by Anne Petersen
This week we recorded an oral history with Presidio descendant Juan “Jack” Santiago Calderon. His daughter, Suzi Calderon Bellman, whose friendly face we have gotten used to seeing at the Presidio Research Center, also attended. Mary Louise Days, board member and co-chair of the Research Center Committee, conducted the interview in the Pico Adobe at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park, where Jack’s grandmother, Lucretia de Jesus Pico lived in the early twentieth century. Jack is descended from some of the earliest families to settle the Presidio of Santa Barbara, including the Corderos, Romeros, Cotas and Valenzuelas. He is also a registered member of the Coastal Band of Chumash Indians.
Although Jack spent his early childhood in Los Angeles, he moved to Santa Barbara when he was still young, and spent a lot of time at his grandmother’s house at 1010 Garden Street. Jack shared memories of running through the Presidio neighborhood with his boyhood friends, visiting the Chinese-run Kim’s market at the corner of Santa Barbara and Canon Perdido Streets, scampering through the lobby of the downtown Post Office at Canon Perdido and Anacapa streets, and lifting the occasional steaming pie from a local windowsill. Jack also shared darker memories of discrimination in mid-twentieth century Santa Barbara. One particularly disturbing incident occurred when Jack returned from a heroic service to his country during the Korean War, and was asked to leave the Arlington Theater during a film because of the color of his skin. He refused.
Jack shared the story of his life while surrounded by family photographs, records, and genealogy charts compiled by Suzi, who has been building on the genealogical research begun by her mother, Delphine Quevedo Calderon. It is an honor to be present when someone chooses to share their life story, and a privilege to be given permission to archive that story so that others can learn from and be inspired by it. We extend our most heartfelt thanks to the Calderon family for this experience.
If you are interested in learning more about the Presidio Research Center Oral History Project, please contact Anne Petersen at (805) 966-5073.
Anne Petersen is the Associate Director for Historical Resources at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation.