La Veinte (The Pool Hall)

Historical Essay

By Francisco FloresLanda and Edgar Morales

La Veinte (Twentieth St.) were a mixture of older and younger adult men and kids eighteen-and-over. The men ranged mostly from Spanish monolingual working stiffs to mono and bi-lingual street kids. Teens hung out at the pool hall but were not supposed to go in but they would sneak in or stand outside on the steps.
The Pool Hall
The pool hall was on Mission between 20th and 21st Streets, and across the street from Hunt’s Donuts on the corner of 20th and Mission, the coffee shop was well known beyond the Mission. A sign on the window boasted “Open 25 hours a day.”

The Billiards and Hunt’s served like a low-end social hub where people would come to socialize and to conduct illicit activities. Both locales are now closed victims to gentrification, globalization, immigration or social development and changing circumstances. These social spaces as hangouts finally disappeared when the Billiards and Hunt’s shut down around 1986. Those of La Veinte in contradistinction to other young Latino pachuco groups had not lost their Latino culture and language, like the 26th Street Boys, Lucky Alley, the 22nd Street Boys, Landers Street, Day St. and others. At the time salsa music wasn’t popular but it could be said that La Veinte were precursors in popularizing this style of music; Cumbia was the popular tropical music of the time.

The area around the intersection of 20th and Mission,in particular at Hunt’s Donuts and the Billiards, was known for drug dealing, where illegal and other lumpen activities took place; drugs such as heroin, speed and marijuana were dealt, but other drugs could be found as well; pills like—reds, yellows, and bennies; and acid (LSD). Heroin became more accessible when the small Mexican dealer began bringing dope from over the border. The prison and street gang did not have a role in the dealing at this time.

Prostitution was prominent in the area, mostly due to the large amount of addicts with their need for money and the many single occupancy room, piss-in-the-sink and fleabag hotels. The black market, the selling and buying of hot items, shoplifted, either burglarized from home or car break-ins, or stolen was a common activity. In addition, addicts would also bring their own personal items to sell in order to buy a fix.

Women walking by avoided the sidewalk in front of the pool hall, sometimes they would cross the street, because of the sexual harassment they had to endure when walking by. They would be subjected to all sorts of indignities, names, desires, descriptions of what would be done to them and the naming of their various body parts. (To their credit, not all guys would do this. I would be severely embarrassed when present while this was going on especially after my political consciousness had matured with the awareness of women’s oppression and also because of plain human decency.) Alcohol and drugs played a role, when these guys were high they loss respect for the public, they didn’t do this at home. Edgar explains, “One time El Chupa harassed this white girl, she walked by and ten minutes later her man comes with a gun and shoves it in my face, telling me that he had bothered his ol’ lady. I said, ‘Hey wait a minute, the other guy did that,’ Alejandro almost crapped on himself, so the boyfriend finally came down after defusing the situation.”

American Latina Unida—As previously explained, political consciousness was evident amongst Mission youth and young adults during these times as evidenced by EMUNYO’s activities, also this was displayed by the fact that many of La Veinte also formed a political group.
Men playing billiards, Juan Salcedo, owner, in background
The founder Aurelio Palacios called the group America Latina Despierta, Juan Ramirez a local businessman and a Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) official helped Aurelio organize the group. It seems that as soon as money was granted and the storefront set up Aurelio disappeared. Peewee became the elected president. I became the secretary. America Latina Unida never really got off the ground. We never had any formal meetings because the dysfunctional street lifestyle followed us into the organization. We rented a storefront at 932 Valencia for $500 dls a month. We installed a Ping-Pong table. We put up posters of Pancho Villa, Sandino and the United Farm Workers (UFW). The activities in the office degenerated to mostly a hangout where a lot of drinking and drugging took place. Pee Wee allowed sleeping at the office because many of our members were homeless or runaways. If some of the people did not sleep here, they would wind up at Dolores Park or sleeping in a car for the night. Somehow, some young female runaways from Pacifica wound up hanging around at the office. Three of them wound up marrying some of the members. The most serious incident happened when this Arab addict overdosed and died in the office. His body was dumped at Dolores Park. Eventually the organization disbanded.

The men of La Veinte divide in several directions; those that did well including many family men with honest jobs, the street survivors, those who went to prison, those who were deported, those who became addicted lingering on for years, or those who died or a combination of all these paths. This part of the story mostly is about 20th St, La Veinte, the lumpen people of the pool hall. The following list is incomplete and biased, filled with incomplete details; remember that people have positives and negatives and have their families, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.

