This is the second half of an oral-history interview featuring Bismark Martin "Biz" Basolo Jr., a descendant of one of Fillmore's early ranching families. The interview was conducted
Aug. 3, 2009, by Martha Gentry of the Fillmore Historical Museum. (We don't have the first half.)
Biz Basolo's grandparents, Charles D. and Lena C. Basolo, immigrated to the United States in 1888, according to the 1910 U.S. Census for Santa Paula Township. The Basolo family established
a ranch in Bardsdale, across the Santa Clara River from the town of Fillmore, where Biz Basolo grew up. After World War II he completed his studies at UCLA and moved to Ventura, where he
started a lifelong career with Bank of America and raised his own family. Following the death of his wife, Mary (Huddleston), in 1987, he moved back to Fillmore to assist his ailing parents. He died
Dec. 24, 2012, and was laid to rest in Bardsdale Cemetery.
Born Mar. 31, 1927, in Fillmore, Biz Basolo was just shy of his first birthday when the St. Francis Dam collapsed and sent 13 billion gallons of water crashing downriver in the dead of night. His 21-year-old newlywed uncle,
George Mateuo Basolo, was killed in the flood when it wiped out the family home on the ranch. George also rests in Bardsdale Cemetery. Surviving family members
moved into a new home in Fillmore, off the ranch, paid for by the city of Los Angeles.
Of particular interest to St. Francis Dam historians are Biz Basolo's stories, as related to him by his father, Bismark Sr., about the filing of claims for property losses and the impact
of the payments made by the City of L.A. to replace the Basolo house and others. (Uncle George's widow, Leora Basolo, received $12,000 as a wrongful death payout just months prior to the
October 1929 stock market crash.)
Although not discussed here, another relative, Domenith C. "Bud" Basolo, born in Fillmore in 1923, established cattle ranches in the San Joaquin Valley and Wyoming and invented beefalo.
[Download higher-resolution version] [Original Dolby video version]
Questions appear in italics. Most questions are shortened or paraphrased.
I don't know whether it was Toots' son, by don't think it was, I think it was the one that lived up close to the hill.
When we start getting into Lebard, you got me — there were a lot of them.
But it wasn't Toots, it was the other one. It was his son who had a plane. And I think he's the one that approached my dad about putting in an airport.
Do you remember how long the airport was there and how active it was?
It was only about three or four years, I think. I think Mrs. Jarrett had it in her books. I think she mentioned [it].
(Did you grow up on the farm?)
No, no, no, no. Our house was washed away in the flood in '28. We were — where the city dump ends, the city dump was, the first house after that was Uncle Cliff and Aunt Nellie. The next house was Georgie and Sis, and then the third house was our house. There were three houses along there. [24.8]
So would the third house be the one that's there now?
There are no houses there at all.
So there were three houses and then there was the next one—
No. You know where I told you, that first drive to go up? Between there and the dump, in that area there were three houses. When my folks got married, grandpa had already built the house for Charlie and Wanda. Grandpa wanted to build my folks one there, too. But my mother being Italian, also knew what came with that. The daughter-in-law becomes a slave to the mother-in-law. And she says, I don't want to be that close to your mother. There's a little house way out by the river that we can fix up. And then he went and built a house for Aunt Nellie and Uncle Cliff out there, and then when George and Sis got married, he built a house for them out there. So there were three houses right there.
Kind of a family compound?
I know you were probably too young to directly remember the flood, but what about flood stories?
From what [my] folks said, as it is now, you went in that entry and then there was a frontage road, because there was a ditch between the Chambersburg and the houses. There was a frontage road there. They called us and told us that the dam had broken, and everybody came over to our house. They were all sitting there, discussing — Well it's not possible. It's only been completed for about a week. No. No way. And so the men said, well, we'll tell you what we'll do. We'll go out and drive up along the river and see if we see any water coming. And Dad said, they stepped outside and they could hear it coming. Sis had already pulled her car out and was parked in the driveway. So the three women and the two children — because Cliff, young Cliff, with the three women and the two children got in the first car and went out. My dad backed our car out and he came out. And then Uncle Cliff and Georgie were in Cliff's car, and they were the third car. And Dad said as they were going up, to high ground, up, south, he could see their headlights in his rearview mirror and then all of a sudden, they couldn't see him anymore because the water hit them and swept them off the road.
