A Concrete Neighborhood Memory

Gloria Borrego Maldonado “Gogi”

Victoria Courts was a huge, well-built project with a maze of streets of concrete buildings, with flat roofs and silver metal fences separating our yards which we called home.

Yes, we were poor, but we didn’t know it. We were a humble people and felt rich in humanity.

My family moved in to Victoria Courts circa 1953. The apartment on Burrus Street was a 2 bedroom. The family grew so we were moved directly across the street to Pear Walk.  It had 4 bedrooms-1 downstairs, 3 upstairs and 1 bathroom located upstairs. There were some families that were so large they had adjoining apartments- A whole building to themselves.

I was born in 1963 and the last of 9 children.

I’ll never forget the childhood memories, mostly with the neighborhood kids that became friends I grew up with, creating the best of times in my memory.

The 1970’s was a cool time to grow up in this community, where there was a mixture of ethnic groups but we saw ourselves as the same.

We made a lot of friends. Everyone would help each other out by “borrowing” a cup of sugar, flour, tomato sauce, eggs, or milk from comadre next door. Oh! The wonderful smells of someone cooking pouring out of our open wooden screen doors and metal casement windows while walking down sidewalks.

The memories of everyone sitting outside on the concrete porches and talking to each other, while we played outside –jacks, red rover, hopscotch, 1-2-3 red light, and climbing trees.

We felt safe and would even sleep with the windows open. We had no A/C, we were lucky to have one fan. We’d pull our mattress onto the upstairs balcony with rails around it and sleep there on the  hottest summer nights.

We had a great time when IH-37 was being built in 1975. We would slide off the dirt hills with card boards all day.

The concrete buildings somehow gave us a sense of security during major storms, tornado warnings, and even the thoughts of war or UFOs!

Everyone in the Courts went to the same schools- Burnet Elem, Page Middle, and Brackenridge High schools so we did a lot as groups while learning.

We had many city resources that helped us get by. Such as: food commodities, and clothing.

There were 4 parks scattered and placed on certain blocks. The main park was along Labor St. We played baseball games there, a few friends would start it then it grew to full teams as people strolled by. Organized teams developed in later years. A wooden playscape was built there. There were basketball courts and maybe 4 sets of swings.

The SANYO and Parks and Rec would create events for us. Church groups would come and set up ARTS and CRAFTS on our concrete sidewalks. I learned how to make a papier-mâché piñata. Central Baptist Church on Labor and Florida St would drive a bus up and down our streets to pick us up for VBS. They always gave us cookies and punch and HOPE. So, you made sure you ran to get on that bus.

We walked everywhere. The HemisFair Park was a wonderful place! Downtown, public library, Institute of Texan Cultures, St. Michaels Church, Handy Andy, School, Convention Center Arena for concerts, and Roosevelt Swimming pool.

We would sell bottles for refunds to have a little change. I used that for admission to Roosevelt pool. I never had enough to buy a snack while swimming all day long and would walk home so hungry but I had fun!

At Christmas we had a silver aluminum tree we used every year. It got so old it would blow down every time someone opened the front door. I would tape the color wheel together and hope it would hold up until Christmas day. I’m thankful for help we got from the resources only my mom knew of at Christmas time. I still have my aluminum bakeware play set!

The negative part was of course there was danger. There was crime, violence, and drugs. I believed any outsiders that came around may be in danger if they didn’t know anyone. There were many fist fights, stabbings, shootings. I witnessed two of these things, however I blocked it out of my memory. When the street lights flickered on, we had to run home according to mom. “It’s 10:00- Do you know where your children are?” This slogan was a PSA on TV in the 70s.

I was never afraid. The good outweighed the bad.

My brother Robert would climb the tree to get up on the flat roof to retrieve the lost balls from our games. He’d sell newspapers on downtown street corners at the age of 7 to help mom. He would always find quarters and go directly to Texas Food Market on Labor St., owned by the nice Chinese couple, and buy 8 marbles for 5 cents. He would sell marbles to other friends and make a profit. I learned how to dig the holes in dirt for a game of marbles too.

He got a job at the Menger Hotel and would give mom his whole paycheck. My sister Susan got a job at Texas Food Market as a cashier. She always threw in a candy bar for me when mom sent me to the store. My other sis Esther was embarrassed to push the metal rolling basket my mom would send us with to shop at Handy Andy. I however was not-especially for food!

You can call it what you will-public housing, poor neighborhood, housing projects, or the Victoria Courts. Those were the good old days that we knew and lived. The memories resonate in our hearts and souls forever and impacted our lives and characters.

The demolition of the Victoria Courts in 1999 was a heartbreaker for many of us, but I will never forget where I came from. Thank you for 20 years ofgreat memories.

We may have been the poorest, but we had the most fun.

–  Gloria Borrego Maldonado “Gogi”

(all photos courtesy of the author)