SHORT STORY: Spur of the Moment Gifts

It was 1943, our family had just finished a Hanukkah dinner with potato pancakes with applesauce. My friend Sylvia knocked on the door; we were both 14 years old and she was looking for something to do.

It was also Christmas Eve. The stores were open late. WE decided to walk to the five-and-ten and buy a jigsaw puzzle to put together later.

It was a cold and windy night but we enjoyed the walk as the bright window decorations and Christmas trees were on display.

A block from Woolworths, we passed the Catholic orphanage. A nun was sweeping snow from the steps. I knew some of the girls from my class -- not everyone was an orphan, some parents had to work, soe they leftt heir children with the nuns.

“Merry Christmas, Sister Ana Marie,” I said.

“Merry Christmas, girls,” she replied.

“Is the tree decorated?” I asked.

“The children will decorate it after dinner,” the nun replied. “There are not many gifts this year.” She then went inside.

“How much money do you have?” Sylvia asked me? I looked in my wallet and found $4.

“I have $3 from babysitting,” Sylvia said. We looked at the sign at the five-and-ten store: “Clearance Sale.”

That gave us an idea. Why don’t we buy things for the children instead of ourselves?

It felt good to get out of the cold and into the warm store. Jigsaw puzzles and books were 25 cents; we bought four of each. Knitted caps were 50 cents each; we bought two blue and two red.

At a table there was wrapping paper for 2 cents each; we bought 12 sheets. We chose 14 candy canes, a penny each. We bought 14, two for us.

“How are we going to wrap the gifts?” Sylvia asked. I remembered -- the library was always open to return books.

We walked the two blocks to the warm library. We wrapped the gifts in the bright wrapping paper. Then we walked back to the orphanage.

The children were in bed, waiting for Santa. Sylvia and I put the gifts under the decorated tree. Now the children would have extra gifts; what a wonderful feeling.

The nuns invited us into the kitchen for some homemade fudge. Sister Ana Marie said, “In the Bible it says ‘do a good deed.’ Girls, you have done a good deed. Thank you for charity in your hearts.”

We thanked them for the delicious fudge and started to walk back to my house. It was 9 o’clock, time for Sylvia to go home. When I went upstairs, my brother Ben brought the jigsaw puzzle. All six of us stood around the dining table to put it together.

Mama lit the candles in the menorah and Papa gave us a gold-wrapped chocolate candy.

Dora Silvers is a former Norwalk resident who currently resides in Cerritos.

Downey Rotary ensures Christmas for 75 Downey third-graders

I shared a table with Imperial School, six boys and girls and their principal Peggy Meehan. Isaac, who is 8, sat right next to me, his eyes big with excitement.

How many brothers and sisters does Isaac have? He counted on his fingers as he named then, then spread his hand and said “five.” Then he began again, with more names, and pretty soon we had two hands full.

“I’ve been good and prayed a lot,” said Isaac. He rolled his eyes at the idea that Santa might be coming, but just the same he was hoping.

Annabelle sat on his other side and she seemed preoccupied, toying with her knife and fork and spoon. She was wearing a white tee shirt with “Life Is Beautiful” spelled out in sequins and flowers. Isaac was dressed in a red Spiderman tee shirt. “Your favorite action hero?” I asked and he nodded vigorously.

It was my good fortune to be seated at the Rotary Christmas Children’s Luncheon next to an articulate little boy, but with the din and my poor hearing I couldn’t understand much that he said. It didn’t matter. Isaac loved to talk and didn’t need any prompting from me.

Photo courtesy Downey Unified School District.

Photo courtesy Downey Unified School District.

“Do you like to read?” I asked him, and he nodded enthusiastically yes. “Good readers are good talkers,” I said “because they know lots of words.”

The children were served a lunch of chicken nuggets and mac’n cheese, and Isaac cleaned up every bite and then began on his box of tropical punch. Most of the others really had no appetite, excited and waiting for Santa.