Did they survive it all?
Cliff managed to swim out, but George didn't. When they found his body, he had a big bruise on his head, Dad said, so he must have gotten hit by something.
What about the aftermath? How long did it take to recover, and what did you all do to live?
Well, my mother's folks, my grandfather Matino, had the ranch — where Jimmy Shiell's house is, he had that, plus where the Dreshers are. And they were living up at the Dreshers' house on the hill where Joe Voelker lives I think now. They were living there. Grandpa had bought that place in 1920 and came from Moorpark. He was farming there. So when they left, they tried to go to my other grandparents' house, and they couldn't because there were — where the Amens are now, you know [how] it goes down, well the water was all in there. So they couldn't get up to the grandparents. So they turned up the road and they went to Bill Elkins' house up the road, and that's where they stayed that night.
So what happened after that? How did they recover?
Well, Mother worked for Mr. McLean, the mercantile. So they rented the house next to Aunt Rosie's, between Aunt Rosie's and that alleyway. They rented that house, and they lived there for six months while the house up here was being built. And that's why Aunt Rosie kept me, because mother went back to work. And Mr. McLean let her use his — she went down a lot to L.A. to the warehouses and he let her use his credentials to buy stuff wholesale.
That was very good of him.
Yeah. And then of course the city of Los Angeles built our house for us. Mother said they made you draw a floor plan of your house, and she said some people — the amount of furniture they claimed that they lost, it would have to be stacked three deep in the house. But Uncle Larry — So the city of Los Angeles built that house, and where Schleimers live now, on Kensington, that was Aunt Nellie and Uncle Cliff's house. The city of Los Angeles built those houses, but Uncle Harry, who was a contractor, he would come by every evening and say to my Dad, Well tomorrow you have them do this and you have them do that and you have them do this. He did that with Uncle Cliff, too. So those houses were very well built.
Harry — last name?
As a kid you grew up in Fillmore itself; Where did you go to school then?
Well the first — the 1A and the 1B and the 2B, that was Mountainview. And then they built — in those days, the first or second grade was at Mountainview, and just the main and just the main building down on Sespe, and that was the third, fourth, fifth and sixth. And then they built that little addition, and they moved the first and second grade down there. For 2A I was down on Sespe Street.
[...]They must have had a population (increase) since then.
After we moved out, that became the Mexican school. [...] Actually they say it was a Mexican school, but it was for the Spanish-speaking children. If you could speak English and take instruction in English, you went to the Sespe Street school. We had quite a few Spanish-Mexican children in our class, but they were all children who could speak English and take instruction in English.
Do you remember names of teachers?
I had in the first grade Mrs. Middlesworth, who was the wife of my aunt's husband. Aunt Mary was married to Middlesworth ... That was 1B. 1A was Miss Setzer. 2B was Miss Fabian. 2A was Mrs. Shaloop. They had a general store. Her husband's family had a general store in Piru. And later they sold that and had a store down on Vista where my maternal grandparents had moved. So I would visit her whenever I was — Sheffield. It was Sheffield's. And then of course Aunt Iona [Ritchie] was my 3B, Miss Morrison 3A.
What was the difference between A and B? Just semesters or—
In those days, they started a class in February as well as September. I was the youngest one in my high school class, because in order to start the first grade in February you had to be 6 by April 1. My birthday was March 31. So I just got to start it when I was still 5. And Billie Mae Elkins, her birthday is the 19th of March, so she was in that class. So when we started in February, we ended February, naturally. Then we went up to the junior high, and we were only the seventh grade from February to June. In September we were the eighth grade.
Interesting situation — you only had a half a year of seventh grade. Did you miss anything?
I don't think so.
As a kid, what were your favorite things to do? What was there to do in Fillmore when you were a kid?
Well, as I tell everybody, I didn't know what the front yard looked like until I went to grammar school. I did go to the ranch. Buck and Maxine were over there, and so I would go to the ranch on weekends. And then Mother started working at the Sprouts-Reitz, I think when I was in about the fourth grade. When I would get through with school I would walk down to the store and go back to the store room and do my homework until Dad got off work and then then he would pick me up. [16.5]
What are your impressions of downtown Fillmore, the business district, and the businesses there that were there when you were growing up?