Chepe Chumpa rumor has it was a thief and alcoholic he was one of the earliest person I know to be deported, El Mula (the Mule) was always a well-dressed person he was constantly at the pool hall how he survived is a mystery. Many men and women continue to live at home late into life without working supported by parents or mates, sometimes they find a niche where they manage to survive without being “productive members of society,” of course many among the rich do the same and no one faults them. Microbio (Microbe) was also deported. Francisco Marin was a handsome well dressed and outgoing. The first time I heard salsa music was in his rented room. He was a dishwasher, a burglar and shoplifter among his many endeavors. He used speed and he introduced us, from Folsom Park and from La Veinte-and-a-half to smoking marijuana. This fellow showed us how to shoplift; he went to county jail once I know of and was finally deported. Deportations usually were for undesirable, which usually happens for being continually convicted of crimes.

Chilote has a dark history of being a hope-to-die addict, a thief, and a deportee. He was a pretty scandalous type of addict with extreme behaviors, burning people, stealing at home and living by the motto, “beg, borrow, or steal.” He had a younger brother El Chilotito who I suppose he was a model for--scandalous. He was also finally deported. Godzilla is person who I just saw him around.
Carlos Tribilin—El Güero, two of the runaways at the America Latina Unida clubhouse
Tribilin (Spanish for the Walt Disney character Goofy) was a friendly person always in a good mood, he managed to keep his head above water and finally retired from the streets, he married one of the runaways previously referred to. Balmores Presa survived by dealing for a while he finally became a teacher. He became a teacher after he caught a case and settled down afterwards.

Nelson Rodriguez, one of Los Siete, had a serious altercation with Balmores; Nelson shot Balmores in an attempt to rob him. Nelson faced a murder charge for this incident. The charges were finally dropped. Francisco Flores, myself, became politicized and a lifelong activist, had an up and down lifestyle that includes addiction, raised a family, became a shipyard worker, worked at the post office and finally a teacher, is now on disability, continues to participate in the community and with his family. After joining the Committee to Defend Los Siete de la Raza I would drive by the pool hall and see the guys from La Veinte and feel so glad that I had become enlightened and got away from the life.

Juan Jovel made his presence at the pool hall fairly fast he was the person who introduced me to heroin soon after doing time he disappeared. Coco Liso, William Mendoza, another person who survived the fate of the others, he continues to live as a productive person. Currently he buys cars fixes them up and sells them. He married one of the runaways, it turned out that the runaways came from a successful well to do family. This is a common syndrome where young white runaways come to the ghetto, go native, stay for a while, and when they finally get tired of the life they simply go back to where they were from. Something the real ghetto people cannot do.

El Gigante I last saw in his shooting gallery and drug den. A shooting gallery is a place where intravenous drug users go to shoot up. The motivation of running a shooting gallery is that the “guests” kickdown, or compensates,the operator, in either cash or dope. This is a way Hep C and AIDS spreads around by using the dirty needles provided by the operator. Ricardo Cabrera lives at home and continues to drink. Carlos El Negro, close friend of Ricardo, is still around and drove a taxi for a while.

Guillermo Chacon died of alcoholic diabetes lived late in life at his mother’s home; he played baseball and usually had a job. They played baseball with a team called Los Indios del Boer; the name of the team reflected a people’s tradition of struggle against the team in Nicaragua named El General Cinco Estrellas. It was named in honor of General Anastasio Somoza, El Boer as commonly called was picked in protest of the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua. Aldo also played baseball with Guillermo, he got a job with Safeway settled down and moved to the ‘burbs. Rene Pelon was an addict who blew his cash settlement on heroin when he was hit by a truck and later died of diabetes and homeless. Henry el Filuliche, witnesses say, was shot on San Carlos at Sycamore Sts. as he ran from a drug deal gone wrong.

Francisco, another Goofy, went to jail rumors hold he abused a minor got out and settled down. Goofy has passed, he had a brother, Rito also a La Veinte person, he hung out with Roberto they were inseparable for years, Roberto now lives in the Tenderloin and looks like death warmed over, like walking death. Jimmy Allen and Flaco Allen were also regulars at the pool hall. One of them became and accomplish graphic artist, he recently came to the Bay Area from New York to do a gallery show. George AKA El Lagrimas (or Tears—called that because of the way he cries and whines over paying out for the hot goods he buys) a quiet older man who is a fence who buys hot jewelry and other valuables. He is still around walking up and down 24th Street plying his trade, a very quiet and discreet person. Pistolas (or Guns) was a name I could not get any information on and never knew. Another character around the pool hall was Barrabas, a Honduran, a quiet sort of guy, after re-appearing after an absence he told the story that he had been in jail for carrying a gun, he had brought it “just to show” he said, he got stopped by cops exactly that day. Real bright person.