President of Downey Rotary Greg Welch called the room to order and offered a prayer of thanks for the children visiting us, “their bright faces, loving hearts and eager minds.” Then we said the Pledge of Allegiance, at half our normal speed, because the children enunciate every syllable carefully to understood every word. Except for “indivisible,” that is, which lost a little clarity. That concept is not that easy to get, and the schools will be teaching that one through all the grades. Maybe for President’s Day they’ll let Abe Lincoln do the explaining about the Civil War.

Then for the songs – we all sang “Jingle Bells,” with car keys and water glasses for chimes. I had to tap on Shirley Johnson’s glass, because she had emptied hers and it made a much better ring than mine which was nearly full. Some of us grown-ups were excited too.

Will Medina announced he will be helping distribute some of the Spin Master Toys on Thursday in Santa Fe Springs through the department of Children and Family Services, Darren Dunaway’s organization, and invited volunteers to join him. What a labor of love and showing of the Rotary Spirit.

Each child had been given a yellow ticket for the raffle, and the winner of the first number was one of the young women principals, in a black sweater with Frosty the Snowman and a snowflake center front. Each of Downey’s 13 elementary schools was invited to send six third graders, the principal and teachers, and they all enthusiastically complied.

Next call brought a little boy who literally ran through the room to the podium. Big applause for him. Last number belonged to Jaimee Sul Baker, cheery in a red sweater and bright red patent leather shoes to match. We have Jaimee to thank for the superior quality toys, but she didn’t win more than a token either.

Photo courtesy Downey Unified School District.

Photo courtesy Downey Unified School District.

Dr. John Garcia, superintendent of the Downey Unified School District, took over the emcee duties and introduced the teachers and principals who had brought our little guests, and many of the staff from the DUSD office.

Then Dr. John called for “Jingle Bells” again. Where were Debbie and Dan Fox, our songmasters, to lead us in “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” which we had rehearsed so often? John urged us to sing out, so our “special” guest would know he was invited, but there was a little confusion till John gave the mike to Chad Berlingheiri, whose soaring solo tenor, singing “I’ll be Home For Christmas,” quieted the room.

The song, which I remember when it appeared in 1943, is sung from the point of view of a soldier stationed overseas writing his family a letter home. As Chad got to the chorus and hit the high notes, all attention was on him. And then, just as Chad got to the melancholy final phrase, with the soldier saying, "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams," the sound of bells and “Ho Ho Ho” told us our surprise guest had appeared, and he was no other than Santa Claus.

The jolly old elf had a wonderful real white beard and moustache so that children could see he must be the real deal. But let’s hope that by next Christmas, 2019, our own Wayne Wilcox will be back from his two-year stint in Argentina, again playing the role he loves to do.

Dr. John called the first school “The Mustangs of Rio San Gabriel,” and Rich Strayer in his red elf hat came to help Santa distribute toys. After the Mustangs came The Bulldogs of Imperial Elementary School, our table. When Isaac went up, I saw he had on long shorts, with red trim, but he on his chair was also a black hoodie to keep him warm.

First each child went to Santa and spoke with him, and Santa took time to listen to each of the 75 or so children. Dan Fox was stationed right in front of Santa and took a souvenir picture of each.

The girls got a wonderful Spin Master Little Charmer doll, either Lavender, Hazel or Posy, each with long acrylic hair and a sturdy little brush to groom her with. When I told Annabelle that my little girl had once had a Mary Poppins doll with a pony tail and a hairbrush, and an umbrella with a parrot’s head, her eyes brightened.

Photo courtesy Downey Unified School District.

Photo courtesy Downey Unified School District.

Boys got a Spin Master Hot Wheels Monster Mutt race car, the kind that goes faster than the speed of sound and they were painted with flames.

Then each came to Shirley sitting in a big comfortable chair for a kind word and a KitKat from the voluminous sack she brought. Shirley has frequently sponsored charity events for abused kids. Each child also received a jumbo size sturdy zip-lock bag, filled with another toy, more candy and a stained-glass kit, then went back to their seats.

