenton had been a SDPD officer, who worked narcotics and vice and apparently got too close to his work and was dismissed. He held a major grudge against all forms of authority and he liked the money he made pushing junk for the Wilson family. The money collected by Nacho and Sapo would then be taken to a used tire yard on Main street. Llanteria Venancio would repair and buy used car and truck tires, recap them, then sell them in Tijuana. They would put the money inside the tires off of the International Harvester trucks because they were very large and ugly and not likely draw any attention on the daily run of recapped tires into TJ.
Things weren't sitting right with Nacho Mota. He figured he was taking all the risks, while the white guys, were making all the money. He did all the dirty work and if anything went wrong, he would, as a junkie ex-con, pay the price. He never really completely trusted San Diego Jones and never liked Mike Trenton, because he had been a narcotics officer. He figured him and Sapo could steal a load and blame it on Chowder and Pecas, then sell it in Arizona. When he mentioned the plan to Sapo, he liked the idea of the money, but knew that Huero Wilson and his family were not to be messed with, especially Pepe.
If they pulled it off, Pepe Wilson would no doubt kill Chowder and possibly San Diego Jones and Big Mike Trenton. Then next, they would come for him and Nacho. He couldn't imagine what the Wilsons might do to Pecas, if they thought, he was in on the job. It wouldn't matter if he was just a kid and a pariente. Nobody steals from them! To the Wilsons there would have to be no witnesses to any part of it. Ironically, Pecas was proud of the money he was making on the deliveries and happy to be helping his mother Apolonia.
Once he got back to Logan Heights, it didn't take Rocky Diaz much time to catch up. His worst fear were confirmed. Apolonia Jones told him about the delivery work Pecas was doing for Dulcerias Wilson and the time he was spending with Pepe Wilson in Tijuana. She also mentioned that one of the vecinas had seen Pecas in a Dulcerias Wilson truck with that malandrino, Nacho Mota and that Okie tontito Chowder Johnson, in the alley behind the Coronet. Apolonia had found a box with lots of money, that Pecas had hidden in the wash room. Apolonia Jones was a strong woman, who understood the ways of the world. There was nothing she wouldn't confront to save her son Pecas. She knew the stories about Huero Wilson and was terrified for Pecas. It didn't matter, if they were parientes, Huero Wilson did not forgive or forget.
One of Apolonia's nephews, Manuelito Jones was a San Diego Police officer, who along with his Negro partner Johnnie Watson, were in charge of patrolling the Heights. If anything bad was going on, Manuelito and Johnnie would know. Manuelito Jones liked Rocky Diaz very much because with the help of his old marine corp buddies, he had helped him get on the SDPD back in '48. Manuelito told Rocky that it was worse than he had imagined. It seemed that it was some very serious shit and there was no way, his Tia Apolonia would not get her heart broken.
It seemed that when Big Moose Johnson, fled to Arkansas, he left his son Chowder and twenty-five thousand dollars with San Diego Jones to be used to help Chowder have a place to live and be looked after. Through a cousin, who had been in the navy, stationed at 32nd Street Naval Base in San Diego, Moose Johnson found out that Chowder was living in a back room of San Diego Jones's office and working for some people from Tijuana. They were paying him with Mexican candy and abusing him. Moose Johnson wanted to kill San Diego Jones, for stealing his money and treating his defenseless son Chowder like an animal.
Once confronted with Moose Johnson's accusations, which had been passed to the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego, San Diego Jones and Big Mike Trenton couldn't wait to inform on the Huero Wilson family. They had been informing on them for six months and the deliveries had been under surveillance. Nacho Mota, Sapo Ortin and Pecas always spoke in Spanish with Pepe Wilson whenever he would showed up to the warehouse.
They tried to imply that those discussions were about the plan for the smuggling, when in fact Pepe Wilson was merely telling them, "Ponganse a trabajar, bola de grifos flojos!" Literally translated it meant, "Get to work you lazy junkies!" The surveillance reports showed otherwise. Chowder and Pecas probably had no idea what was really going on and as the SDPD was planning its raid, they had to involve the juvenile authorities from the Anthony Home, thinking Pecas and Chowder, were both underaged. Chowder Johnson was in fact 26 years old with a mind of a child.
Nasty Nacho Toledo Mota and Serapio "Sapo" Ortin were about to be sacrificed in the interest of a broader justice. It seemed the San Diego District Attorney and U.S. Attorney wanted the Wilson family, crooked agents and cops more than they wanted San Diego Jones or Big Mike Trenton. San Diego Jones gave them everybody, he bribed with Wilson money. Mike Trenton had a partner, who invested his drug money with a very important State Senator, who had much greater appeal than Nasty Nacho or Sapo. Both San Diego Jones and Big Mike Trenton had leniency deals on the table. They thought they had it made. All they had to worry about was the Wilsons coming after them and in San Diego Jones' case, Moose Johnson still wanted him dead.
Rocky Diaz figured the only way he could save Pecas, was to get him out of town before the arrests happened and square it with Huero and Pepe Wilson. They needed to understand that Pecas had nothing to do with what was about to happen. Through a cousin of Manuelito Jones, Gustavo Romero, who was an attorney in Tijuana, Rocky Diaz arranged to meet with Huero and Pepe Wilson at the main office of Dulceria Wilson, in the Colonia Libertad, Tijuana.
Rocky Diaz knew no other way, than being direct when he wanted to make sure he was understood. He stated very clearly to Huero Wilson that his family had a storm headed their way and for his part, he was going to remove Pecas from what was about to happen. In exchange for his blessing, he wanted Huero Wilson to know that Pecas had nothing to do with it and if he was looking for who to blame, start and end with all the gabachos.
Gustavo Romero told him that if there was going to be trouble with Huero Wilson, he would likely be pulled over before he hit the border. If he made it back to San Diego, he needed to get out of town with Pecas that night before, this thing blew up. He rushed to Apolonia's house and just by luck, Pecas was home. He was in the backyard with a couple of his pachuco friends from Memorial.
Rocky Diaz explained to Apolonia what was about to happen with the dulcerias and all the scandalo that was about to come her way. He made very clear that the only way to save Pecas, was to get him out of town and hide him for at least a year or two. He would take him back to New Mexico and change his name. When the time was right, she could visit him in a neutral place like Juarez. That way, if they are seen, they still wouldn't know where he really lived. It was a heartbreak for Apolonia, but she preferred him alive and hiding, than the alternative. Rocky Diaz told Apolonia to let her nephew, Manuelito Jones know that Pecas had runaway from home and he would understand.
One day before the arrest, it was announced on XERB radio in Tijuana, that businessman Octavio "Huero" Wilson and his youngest son Jose "Pepe" Wilson were on a private plane reported missing on a flight from Mexico City to Belize. That fall, Soloman Luna High School had a new sophomore student from Los Angeles California, by the name of Larry Martinez attending. He was very quiet and kind of a loner, but a very hard worker. Chilo Baca was happy his buddie Rocky Diaz was back in Los Lunas.
Now they could get down to serious drinking and helping out the veterans from Korea.
Logan Heights Historian and Featured writer
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