We are delighted to introduce you to Mary Cardona as part of our “Neighbor of the Month” series-an effort started in 2013 to highlight Elysian Valley residents and stakeholders. It is our sincere hope that doing so contributes in some fashion to better know one another, build, grow and appreciate the make-up of our community. The NW thanks Mary Cardona for her contribution to EV. If you missed our earlier recognitions (Robert Garcia, Frank & Lucy, Raul Martinez, Bob Berg, Pauline Pritchett, Ronald Muir, Susan Campos, Mrs. Lau Wong Svi Ching, Tracy Stone & Allen Anderson and Carl Dickerson), we invite you to visit the EVNW website.
Mary Cardona was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1928. Her father was from Palermo Sicily and her mother from St. Louis Missouri. Mary married in 1947 to Emanuel, her husband of 46 years, an American of Mexican descent. She has lived in Elysian Valley since 1952 in the same house she purchased that year on Dorris Pl. They moved Labor Day weekend from Ave. 26 and North Figueroa St., across the LA River. At the time, they were raising their first daughter Annette, then only 4 years young. Benita, their second daughter, was born in Elysian Valley in 1955.
Her husband was employed by Stationers Corp. in downtown LA and she at the LADWP on North Main St. where she earned $207 per month as a Clerk-Typist. The initial magnet bringing them to EV was their desire to be near their “compadres” Jose and Isabel Maldonado, who resided on Forney St. and were Godparents to daughter Annette.
Mary recalls a conversation with Mr. Hildebrandt (her elderly next door neighbor) where he made known that at one time “this whole valley was a strawberry farm tended by Japanese farmers living in her and his house”.
She recalls a diverse ethnic make-up back in 1952 and describes the area as a “middleman’s Beverly Hills”. “It was quiet and really nice”. While at first not entirely sold on living in Elysian Valley, Mary soon came to appreciate the convenience of a short commute to and from work for both her and her husband. She was also won over by her husband’s unwavering love for the area and overall good neighbors. Mary retired from LAWDP in 1985 after 34 years.
When asked what services she recalls being in Elysian Valley, Mary remembers a red-brick building on Riverside Dr. and Newell St. that housed the Elysian Valley library and a “well baby clinic” that she took her daughter to. This was displaced in favor of the 5FWY with the promise to replace it, which is “something they never did” says Mary. Councilmember Arthur K. Snyder was the local politician at the time.
Dr. Matson on Riverside Dr. was her personal physician. She remembers him making house calls and tending to her daughters at home. His office was located just across the street from the library. The “exterminator” building on Riverside Dr. and Knox was a pharmacy/drugstore and gift shop. She too recalls “a little coffee shop right next to Dr. Matson.” There was a Mexican Deli on Riverside Dr. and Glover St.
Mary is a woman of Catholic faith. She remembers seeing the original St. Ann’s Parish building still standing on Blake and Dorris Pl. She served at St. Ann’s for at least 30 years, playing the organ, as a lector, alter aid, cook and wherever else needed. She refers to God as the “Great Designer”.
Both her kids attended Dorris Place Elementary School, which extended then to Elysian Park. They went on to graduate from Marshall High. Annette went to City College and Benita to USC-earning her degree in Fine Arts. Annette went on to land a role as a dancer alongside John Travolta in the movie Grease.
Mary recalls Chavez Ravine (modern day Dodger Stadium site) as something out of a story book. “It was a little heaven, simply beautiful”. Before concrete was put to the River, there were frogs and before rezoning Elysian Valley, every single building was one story, says Mary.
Mary remembers the frogs of Elysian Valley and misses them. She loves frogs and blames the cementing of the River bed bottom for their demise. There was never a bug in the house when the frogs were prominent, says Mary. She is bothered that Elysian Valley is referred to as “Frogtown” because there are no frogs. “I would love to see the frogs back”, says Mary.
Mary continues to enjoy the many advantages of living in Elysian Valley. It is centrally located, safe and above all filled with good neighbors. “Good neighbors are important”, says Mary. She has every one of her immediate neighbors’ phone numbers. “They came over and offered me their phone numbers”, says Mary. “I don’t think I’m as good as they are, but I want to be remembered as a good neighbor”.