The stained-glass kits were appreciated by the teachers. “That fits with our STEAM program,” Principal Peggy Meehan said. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math. “The YMCA is wonderful about bringing us craft supplies. This week the children are making ornaments to take home, like fingerprint balls for the tree. We appreciate the outside help.”

The children waited till their teachers told them they could take off the Christmas wrap, which our members applied so carefully last week.

Then the Panthers of Maude Price were called, and so it went for all 13 schools. The teachers expected the main toy’s sturdy plastic packaging would last intact till they got home, but as soon as one child opened theirs, everyone did, and they loved playing with them. Boys were zooming their Hot Wheels at their place at the table, and little girls could be seen talking to their dollies and re-arranging their hair.

At our table Amy came over to show me the package of charms she had gotten, but Annabelle, who hadn’t opened hers, was still pensive, arranging the knives and forks. Some children take the unopened toys home to share with brothers and sisters who will get nothing at Christmas.

“We have 13 wonderful elementary schools in Downey” said Assistant Superintendent Roger Brossmer, who sat with Jim Mogen at a table full of children. “They are so well behaved,” I said and Roger nodded. “They’re carefully chosen, for their needs,” said Jim.

Boys and girls were dressed in colorful action figure tee shirts and girls wore sparkly sequin tees. One had a matching red and black checked top and bottom. No one wore a party dress two sizes too big, or had a suit coat or tie, as this reporter can remember from times past. More informal.

To amuse themselves, Amy and a friend at my table were playing Scissors, Paper, Rock. That takes coordination and quick reaction time, I thought, because at each throw, the winner reached out and tapped the loser before going on. They laughed and played, and then they added a complication, two-handed throws from each. Still they kept moving swiftly, the tapping redoubling and quick new choices constantly being made.

And then just when I thought their coordination was at its limits, little blond-haired Paul joined them and there were three of them, throwing six little fists and tapping away. What a good way to use up all that energy, I thought.

One has a stereotype of disadvantaged children also having dull eyes and wan faces, due to poor nutrition and lack of stimulation. But obviously the schools don’t lose track of these kids when they go home. They are very much healthy and engaged. They are very much healthy and engaged.

Going across the room I sat with the Gallatin School contingent. One of the little girls at the table offered me a bite of her Kit Kat, a generous act. These children are selected, Roger had told me, because of their extreme neediness. Other than this, they won’t have any Christmas at all.

Rich and Don and Shirley stayed at their posts till the last child, and Mike Pohlen helped Dan, both grandfathers, with getting each child to focus and smile when Dan took their pictures. President Greg and Treasurer Barbara Lamberth, who wore in a glittery blue and black sweater with her white pants, sat back and watched with approval. Barbara oversaw the event and the decorations for the table, red bells and a scattering a little peppermint canes.

Santa had appeared at about 12:25, and by 1:40 the children had all left to go back to their classrooms. No Rotary group picture this year. Nary a crumb was left.

But I do believe Santa was heard to observe, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night.”

Downey's Spanish link with Christmas

Things You Didn’t Know About Downey

DOWNEY – In the Downey Historical Society newsletter of December 1975 there was an article submitted by Ruth Miller titled “Merry Christmas -- Christmas in California.”

That festive time of year is here, and it is fun to take a nostalgic look at an early California Christmas celebration.

In “Navidad,” Don Artura Bandini tells us that Vispera de Navidad, or Christmas Eve, was the day of great expectations, especially for the young people.

They would get on the roof of the large adobe house to watch for the arrival of the great rancheros escorting their individual, gaily-decorated ox-carts which contained their families.

Everyone knew everyone else, and as the families passed each other, the bright curtains of the ox-carts parted, faces peered out, and shrill greetings flew from ox-cart to house and back.