Well let me see. When I was growing up there was the United Mercantile. Up on the corner was a restaurant. And it burned down one night. According to that book, evidently it a restaurant that (?) owned before he had the one out here on the corner of Clay and Main. La Tapatia. [...] Mrs. Jarrett used to take her Spanish class there all the time. And everybody wanted to know what La Tapatia meant; we said it meant he greasy spoon. But according to that book, the Centennial [book], he had a restaurant up there. And then there was a tobacco store. No, there was Cervas' barber shop, then a tobacco store, then George's — George Palmer's barber shop — then the pool hall and Maxwell's shoe shop, then the A&P. I think that was probably where the United Mercantile was.
The one that collapsed in the last earthquake and it's totally gone.
Yeah. Then from there down, Jack Ray had a shoe store across from the from the theater. And then of course the Griegs had the sweet shop, and in between was Ben Klotz's drycleaning. And then past that, Core's barber shop, Clough's drugstore, and then that one time Betty Epswich had a restaurant and then the market on the end. And on the other side it was pretty much the security bank, Hinkey Bros., the gas company, Lindenfeld's—
Lindenfeld's eventually became the M&N Market?
It could be. But Lindenfeld's had a grocery and produce, Coleman had a butcher shop, and Balsz had a bakery in the center. Whenever we would go out to the Alamo, deer hunting, they would go into Lindenfeld's in the evening to buy all their supplies. And then there was some accountants next to the Lindenfelds, and then Jones' market. And then the Sprouse-Reitz was next to that. And then Ellsworth's hardware, and the show, and then Jessie's, and then Smiths, and then the toggery, Sherry had the toggery, and then the bank.
And when you go north, there was a grocery store; it was probably Adamson when you were growing up—
Yeah. In fact before that, it was Wyman's. Mother worked for Wyman's until they closed. And that's when Mr. McLean came up and said he understood Wyman's was closing, so he asked her to go work for him. She did not like my dad because, you know, she and Aunt Nellie were the same age. And Dad was four years older. And whenever the Matinos would come over to visit the Basolos — of course Nellie and my mother would be playing, and you know how the boys are with younger girls; they tease them miserably. And Mother couldn't stand my dad. She said when she would come out of work from Wyman's, she would look look down the street — because the pool hall in those days was over where Ellsworth's was. She would look down there, and if she saw my dad standing in front of the front of the pool hall, she would go the other way to go home.
How did it come about that they could stand each other to get married?
Well this is the story. First of all, when my mother's family, when my mother's father, he came in 1903, when Mother was only three months old. In 1909 he sent for my mother and grandmother. He was working on the Petit-Reimer ranch. There was a grammar school down where Balcom Canyon Road hits South Mountain Road.
Riverside School District—
There was a school there. Grandpa — they got here in January, and Mother said grandpa took her down to that school house and told the teacher she doesn't speak a word of English, but I just want her to sit in the class and hear English going on around her. So my mother said she sat there and she sang songs, having no idea what she was saying. But by June she could take instruction in English.
Do you have any photos of that school?
No. Because any photos that we had went pfft — in the flood.
Down the river. So how did the Basolos and your mother's family get those two together?
Well first of all, my grandfather Matino told me that when my grandmother and grandmother were coming to this country, he needed a cow, because they were going to have a child. So as he was walking one day from Fillmore back over there, as he went by the Basolo Ranch, he saw they had a sign up, it said Cow for Sale. So he said he walked in there and he said, you don't know how surprised I was to walk into the yard and here were all the kids speaking my native language. So from that point on, the Basolos and the Matinos were visited back and forth all the time. So as I said, my grandfather had that place where the Dreshers were; one day Grandma Basolo called up Grandma Matino and said: Carlo and I are going to go roller skating in Ventura tonight; would you like to go? My grandfather wouldn't go. He didn't believe in this foolishness. So Mother — grandma — said, Oh, I'd like to go, and she said, Oh, by the way, Bis is going to be driving us, so maybe Maria would like to go, too. And grandma said OK. So that evening, up drives my dad, and Grandma goes out and says, Well where's Carlo and Nina? Well they decided not to go. Grandma Matino said well then we're not going to go, either, then. And Mother well I'm not going, said Grandma said, Oh, go ahead. Go ahead. So she did. She said, I sat over here and he sat over there. If he would have made one move, that would have been the end of it. Four months later they were married. [...]
