By Tara V. Kohlenberg —
Part I of the history of 650 and 666 South Seguin Avenue properties was a story of immigrants who worked hard and expanded their family holdings. Now, on to Part II.
Ysmael Zamora Isasi and Otila Martinez, fled the atrocities of the Mexican Revolution with their children to become permanent residents of the United States. Shortly after they crossed the Texas border, their daughter, Olivia Zamora, was born in Laredo, Texas in May of 1913. The Zamoras learned that a Mr. Dittlinger was hiring men for his lime quarry just outside of New Braunfels. The work was hard but the jobs came with free housing. While Ysmael worked in the quarry, Otila helped earn money by cooking for the workers. She also found a cheap source for boots and clothes to sell to the workers. Eventually the Zamoras put enough money aside to build their own grocery store in New Braunfels. Their daughter, Olivia, grew up helping her parents at Zamora Grocery, located at 197 North Hackberry Street where their living quarters were attached to the store.
About 1930, at age seventeen, Olivia met and married Felix Garza Sanchez. The twenty-year-old Felix was born in Rio Verde (Lampazos, Nuevo Leon, Mexico) to Felix Garza Flores and Maria de la Paz Sánchez Mendiola. Felix was a man of slim build, fair skin with an incredible work ethic and great ambition. The newlyweds lived in a little house on Market Street close to downtown New Braunfels. Felix worked for Comal Dairy. Olivia stayed home to care for their children, Ysmael (Mike), Carlos and Maria de la Paz (Mary). They later rented a house at 635 South Seguin Avenue.
Olivia’s brothers, Raul and Manuel, had learned from their parents’ grocery business and began their own produce truck business. Young Felix went into business for himself when he was given his first produce truck by Olivia’s uncle Antonio. He would purchase produce wholesale in San Antonio and sell it door to door to wealthy and middle-class customers in New Braunfels.
One day Olivia asked Felix to leave a bushel of fruit and a bushel of vegetables outside their home so she could sell it to passersby. She saved $500 in the middle of the Great Depression selling produce from her front yard. Millions of people were out of work during the Depression, but she was saving money. That’s dedication! They began Valley Fruit Stand at 635 South Seguin in 1933. Business grew and in 1939 they expanded, moving the store across the street to 666 South Seguin Avenue. They paid an out of work carpenter, Mr. Vicente Villareal, to expand the store in 1940.
The store name was later changed to Valley Fruit Store. The store was tiny but full service with a dairy case, many shelf items and a meat market. There were previously no Hispanic-owned businesses on that street. It is believed that the store underwent more than one expansion at that site. As a point of interest, the ‘666’ street number was eventually changed to 664 after more than 60 years because later renters of the building were superstitious about the number 666.
The house behind the store was built in 1940, and sometime later two bedrooms were added. They bought the land from Otto and Emma Bodeman for $400. The house had a front yard, a large back yard, and a long gravel driveway to one side that reached Castell Street behind the property. Daughter Alicia was born in 1943. Felix Junior was born in 1947 and died in 1948. Otila, the youngest, was born in 1949. They later bought the big house next door at 650 South Seguin Street on October 16, 1950, from Oliver Sands for $8,000. The monthly mortgage was $63.29. The house was remodeled, as it had been boarded up by Mr. Sands for two years after the death of his wife.
Felix was an active member of the New Braunfels LULAC- League of United Latin American Citizens. In 1943, he registered his children, Ismael, Carlos and Mary at Carl Schurz Elementary School. Only two other Hispanic families registered their kids at Carl Schurz that year. It was the first year that Hispanic kids were integrated into the public schools in New Braunfels. On the first day of school, Felix walked his children into school. There were protests, so Henry B. Gonzalez, from San Antonio, the National Guard and the New Braunfels police were present. Prior to 1943, they had to walk across town to the segregated Stephen F. Austin School in Comaltown. The African American kids attended the Booker T. Washington School, which was actually the closest school to the Garza home. The African American kids did not integrate until the 1950s.
Felix’s activism took him to neighboring towns. On September 30, 1951, he and Alberto Aragon traveled to an event in Seguin to talk about integrating the Hispanic children into the neighborhood schools. They attended the event at Starke Park with Paul Fritz, the principal of Juan Seguin Elementary School. When they left the park, Paul Fritz’s car was struck by another car killing both Mr. Fritz and Felix Garza. Alberto Aragon, the godfather of Garza’s children, suffered a broken leg. JT Morgan, 19, of LaVernia was also injured. His brother, Samuel, who was driving the oncoming car, was not injured. Felix was forty-one years old.
After Felix died, Olivia ran the store for the next ten years with son Ismael. Medical issues forced her to make big decisions. Olivia closed the store after 28 years. She was only forty-five years old. She rented out the store building and went after a new career. She earned her beauticians license and opened Be Lovely Beauty Salon in what was the master bedroom of her home at 650 South Seguin. That is how I remember that building. She worked in her beauty shop into her late sixties. During that time, Olivia also derived income by renting out her real estate. The store at 666 was occupied over the years Red Elbel Used Furniture & Appliances, Howard TV & Appliance and Hill Country Trail Antiques.
The Garza family taught by example: how to survive in hard times, how to do what is right and how to raise a strong and intelligent family. Like the earlier German immigrants, they, too, were good stewards of the properties at 650 and 666 South Seguin Avenue and an asset to New Braunfels.
Sources: Sophienburg Museum & Archives; Alicia Garza Moreno.