But the big event of the evening was “Los Pastores,” or “The Shepherds,” a kind of scared drama. The principal characters were the Archangel Michael, a clownish devil named Bartolo, and shepherds.

The pastores went from house to house enacting the same scenes. At every house they visited, the shepherds were treated to bunelos -- sweetened cakes fried crisp in grease.

Christmas morning at 3 a.m. was the scene of great commotion as everyone prepared to attend the early Mass, which the Americans called “midnight Mass” but the Spanish Americans named “la misa del gallo” (the mass of the rooster).

Everyone who was not bedridden went to the misa del gallo, which was celebrated at 4 a.m., a beautiful and impressive service with no sermon.

After the mass, everyone gathered at a little distance from the church door to exchange greetings and good wishes; gifts were not customary. The remainder of the day was devoted to social intercourse, music, dancing and horsemanship.

Christmas was a gala social occasion, especially for isolated rancheros, with religious overtones.

Feliz noche buena.

CEMETERY BURIAL: The following is from a March 10, 1949 story titled “Oldest California Resident Laid to Rest in Downey Cemetery”:

Believed to be the oldest California resident, the late Mrs. Dorothea De Luera, 126 years old, was laid to rest in the Downey Cemetery last week.

Requiem mass was said for her on Tuesday last week at the Holy Family Church in Artesia, with Father Patrick O’Connor officiating. Rosary was recited Monday evening from the Arnold Funeral Home.

Born in Mexico in the year 1822, the deceased came to California in 1919, making her residence in the Artesia neighborhood. She passed away Friday the 25th, at her home, 15000 Bloomfield Street in Artesia.

She is survived by a son, Leo Escallero of Norwalk, and a daughter, Lola Escallero of Inglewood.

Bobbie Bruce is a docent with the Downey Historical Society.

Christmas in February 1992

We had many wonderful Christmases in our family. Each was a happy family memory. All involved the typical preparation, decoration and family gathering. The one that stands out the most in my mind is the one that we thought might never happen.


My father had suffered another major heart attack right before Christmas. Dad had been through 20 years of having heart attacks and recovering from each of them, but this one we weren't sure he'd survive.


The family rallied and stayed by his side in our attempt at helping him in any way we could. Our daily prayer was asking that he survive. Each day we were reminded of how very fragile he was and how close we were to losing him.


All Christmas celebrations were put on hold until a time that we knew he was safe. His body was so weak and each attack had seriously limited his heart to even function. My children were grown and I had small grandchildren. I'm sure that my daughter had their own small version of Christmas for the kids.


I remember my dad’s tear-filled eyes on Christmas morning as he begged us to take my mother home and away from the hospital for Christmas. We all understood his request but we couldn't leave his side.


It was a long and difficult month in the hospital. I would say that he never really recovered from that one.


In February we decided to have a family Christmas. Dad loved the holidays so much and we wanted him to enjoy another one. We strung lights all around the house, inside and out. We strung stings of Christmas cards from family and friends. We decorated a tall house plant with ornaments and lights. I still had a very small Christmas tree in a pot that was dead and brown, because I kept saying that I was going to decorate it when dad was well enough.


So in February we hit the switch. The house was completely lit up.The tree, the plant, the window lights and all. The manger was set. Christmas music played in the background. Christmas sweaters and children in their fancy little clothes. It was Christmas.


All of the unopened gifts that had gathered dust for two months were piled around the little dead, brown tree. It was beautiful.


Needless to say, our prayers had been answered. We celebrated life that day!

Downey at Christmastime in the '50s and '60s

Thinking back, there were some lavish Christmas decorations in the city of Downey during the 1950s-60s.

Undated photo of the Christmas tree at the old Downey city hall. Photo courtesy Larry Latimer/Downey Historical Society

Undated photo of the Christmas tree at the old Downey city hall. Photo courtesy Larry Latimer/Downey Historical Society


Not every year was a glamorous year, the region had some recessions, mini-electrical utility brownouts, so there was minimum Christmas decorations during those dips, plus some years we had very bad storms, and Christmas decorations displayed outdoors were thrashed or destroyed by weather elements or vandalism.