What are the family stories of the Depression? How did it hit the family?
You know, I don't think the depression bothered us, and I'll tell you why. Because all the damage that was done the flood in '28, the city [of Los Angeles] paid for. In fact that's how come Grandpa Basolo managed to buy the Horton place, was because of the money he got. Because the trees were wiped out, so they had planted new trees, so while the trees were growing to production, they were being paid by the city of Los Angeles. So we really didn't feel the Depression that I can recall. Mother said that Christmas, the year that they got all the money from Los Angeles, that Christmas was the best Christmas we kids ever had. Because they bought us all kinds of toys and what have you. So I figure that the Depression really didn't bother us. I do remember that my dad was working on the ranch and being paid $35 every other week. Mother was working at Sprouse-Reitz and getting $16 a week which would be $32 [every other week]. They raised her to $18. So she was making more than he was then. That kind of bugged him.
How did they reclaim the land that was lost in the flood? How did they physically do it?
That block where the airport was, and the alfalfa field, really didn't come back. They didn't start redeveloping that until the early '40s.
Did they find a way to get the dirt back? Did they feed some of the river in to do that?
I don't know what they ... What I can start remembering in the early '30s, the orchards were all in ... although they did raise [at] the Horton place, they raised beans up there. Pinto beans.
Your story of the water coming in right there along Diversion Road, right up to the hillside at Jimmy Shiell's — that answers a lot of questions I had about where that water actually came in, because it really didn't hit us [personally] at all. But it bounced on the east and it came down from the west—
I think what happened was, when it first hit the bridge, the bridge held for a while and forced the water back around. And that's why our place got washed out. Then when the bridge went, why then-
It all went down the river. Do you remember crossing on the swinging bridge at all?
I remember going across on the trolley. They were picking lemons at the ranch that year. And so we would — the pickers would walk across from Fillmore on the swinging bridge and pick the lemons, then we would have to haul the lemons over to Moorpark, down to Montalvo, across the river at Montalvo and back up this side to the packing house. I could make about one trip a day.
You said you went deer hunting; did you hike a lot in the Sespe? Did you hunt up there?
No. There was a gentleman, Rehart. ... Reharts had a ranch. She was related somehow to the Goodenoughs, they were up the Sespe. ... Mr. Rehart had made a camp out at the Alamo, at Alamo Creek. They had taken logs and roped off or fenced off an area. They had hauled out at one point an old wood stove that was collapsible. There was a little cave down the creek a ways, and we called the cache, because everything — you didn't have to take out utensils, because they had done that — everything was cached in that cave. Every year when we would go out, they would bring everything out. And then there was this spring in this fenced-in area that went into Alamo Creek. So we would take the horses and the mules; one day they would ride them from Fillmore out to Squaw Flat and spend the night. Then they would drive out with a truck with all the supplies. So we would load the animals there at Squaw Flat, and it take us another day to get to Alamo Creek. Nowadays you can come in from the other side on the main road. But anyway, it took us two days to get out there.
Was it something you did every year?
What else did you do, growing up in Fillmore? Did you swim in the pool? Did you swim at Swallows Nest?
We went to Swallows Nest.
Has it been washed out?
Yeah. Another place we used to swim was called the clay banks. Do you know where the Peytons' house is? The one down by the river? There were clay banks there. There were some eucalyptus trees. And there was a pool there, and they had ropes hanging from the trees and we would swing out and drop in the water. ... Lloyd Perkins used to have us come out, and we would go from his place over there.
Do you know anything about Wiley Lake?
Yes. We used to go up there and have parties up there. There was a tree house there, too, as I recall. ... It was accessible by vehicle. ... I don't even know which canyon it's up anymore. It was up somewhere behind Les Shiell's house, up in that area someplace.
We were talking earlier about businesses in town; can you think of other restaurants?
