Tacos, Tools, and Old Bones
But no pot brownies
Yesterday was the grand opening of the new Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture in my hometown, Riverside. We live literally up the street from this wondrous place and so we did what people in our neighborhood do: we walked downtown to check it out, and in the process, salivated nearly every step of the way.
Our walk takes us past hundred-plus year old houses. Some have gingerbread trim. Others have timbering. Some are tall and stately. Others are salt-box squat. All are my favorite, the patinaed palette of history.
Some of our walks take us past the old cemetery where the original owners of our house, Archie and Anna Coffin, now reside. Sometimes we stop to say hello, but today we’re headed in a different direction.
We exchange greetings with the old woman in a sundress on her porch, sprinkler arcing toward us on the sidewalk. Each time we take a step, a purple jacaranda blossom or fallen palm tree fruit squishes beneath our shoes.
Our walk takes us past Taco Station, gas station-turned-restaurant enclosed by a half-wall of topiaries.
One might think that a neighborhood could support only one taco shop but just up the street is the famous Tio’s Tacos, known as much for its folksy recycled-object art as it is for its food.
Artist Martin Sanchez has crafted a place unlike any other I’ve ever seen. Wander the grounds and marvel at the two-story-tall figures made up of wire and found objects, or the beer bottle chapel, the Aeromexico jetliner, the space shuttle capsule, every square inch covered in art. Art beneath your feet. Art above your head.
We’ve eaten at both of these places regularly, especially during the pandemic when eating outdoors has become the norm and both have great patios. But we didn’t stop at either today. We wanted to get to where the action was.
But of course by then we were hungry. So we went to yet another taco place downtown, Retro Taco, where I got a Mango Cart and the Pink Floyd—aka salmon tacos. Not your typical tacos! Decked out in 1970s-1980s pop culture references and music, it’s my era. But that’s not why we love it there.
Once, a lifetime ago, it was part of my husband’s family.
His maternal grandmother was Clara Franzen, daughter of Christian Anton Friedrich Franzen, an immigrant from Hanover, Lower Saxony, Germany. His family emigrated to the United States in 1872, when he was two. They settled in Santa Ana, and later moved to Riverside to found Franzen Hardware.
At its heyday, Franzen Hardware spanned 3730-3760 Main Street, now occupied by The Lobby, Retro Taco, and the Imperial Hardware Lofts, which we lovingly call the Franzen Hardware Lofts.
After a devastating fire, the hardware store was sold to a business partner, R.H. Westbrook, and it gained an art deco facade. Later it was again sold and it became Imperial Hardware.
Now, whenever we go to Retro Taco, I look around at the bones of the place, try to see the ghost of what was there before.
Back to The Cheech:
It’s completely transformed. Though I can still see the outline of the old library, it’s an apparition.
I think about what Marion might have thought about this new iteration of that old structure. She used to say how people felt the original Carnegie library was outdated, ugly, and that the “new” library was better suited to modern purposes. But then, that grew old too, and again, people wanted to knock it down and build something new.
Marion would say, a hundred years from now, historians will have an appreciation for that architecture, even if we don’t right now. Like we now lament the demise of the original “outdated” Carnegie library.
The present is forever sandwiched in-between what was and what will be; we’re on a conveyor belt: in the same place, but elsewhere.
Now we’ve got the best of all possible worlds: a modern new library up the street, and a world-class museum filled with groundbreaking art. And we eat tacos with my husband’s ancestors.
All within walking distance of my house.