Theft and vandalism was ramped up by layoffs from South Gate’s General Motors plant and Downey Rockwell, which caused mini–economic recessions in Downey. But then those special holiday years, (in between) Downey was home to one of the most decorated towns.


Sometimes Christmas parades on Firestone Boulevard and Downey Avenue were good, sometimes not so good. Why? The city had very low visibility fog banks, which made it hard to see, plus Downey also had flooding streets when it rained. Many parts of the city were serviced by open ditches with no curbs or gutters.


I also attended the Christmas parades in Huntington Park and Los Angeles during that era. Remember, Downey still had many old orange groves, and they were hit hard by killing frosts and smudge pots, so being outside to attend Christmas lane parades was only a marginal discomfort. Smudge pots burning made for poor air quality and very sooty and oily-smelling air.


Some years we had so much rain, city parks were under water because of poor drainage. My parents’ backyard garden could be very wet and boggy, if we had foot of rain in a week. I do remember standing in rain water, wearing oversized fishing boots, trying to keep dry and still see parades pass by.

Flooding at Firestone Boulevard and La Reina Avenue in the 1950’s. Photo courtesy Larry Latimer/Downey Historical Society

Flooding at Firestone Boulevard and La Reina Avenue in the 1950’s. Photo courtesy Larry Latimer/Downey Historical Society


I distinctly remember the outdoor Christmas train set very well, that was off of Old River School Road near Rio Flora Place, just north of Firestone Boulevard. Many residents who moved from Downey to Greater Dairy Valley, Calif., remember this private front yard Christmas train display. Located a few blocks northwest of Harvey Broiler Drive- In, the train was built by a 50’s circa engineer and displayed daily in the front yard of the wide ranch home by Rio Hondo Golf Course.


For security, at night time, the train was wheeled in to the garage for safekeeping by the owner. It was on display for more than four decades, with animated train personnel working inside the train cars. The train was in pristine condition.


Then there was the big, white 16-ft. tall white fiberglass animated snowman, near Luxor and Rives. It sat in the front yards of one of the founders of Tupperware. The front yard was a winter snow yard, with fiberglass sheathing covering the dichondra grass. It looked like a scene out of Alaska.


Many homes in north Downey had outdoor nativity manger scenes in their front yard, accented with electricity-sucking flood lights, hay and big, old-fashioned size Christmas lights. Then residents starting importing tropical plants, so orthodox manger scenes were accented with palm fronds. Palms and yuccas were sprouting everywhere in the city. Christmas azaleas/ camellias were blooming too.


I do remember there were numerous 40’s-50’s circa ranch homes that converted their living room windows to huge bay windows (floor to ceiling) and there would be an indoor Santa Claus, standing and waving in the window. Santa was located indoors to protect it from the storms. Colorful sprayed Christmas trees (many pink flocked trees) were on display in the front living room windows, along with revolving aluminum Christmas trees, with an electronic rotor color wheel shining up on the Christmas trees. Many homes had to put up two Christmas trees, one at Thanksgiving, followed by another before Christmas Day, and that one was up until Jan. 6, the Feast of Epiphany.. Back then, trees were seldom preserved in water pails, so they dried out quickly.


Wow, I remember many houses had their shake shingle roofs, their frames outlined with Christmas lights. Some had spun fiberglass white sheathing, so an underlayment of Christmas lights shined through the fiberglass to resemble snow sitting on top of Christmas lights..


Probably one of the most spectacular Christmas displays was at the former estate of Karen and Richard Carpenter's parents’ home on Newville in northeast Downey. The home was not only lavishly decorated on the outside, it was decorated inside too. Many times, they took us on a tour of their backyard and interior of the house to see all the decorations.