Oh, yes. The Sisters Café — the Bell sisters had at the Sisters Café. It was about ... where the post office is now. (Another was) Whitey's. You know those little buildings up on Sespe next to — on the corner of Sespe and Orchard was Mrs. Spinsky's. We used to eat our penny candy there. And next to that, up to where Dr. Nelson's house was, there were a couple of cement block buildings in there. Whitey's started out in one of those.
And then went where?
Down to where Kempo Karate.
And that eventually was Henry's?
Was the Twin Tanks there when you were growing up?
Do you have any idea what the Twin Tanks was before it was a restaurant?
Well originally that was a cracking plant there. I don't know what a cracking plant was, but I understood that the natural gas line — moisture would form, and the cracking plant was a place where they took the moisture out of the gas. But that's what was there originally.
So you think the tanks held fuel? Oil?
I don't know what it tanks were there for. But there was a cracking plant there at one time.
North Fillmore — were restaurants down there?
No. I asked my dad once — he used to refer to it as Tipperary ... because there was a dance hall down there called in Tipperary. We used to refer to north Fillmore as Tipperary.
Do you know anything about the dance hall that was in Bardsdale, somewhere close to the elementary school?
(Where did you go to church?)
Well, Mrs. Yeakle — that's something I wanted to ask you. In that book it says that Mrs. Yeakle's house was down where Aunt Rosie's house was. [... Rosie's house was on] Santa Clara Street, two doors up from Orchard [Street], on the north side of Santa Clara Street. ... Unfortunately the Basolos didn't go to church too often. And my grandfather on my mother's side didn't — that family didn't go to church much, either. So Mrs. Yeakle used to drive down and pick me up and take me to the Catholic Church for mass ... at First and Central. I used to go there every Thursday for catechism after school.
As you got older you stayed in Fillmore and worked here?
No. When I graduated from high school — I turned 17 on the 31st of March and graduated in June. So I had a year before I was drafted. So I went to Occidental for three semesters. And then when I was drafted I went into the service, and when I came back out of the service I went to UCLA, and from there I lived in Ventura.
What did you do there?
I worked for Bank of America.
Tell us about your experience in World War II.
I did my basic [training] at Camp Roberts. And I was in my third week of basic when the war ended in Japan. The story I tell is that I was on the rifle range, and when the Japanese found out my score on the rifle range — but anyway. And it just so happened that the battalion in which I was training — when we finished training, they all went to Japan [as] occupation troops. Our platoon sergeant was from San Fernando, and one summer he worked on the ranch. So when they all went to Japan, he kept me at Camp Roberts as an instructor. And we closed up Camp Roberts, and then they sent me to Fort Benning, Geo., and I spent the rest of my time at Fort Benning, Geo.
What have we not covered that you would like to tell us about? Who were the town characters? Anything about Sweetie Pie?
Sweetie Pie — they used to haul trees, and he would have a big pile of trees that he was waiting to dispose of. One day when Buck and I were hauling rubbish from the ranch up there, we went by those trees, we tossed the match in there. I thought he would have a fit when that thing took off.
Do you remember what his real name was?
No. All we knew was Sweetie Pie.
Was there anything that happened in Fillmore while you were living in Ventura that is memorable to you? What about the flooding in 1969 and the really bad floods that we've had over the years?
OK, '69, we lost — we had quite a bit of damage out at the ranch. There were a couple of dead cows in our orchard, and we had to push a lot of the dirt, silt, back out into the river. Of course the levee had been washed out. We had to put back in a levee. I told you about hauling the lemons over, and going across the swinging bridge-
And that was 1938.
'38, yeah. Oh, '69 — The Sespe didn't wash out in '69. The bridge didn't wash out, either, but it did go over the river. ... In '69, we had two 100-year storms within a month of one another. The first storm that hit filled up Piru. My dad said they had better let some of that water out, because if we have another storm, it's all going to come. Well, it did.
And it did a lot of damage down the river.
Right. As I remember in Ventura, it just wiped out the marina.
What about earthquakes?