Domingo Prado Leon or “El Gallinita,” (Little Chicken) RIP, native of Nicaragua and close friend of mine early on in Junior High and a La Veinte associate. I hung out with him quite a bit during our junior high days. As we became political in our high school years, our thoughts turned to politics and to organizing at Gompers High School, we thought that we would organize the high schools, me at Mission. His political awareness came from the fact that as a Nicaraguense, his country had been invaded by the US multiple times, his nationalism was ardent. His brother was in the FSLN in Nicaragua, a clandestine revolutionary political movement working for the overthrow of US supported and puppet the Somoza Dictatorship.

Observe how the world is linked, one thing in one place may affect something else far away. Domingo and I were the first ones to organize publicly in support of the FSLN in SF albeit only once. In 1970, we organized a film showing to raise money to conduct a “revolutionary” action. We planned to kidnap the Nicaraguan counsel in San Francisco. Besides the action being a blow to the Somoza dictatorship we were going to call for his brother’s release from Somoza’s prisons. This didn’t happen, my girlfriend Nilda thought it a crazy scheme, and she didn’t support me on this one. Domingo lacked the discipline and the ability to work in a collective fashion. He was very rough around the edges. Good thing for me and my future that things did not work out for that plan. With the money we raised, besides commandeering the funds, he bought a Jeep, a shotgun, and Army style clothing then he proceeded to ride around the Mission District with the Jeep full of Latino young dope fiends pretending to be and looking like they were guerrilleros—he assumed the Fidel Castro dress style, cap and all and smoking a cigar. There are many more escapades attributable to Gallinita; like, after getting a degree at SFSU, he set up a counseling office where he proceeded to deal heroin until the narcos shut him down.

Los-siete-w-charles-garry-and-fists 7101.jpg

Los Siete de la Raza with attorney Charles Garry

Within Twentieth the Daly City faction emerged, this sub crew was the womb of the seven of Los Siete, Los Siete were part of the Daly City boys. El Muerto Menjivar (name unknown), his brother Henry Menjivar, Oscar Rios, Aparicio, Nelson Rodriguez, Winky, Dennis Calderon were among the crew and the Los Siete proper were also part of the crew; Danilo “Bebe” Melendez, Jose “el Popo” Rios, Gary “Pinky” Lescallet, Gio Lopez the Martinez brother. Los Siete were Latino youths who were ‘falsely accused,’ and found innocent of killing a policeman they were politically supported by the Mission community because of the solidarity they were acquitted. Gary “el Pinky” Lescallet, Danilo “Bebe” Melendez, and Dennis Calderon were the fellows arrested, after Los Siete’s acquittal of murder charges when they foolishly went on to rob a liquor store. Dennis was shot during the attempt, not fatally.

The brothers Edwin, Cairo, and Ervin were regulars around the pool hall. Cairo or Cairo Sacasa Lacayo Alvarez claims they are related to Arnoldo Aleman Lacayo who was president of Nicaragua from January 1997 to January 2002. They also are related to Ernesto Lacayo and to comandante Antonio Lacayo who fought in the mountains against the Nicaraguan Government under the Somoza dictatorship until 1979 when the Sandinistas overthrew the dictatorship.Evidently, the La Veinte people come from all walks of life. Of course, each brother has his own trajectory. The oldest Edwin had a ‘regular family’ but later on ended up hanging around 18th and Mission where many lumpen street people could be found. He finally wound up homeless and died of an OD. Cairo is now living in SFs Tenderloin. Ervin was finally deported to Nicaragua and died over there.

Juan ‘Tarzan’ Mendoza, an early member of La Veinte was also president of the Black Knights, which he founded. Los Caballeros [or the Knights (sounds better in Spanish)] was also an attempt to form a formal “pachuco gang” at La Veinte. The gang had a name, used a uniform dress code etc. This group or ‘gang’ was a formal gang among some of La Veinte they must have existed in the late 50s to early 60s. They had a dress code, used the color purple, the traditional color of royalty to which the name alludes to, the knights of the middle ages. Supposedly, they had members with officers and all that. Tarzan was a boxer and a martial arts practitioner. He was always buff. He is one of the members of La Veinte who did well, became a Muni bus driver and had a family. He finally disappeared off the radar.

When I arrived at SF, my aunt told me stories of the gangs in SF’s Latino community. Supposedly there were many of them and by 1964 they didn’t exist anymore.

Juan Salcedo, he was the owner of Billiards and personally ran the place. He also owned several buildings, which he rented, he got sick and the pool hall closed.

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