Photo courtesy Downey Historical Society

Photo courtesy Downey Historical Society


I bet the property had least 1,000 outdoor Christmas decorations. The home was spread over multiple lots on one of the newer custom tracts for north Downey homes. My parents almost purchased one of them. That street was bumper to bumper, gridlocked with cars during holidays in order to personally view the Carpenters’ spread and hear the neighbors’ gigantic waterfalls and streams.


Then there was the story book decorated home with Rossmoor wannabe architecture near the intersection of Firestone/ Lakewood where the original McDonald's still stands. We had to park our car and walk around to look inside the house and the garage and see all the elaborate Christmas Village gnomes scenes. Many times they served us a warm drink and cookies. My polio cousin. lived near this home; she spent hours at the poor farm, AKA Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center..


I definitely would say the homes north of Firestone were more overly-decorated compared to the homes south of Firestone. It was simple: economics were different, plus larger homes and lot sizes. North Downey was home to celebrities, judges, attorneys and doctors.


Brookmill Street on the westside of Rives was a heavily decorated village of custom homes. One home was owned by the Butler Brothers Furniture and they always had a nice display in the windows. Famous Guy Lombardo played his orchestra a few times on Brookmill for New Years.


Another home was owned by Weinman Department Store in Huntington Park. Many homes on this private street had circular driveways. Another Lavish multi- acre estate was the former owner of Grain/Feed supplies out of Norwalk. Many Hollywood celebs were entertained at that home. It was a completely private, guarded estate.


Many times we went to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church to visit the outdoor nativity scene. At that time, midnight mass was considered illegal.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in the 1950s. Photo courtesy Larry Latimer/Downey Historical Society

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in the 1950s. Photo courtesy Larry Latimer/Downey Historical Society


Probably one of the most spectacular holiday remembrances was cruising Harvey's Broiler Drive-In in the late fifties early sixties, in a Chevrolet Impala. It would take us over one hour of waiting in the streets behind the northside of Harvey's Broiler to get into the car hop, and we would stage our cars up and down 2nd Street and 3rd Street and look into all the beautiful decorated living room bay windows.


Across the street from Harvey's Broiler was Nowlings Oldsmobile, which always had a lavishly painted and decorated showroom. I remember cruising Harveys and looking out at Old’s Toronado and 98’s. To the east of that was the elegant white glove Regency restaurant, which was kind of a formal Italian building from yesteryears.

Photo courtesy Larry Latimer/Downey Historical Society

Photo courtesy Larry Latimer/Downey Historical Society


The parking lot at Harvey's Broiler was much larger back then compared to today and it was the home to Riely’s Public outdoor swimming pool. I remember seeing teenage skinny dippers from the Harvey’s parking lot, hop the wall and go for a swim.


Cars that cruised to Harvey’s had front grille wreaths, antlers on the roof and Christmas clad rear view mirror muffs dangling from the optional front window mirrors. Car hydraulics were just starting to come to market. Car hop cruising began after supper hour and ended at midnight. Glasspack tail pipes were all the rage! Cars were over painted with metal flake candy colors and side panels of flames. Tuck ‘n roll interiors were replacing the standard vinyl seats from the factory.


Shops at Stonewood Mall had coloring cartoon contests, with winners awarded free turkeys. One year, we won a free Sony TV from Ferndale’s Landscape Nursery after purchasing a Christmas tree. Christmas trees were shipped via railroad to LA and then trucked via 18 wheelers out to the suburbs. Stonewood back then was outdoor mall. Store window fronts were lavishly decorated in the holiday mood, many storefront windows advertising grand prize winning contests for their holiday visual shout out to shoppers. It was in vogue to display real fur pieces and safe to have expensive jewelry on mannequins. Thefts was very uncommon!

A 1946 advertisement in the Downey LiveWire newspaper. Photo courtesy Larry Latimer/Downey Historical Society

A 1946 advertisement in the Downey LiveWire newspaper. Photo courtesy Larry Latimer/Downey Historical Society


At Savon Drug Store on Florence, traffic was a mile long, with shoppers waiting to purchase Christmas toys and free gift wrapping. Toys and presents were stacked to the ceiling, back then it was legal with no building code restrictions.


