The houses where families and their Mexican culture thrived in the San Pablo neighborhood are long gone. So are the haunts where kids could see a movie for a dime or sneak in through the back door of the nearby College Theater on Mill Avenue and not pay at all.

In most cases, the memories that were made on the once crowded streets of San Pablo are fading, too. That's simply because not too many people are alive to remember the place, and those who are - referred to as the Los Amigos de Tempe - moved on to Tempe's Victory Acres neighborhood or are scattered throughout the Valley.

San Pablo is just one of many neighborhoods that once defined the East Valley during the early part of the 20th Century but gave way to the wrecking ball referred to as progress. As the state of Arizona nears its centennial celebration next year, these neighborhoods remain vivid memories for those who lived in them, saw them change with the landscape of the region and in some cases, kept in touch with their old neighbors.

The San Pablo neighborhood, also affectionately called "El Barrio" (the old neighborhood) was nestled at the base of what now is A Mountain north of East University Drive. It was bordered by University Drive to the south (known then as Eighth Street), Fifth Street to the north, College Avenue to the west and the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks to the west. A canal also divided two Hispanic neighborhoods at the base of the buttes.

San Pablo was settled by Mexicans in the early 1870s, survived the Great Depression and two World Wars. But the neighborhood was swallowed up in the mid-1950s when Arizona State College (now Arizona State University) expanded its campus and built more dormitories. The end was a traumatic experience for some displaced by eminent domain, especially the elderly. The younger generation, though, saw the end coming.

"It was almost like a small town," said Charlie Ruiz, 66, a retired Department of Public Safety officer who worked in criminal investigations. Ruiz was one of 11 children born to Jose and Sofia Ruiz and once lived in a house at 326 E. Sixth Street next to the National Guard base. Ruiz's father began working for the Southern Pacific Railroad when he was 14, a job he would have for the next 40 years.

"The neighborhood was pretty much a united family," Ruiz said. "Everyone knew everybody. If one kid got in trouble on the east side of the neighborhood ... by the time they went home, his parents knew about it on the west side."

Charlie's older brother, William Ruiz, 71, said, "We didn't have video games back then - we made our own games. We made our own toys, kites out of newspapers and collected soda pop bottles to cash in for money so we could go to the movies at the College Theater."

It was in San Pablo, where many of the neighborhood residents worked at Carl Hayden's mill or for the Southern Pacific Railroad, that Arizona experienced its earliest lessons in segregation. Beginning in 1923, Hispanics were not allowed to swim in Tempe Beach Pool, so they swam in a swimming hole on the north side of the butte because the nearby Salt River was only a "trickle." But in 1946, after many of the neighborhood boys served in World War II, Hispanics again could swim with the whites at Tempe Beach Pool.

Yee's Market, a grocery store owned by a Chinese family south of the Tempe buttes, was where most people in the neighborhood shopped for their large families.

Irene Gomez Hormell is the matriarch of San Pablo's history. Her family settled in the neighborhood in 1917. Her parents, Floyd Gomez and Victoria Soto, met in San Pablo and Irene later grew up in a house at 358 E. 8th Street (now University Drive) during the 1940s and 50s where the family lived until 1957. She has fond memories of washing dishes in her mother's restaurant, Vicki's Place, where her two sisters also worked after the school day ended at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School. The restaurant, which once stood across the street from Arizona State College, served Mexican and American food and was "packed" after ASU football games.

"It was a wonderful neighborhood; I loved it," Hormell, 74, of Mesa said. "We had all the resources any kids could have for their imagination and creativity. We had no street names, but we named them. My study hall was on top of the Tempe Butte where I would read books. The beauty of living in the barrio was that all the parents looked out for everybody's kids because everyone knew everybody. I would not change it for the world."

Hormell became acquainted with the neighborhood through helping her grandmother, Marina Ceballos Soto, go door-to-door to take orders for the Boston Clothing Store on Mill Avenue that was owned by the Getz family in Los Angeles.

"Those were the days before credit cards," Hormell said. "My grandmother let customers run a tab and they always paid her off. People always wanted to honor their name."

Although the families such as the Urbanos, the Sanchezes, Gomezes, Sotos and Ruizes are gone, at least the foundation - the neighborhood's anchor - of San Pablo remains: Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on the northwest corner of College and University where families worshipped and kids attended school in the basement during the school's early days.

That's where some of the remaining Ruiz brothers - Rupert, William and Charlie - remember how their grandfather helped pour the church's foundation. In fact, the cornerstone of the old church building says it was built in 1903, and was where William Ruiz would have to serve as a "go-fer boy" for the nuns if he was within their eye-shot playing nearby.

For at least one day out of the year in October, residents who lived in the San Pablo neighborhood still come together for a "reunion" during the Tardeada Festival at the Tempe Community Center, 3500 S. Rural Road.

But beyond that, anyone would be hard pressed to find remnants of San Pablo in the area long dominated now by part of Arizona State University's campus.

History is about all that remains.

(4) comments

Marcus Gallio

"Tardeada Festival at the Tempe Community Center, 3500 S. Rural Road."

Does anyone know the exact date of this Festival in October, 2011? Would love to attend and party with the neighborhood folks.

Dale Whiting


Leon hates most everyone and everything. He is without a cultural heritage of his own. I mourn for him. Would not be surprised to learn that he has not family, they having left him due to his hate.


You sure are a hateful old person. Take your meds and shut the $%#@ up.

Leon Ceniceros

Hey...there must be some old shack or building that the ...."SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES DEVELOPMENT FUND"......can "re-hab" for a couple hundred thousand dollars.
Heck, they have $20 Million Dollars to get rid of on preserving ........THE EAST VALLEY HISPANIC CULTURE.
The reporter "conveniently" forgot to mention that 1/2 of the Fund came from the ....RAZA (RACE in Spanish) DEVELOPMENT FUND ("diversity money" solicited from Big Banks and Big Insurance they look good to Congress when they get in a "pickle").

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