I remember the '33 earthquake, the one in Compton. Then I remember, what was it, the '51 earthquake [sic; 1952] at Tehachapi. Because that night we were staying at my in-laws out on Muir Road. The house was so old that when we woke up, we thought the house had fallen down. Because the foundation gave way. But I remember the '33 earthquake was in the afternoon. And I remember — you know the bluff? You could see everything coming down off of the bluff.
Was it during school hours? Were you in school?
No, actually it was about 4 in the afternoon. Because I was in the living room, working on a jigsaw puzzle on a card table and my mother came flying through the kitchen and grabbed me. Outside we went. That's all I can remember.
Did Fillmore take much damage in that earthquake?
No, I don't think so.
Ed Burosn used to run cattle back in the forest. ... There was Squaw Flat, and then the next place was Bucksnort ... Well Ed Burosn had a cabin out at Bucksnort, and he ran cattle out there. We would go out occasionally and help him roundup. We would go all the way up to the hot springs, looking for cattle. [...] I think we only went up there a couple times. What they used to do is, all the people who ran cattle would get together for roundups. Like the Arundales. We would come across and help the Arundales, because Dad and Uncle Charlie were running cattle up here where the [Fillmore] "F" is, that piece of property. Gene Percy — I don't know if you know where Gene Percy's place is, way up — we would go up there and help them occasionally. Actually — this Texaco piece [of property] here went up to the dry lakes. Then there was a space, and then over — Toms Canyon was a branch off of Copper. And you went up Toms Canyon to get to Gene Percy's place. We also had cattle over in Toms Canyon. What we would do when we would roundup is we would go up Pole Creek and cut across above the falls, over into that first canyon and then go on over to Toms Canyon to gather the cattle in.
(Where were the cattle sold?)
Usually when we rounded up we had to drive all of those cattle back over to Pole Creek. We shipped out of the corral there at Pole Creek. When my dad bought cattle, they came in by railway, because there were corrals down here. By the ice house. The ice house was about where those sycamore trees are. [...] Along the railroad tracks, east of the depot. And then next to the ice house was the corrals. And they would load onto the train there. And the ice house — when we would go deer hunting, the deer that they shot, they would bring down and hang at the ice house.
(Did the ice house still make deliveries?)
You could buy the cube, the big box of ice there. ... I don't know whether they did [deliver] or not, because we didn't — When my folks first built that house in '28, they had an icebox. But by the time that I could remember, we had a refrigerator. I do remember Jack Casner had a livery stable over here, on Main Street. On the corner of Saratoga and Main, Jack Casner's house was there. Then next to him had been the old livery stable, which he turned into a garage. My dad had an old Model "T" pickup that had a canvas top, and he used to rent space there at the garage for his pickup so that it would be out of the rain when it rained.
(About learning to drive...)
I learned to drive going up between us and the Beresons on that road. That's where I learned to drive. I do remember Aunt Jolina — the Chip Shiell's family had a habit of riding their horses down that road and coming through the yard, and Aunt Jolina would just have a fit every time they came through.
When was the two-story house built on that property?
I don't know. Dad said that they came home from school one day and the house had burned down. Wherever the house was, I don't know. So Grandpa bought the materials, and the farmers put up the house. You could tell that the farmers put up the house because that one bedroom upstairs — the chimney went right up the middle of the room. You could walk all around the chimney.
How long did they live in the house?
Until it fell apart. ... I know it was built before they had indoor plumbing, because there was a bathroom in that house, and I never could figure out why you walked into the bathroom and here was the bath tub over here and over there a commode, and — what it was, was, they just turned a bedroom into a bathroom. One of the downstairs bedrooms, behind the kitchen off the service porch. From the kitchen, you went into where the stairs go up in the middle of the house, but there was a door that went on through to the bathroom.
Was there a water well?
Yes, there was a well, a windmill that pumped water, and the tank house, with the tank above — I asked my dad one day, I said: You know, Dad, what did you do for drinks? For beer? How did you keep your beer cold? He said what we did was, we would go over to Lagomarsino's saloon in Oxnard, and we would buy the beer — and the beer bottles they packed in sawdust in barrels — and he said we would haul that back and then we would keep it in the tank house because whenever the tank overflowed and the water came down over the tank house, it kept it cool in there.
Video courtesy of the Fillmore Historical Museum.