The heart of outdoor Christmas decorations was north of Firestone, both sides of Rives, up to Florence. Then the neighborhoods over by the Carpenters’ grand estate were lavishly decorated too, north of Florence, on both sides of Lakewood Boulevard. Many times, crowds were so large in length that traffic poured out on to Florence.


Christmas trees in the 1950s-60s were much different than today. No farm grown, cultured Christmas trees, they were all natural, mostly Douglas fir and they were rather thin, and a lot of them needed trimming. Also, a different variety of more larger commercial Christmas trees called Knob Cone Pine Trees had a very long pine needle, maybe 6 or 8 inches in length, for flocking and commercial displays. There was very little noble fir or silver tip Christmas trees available during that time.


Sizes of trees were shorter during that era; there were not very many homes that had cathedral ceilings except businesses. The cost of Christmas tree was between $5-$10, some were as cheap as $1.99. There was a few artificial Christmas trees, but most of the artificial Christmas trees were aluminum. Tree garland was starting to make its debut, replacing hanging tinsel, no mini lights yet had been marketed. Popcorn ball globes were popular, plus kinetic moving tree ornaments, which moved while hung over lights in the tree. Boys Town wreaths were just barely coming into market. Fresh fruit attached to the said wreaths were eaten by critters, since many neighborhoods in Downey were still surrounded by old citrus groves from farms.


Some of the homes were Jewish decorated, they had a nice display of blue or blue/ white Christmas lights, plus the 6-sided star of David .

Downey decorated for Christmas in 1951. Photo courtesy Larry Latimer/Downey Historical Society

Downey decorated for Christmas in 1951. Photo courtesy Larry Latimer/Downey Historical Society


After Dec. 26, many north Downey families traveled to Hawaii between Christmas and New Years. Homes did not have light timers, so they relied on keeping lights on for 24 hours a day or neighbors helped turn them on/off.


Blooming poinsettias were starting to make their debut from Mexico, bringing in holiday cheer; there were no cyclamen. Flowers were scarce over holidays because of the Rose Parade . My cousins got married on Jan. 6 because churches and homes still were decorated with holiday cheer and weddings used rebooted flowers left over from the holidays.


No matter if the families were rich or poor, mommies and daughters always did a lot of holiday baking. If not they relied on the mobile Helms Bakery truck vendors to purchase gingerbread cookies and holiday jelly rolls. Fruit cakes were awesome, full of Palm Springs dates, varnished with thick liquors. Wines were still far and few between, families drank hard liquors: gin, vodka, bourbon; thick, syrupy liquors.


Most turkeys, ducks and geese were freshly purchased from meat market lockers because home refrigerator freezers were small and would not fit turkey. There were no such things as turkey pop-up temperature gauges. Booze holiday decanters were the rage and still can be purchased at antique stores for huge bucks today. In the 1950’s, dishwashers were just being introduced as a mobile roll-up unit, hooked up to the sinks. Some countertops were stainless steel, never marble nor granite. Most homes had two-tone colored traditional tiles.

A parade on Downey Avenue between Firestone Boulevard and 2nd St. Photo courtesy Larry Latimer/Downey Historical Society

A parade on Downey Avenue between Firestone Boulevard and 2nd St. Photo courtesy Larry Latimer/Downey Historical Society


Downey churches provided roaming door to door singing chorals, which were roaming carolers. Since most homes only had black and white TVs and AM radios, the mobile chorals provided the closest thing to stereo singers or holiday cheers. Few homes had pianos back then and even fewer had organs. Performing arts was just being seeded.


