Frank Casillas is not just a 95-year-old man. He is a witness to the hidden history of Santa Monica, a city who’s culture he helped build and shape with his family and community. In this first video installment, Frank reveals his remarkable stories of growing up as a Mexican American in what is known as the Pico neighborhood of Santa Monica. He recalls his memories of serving in WWII, surviving the Great Depression, playing baseball, working in local farming and finding solace in books. Frank’s life is a great example of the remarkable and untapped history of culture of Santa Monica and Westside LA/s true culture bearers
Frank Casillas was born in Santa Monica, California in 1928. A year before The Great Depression.
He’s currently 95.
Frank’s father went North to Arizona in 1918 to escape the Mexican Revolution. While working on the railroad in the desert, Frank’s father and a friend decided to venture West one weekend. They returned to camp in Arizona with tales of a beautiful place by the sea that “looked like Acapulco.” The place: Santa Monica.
It’s hard to imagine today, but Frank reminisces of a time when right in the heart of Santa Monica was a Mexican Varrio.
“The Varrio was from 14th St. to 20th St., between Olympic Blvd. and Michigan,” Frank said. He remembers way back to farm-land and horses.
“We had this little old man in the Varrio,” Frank said. “He had two horses and a wagon. In those days Santa Monica had enough empty lots to where he could plant corn. And the people would honor his hard work; they would never steal his corn. When it was harvest time, we would fill his wagon and go up to Pico Boulevard where Santa Monica City College is now and catch the beach crowd coming home. They would stop and buy corn.”
“There’s no more empty lots in Santa Monica,” Frank said. The city came and erased the Varrio he grew up in. Frank’s childhood home sits directly under the 10 freeway at this very moment. This was before the infamous eminent domain decisions that displaced the Varrios of La Loma, Palo Verde and Bishop to build Dodger Stadium.
“The city of L.A.claimed eminent domain and took it over because they wanted to build the Santa Monica freeway. Goodbye Varrio,” Frank said.
Frank isn’t bitter about the freeway. He doesn’t remember much protesting or backlash. He says it seemed futile to make a fuss. The decision was made so he didn’t see much use getting worked up about it.
Today, Frank spends his days painting, reading and watching baseball. One of his early-life talents was baseball. He was a semi-pro baseball player and has maintained a deep love of the game. It’s easy to miss when he’s sitting, but when he stands, you can tell Frank was a big strong man.
One of his late-life talents has turned out to be painting. He picked up a paint brush after he retired and continues to produce great paintings to this day.
📸 & ✍🏼 by Rigo Bonilla @snaccmanjones