Conversation September 10, 1999
With Bob and John Corbett
Virginia came to Dogtown with her family as an 11 year old girl in 1934. Their home near Chouteau and Vanderventer was taken by the city in order to build what is now Hwy. 40. Virginia reports that people had little protection from government at that time and the city announced a quite low price to her father and there was little they could do.
Shortly after arriving her father purchased the house at the corner of West Park and Graham, which was one of the original Graham Ave. houses and only had three rooms. Mr. Eggleston added on to the house. When he finished he gave the house a West Park address rather than a Graham address, though it had a Graham address until that time.
Virginia reminded us that when she came to Dogtown most of the streets were still brick. The main arteries like Clayton and Tamm were paved, but many of the side streets were brick. This prompted my brother and I to recall that it was all the way into the 1980s until Nashville and Victoria were paved. Nashville was a special case for us, living on Tamm, since when it rained we often saw cars sliding down Nashville to Tamm, trying to stop on the slippery brick. The brick streets are no surprise when one realizes this entire are once had as its major industry the making of bricks from clay mined right in the heart of Dogtown.
Virginia and her brothers went to Dewey School and graduated from there. Her own daughter went to St. James in the 1950s. Virginia began working as a pre-teen at Kies Bakery on the corner of Tamm and West Park when she first arrived. She recalled with delight the beautiful and aromatic pasteries, cakes and bread that filled the store on Sunday mornings when many people came up from mass at St. James to buy bakery goods.
We also talked of the green houses and plant business of the Visso family who lived just across the street at 6317 West Park. They had green houses in the back yard, and Virginia recalled watching him take off from his property with a horse and wagon filled with plants and flowers for market. My brother, John, also had memories of the green houses as late as the late 1950s, but his memories were a bit more rude, him remember kids pranks with rocks aimed at the green houses! My own brother!
West Park not only had Kies Bakery and Visso's green houses, but the very active and busy fruit and vegetable shop on the corner run by Joe Shamitaro. Virginia's introduction of that topic brought many memories back to all three of us. John and I can recall Joe always teasing our mother. Mom was a country girl from Arkansas and he all ways called her "hoosier." No matter what, Virginia insisted that he always had the best in fruit and vegetables, and the crazy unkempt nature of the store, Joe's loud, abrasive and teasing manner lent a lot of fun and color to that corner of Dogtown. It also drew most of the neighborhood to shop.
Another neighborhood store which came in for strong mention was Bill Haley's Ice Cream Parlor on Tamm, just one door northwest of the corner of West Park and Tamm. When I remembered that Bill's place doubled as a betting place, with Bill taking bets in the back booth, John and I were surprised to hear from Virginia that just across the street, Joe Shamitaro also had a bit of a bookie shop going on the side. I guess before the days of the state-run gambling of the lottery tickets, Dogtowners found other ways to answer that dream of a few quick bucks that comes from one lucky guess.
When Virginia was walking to Dewey School in those days of the mid-1930s, she was able to watch the building of the house along the west side of Tamm Ave. between Clayton and Berthold. Until that time that land had been undeveloped.
Along the way we were about to discuss some of the effects of World War II on Dogtown, but that conversation got sidetracked. However, I was struck by the central memory that first came to Virginia's mind: Dogtown lost a lot of men in the war. That's a story we might take up another time.
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