Not all Christmases were filled with celebration; the city had some raw bah-humbugs Christmases too. Some homes caught fire because of faulty electrical wires, no circuit auto-breakers, no GFI and because of non-permitted forced air heating units incorrectly installed. Christmas trees caught on fire because of the old fashioned 110 lights causing fire explosions. One of my neighbor’s homes did catch on fire, on Christmas Eve; daddy burned to death as the Christmas tree exploded next to him. The family lived near the intersection of Luxor/Horton.


There were also many motor vehicle accidents during the holidays. If the people were employed, they got off from their job a few hours early on Christmas Eve and were given gifts of liquor, a vogue Christmas gift. They got drunk and had motor vehicle accidents over Christmas Eve.


Also there was a lot of kitchen fires over Christmas time because we didn't have the modern stove and built-in ovens nor microwaves, so there was a lot of flash fires on the stove. Bottled milk spoiled very easily during that era as refrigerators were not very good, and we relied on milk deliveries daily. The milkman delivered the glass bottled milk through the metal milk doors off the kitchen/laundry room. Rotten and perishable goods were not thrown into the garbage disposals (not invented yet) so cooking waste was thrown in a side-door delivery pails for twice-weekly pick up services.


Many traditional brick fireplaces in Downey leaked, because they didn't have the money to rebuild the fireplaces from the earthquakes, so it was not uncommon to have smoke filled interiors. From the ‘40s to ‘60s, the entire country was rebuilding from WWI and WWII.


Silver Saddle, Pink Pancake Parasol, Kings Imperial, Del Mar, Grand Prix, Memory House, Regency were all packed restaurants in Downey during the holidays. Serving steak and lobster feasts, along with tableside gimlet martini drinks. Dinner and wine was not very popular and beer was more blue collar.


Granada Pizza, in their, 3-wheel carts, could be seen delivering their store goods to front doors. Pizza was form for holiday hors d’oeurvers. That era of socializing really filled with red meat eaters.


During my early times, Downey was a very decanted city to be born in to. It was city, with many transplants from Europe and Midwest USA.

Jim McMahon is a longtime Downey resident.

How Downey got its official slogan

DOWNEY – “Downey: Future Unlimited” — This slogan came from a prize-winning speech at the California Real Estate Convention of 1950 by Pauline Riggs Haines.


Seventy-eight years ago a group of forward-looking pioneers headed by ex-governor Downey founded Los Angeles County’s oldest town, and gave us the slogan, “Downey: Future Unlimited.”


Downey is my home, a community of thrifty, liberty loving, God-fearing Americans, but not even the fine things these people did for the community can match what God did for it. This little city is nestled in the shadow of the mountains, cooled by ocean breezes with an abundance of rich, fertile soil, checkered with groves of oranges and avocados and interspersed with ever-fragrant magnolia.


Favored from the beginning with a temperate climate, adequate water supply and easy accessibility. Downey became the focal point for more until today through explosive growth, we have reached a population of over 65,000, representing an increase of 85 percent in the last 10 years. With her unlimited room for growth, Downey is on the threshold of her greatest development.


Lakewood and Firestone boulevards are now proved to be among the busiest intersections in the world. Downey is not sprawling but compact and as time-saving as a two-penny postcard with its proximity to the mountains, the beaches, the harbor and major shopping centers. Downey attracts major industries, among these larger industries for employment are the North American Aircraft, Rheem Manufacturing and Arrowhead Rubber. Downey is not dependent upon one industry alone but has agriculture, dairy interest to help with its survival.


Downey’s values are best exemplified by our 22 churches, modern theaters and our service clubs. Board of Realtors, Chamber of Commerce and public officials who all strive to maintain these values, and the qualities of a “hometown,” a place of dear hearts and gentle people -- where life is more cooperative and strangers are made to feel welcome.


Downey invites you to live within its confines where you have assured education, peace and security for happy, healthy children and parents. You will find it a balanced community with an ever-growing future. Downey is truly a city with “Future Unlimited.”


Wouldn’t you want to live in Downey?

Bobbi Bruce is a docent with the Downey Historical Society.