Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sunset Acres was home

      Back to our early days in the United States and in Shreveport ...
      We left off a couple of months ago with our move to the Sunset Acres neighborhood on the Fourth of July, 1957. After 1 1/2 years in the Line Avenue area, one of the oldest parts in town, we were going to the suburbs, in southwest Shreveport.
        It was, other than the move to the U.S. from Holland as 1955 turned to '56, the most significant move of my early life. I never regretted it. I was unsure of it then, but not for long. I'm certainly not now.
       I loved that neighborhood.
       I'm not alone. If you look on Facebook, and see the "Sunset Acres Elementary Alumni" and "Sunset Acres Neighborhood" pages, you'll see I have lots of company.
       Ask me where I'm from, and I could answer Holland, or Amsterdam, or Shreveport, or some of the other places we've lived, and right now I will say Fort Worth. But what I really like to say is, I'm from Sunset Acres. I was a Sunset Acres kid. Proud of it.
        It is what I consider "home."
       It is probably going to take me several blog pieces to write all I want about Sunset Acres. Might be more than you want. Bear with me.
       We lived there a little more than 10 years, 1957 to 1967, ages 10 to 20 for me. Formative years. Fun years. Great fun.
        That house, painted green on the outside, at 2921 Amhurst (later changed to Amherst), was the first house my parents owned, which was remarkable because we'd only been in the U.S. for a short time.
       Obviously, the price wasn't too high -- my dad was not one to live above his means -- and I suspect the Gilbert family and Mrs. Cahn -- whom I've written about previously -- helped us afford it.
       In my life -- 65 years -- I've never lived in one house longer than those 10 years.
      The house wasn't much -- living room, kitchen, one not-so-large bathroom, parents' bedroom, two smaller kids bedrooms, narrow hallway, no central air/heating -- two space heaters, two window air conditioning units. It was a big help when my dad, through work contacts, got a den/television room added on behind the carport and kitchen a couple of years later.
        An air conditioning repairman as one next-door neighbor, the fabulous C.J. Hamaker, and his new wife, the mother of two kids about my age, Glen and Nancy Gordon). Soon, Randy Hamaker was born.
          On the other side, the Gwins -- railroad engineer Howard, Lou and the girls, Sherry and Debbie, both just younger than my sister Elsa. For the next 50 years, Lou Gwin would be as close a friend as my mother would ever have.

This is not our Snowball, but you get
 the idea of what he looked like
when we got him as a puppy.
           For the first time ever, we had a yard -- and a dog. Two yards, front and back. Unfenced in the back at first. But as soon as we added Snowball, the feisty Spitz who would generate great adventures and great love for the next 14 years or so, a fence went up in the back. Occasionally, it would keep Snowball locked in.
           He was a helluva digger and hell-raiser. Got his tail run over and broke a back leg the first month we had him. Lost his tail, but the leg -- put in a cast -- mended. He didn't lose any speed. When he got out, it was work to catch him and haul him back. Only happened hundreds of times.
           When we came to Sunset Acres, it was almost new. The trees were young and small; urban sprawl hadn't really hit. There weren't many strip malls, if any. A few stores here and there. A new Pak-A-Sak close by (it would become 7-11).
           We were the second family to live in our house, but most people living in Sunset Acres homes were the original occupants.
            It was a distinctly middle-class, working-class neighborhood. Few families with a lot of money here; not a great deal of poverty, either. Not many lawyers or doctors or city leaders; those were across town. Conservative, Democractic and, yes, even redneck. Some folks were still fighting the Civil War.
           My great friend, Casey Baker, says the neighborhood was developed starting in about 1950-51, mostly for GIs, the returning World War II veterans who could afford to buy the homes under the GI Bill. The Bakers were among the first families in Sunset Acres, on Bowie Street, one block from Mansfield Road.
            The heart of the community was Sunset Acres Elementary School, located almost in the center of the neighborhood, at the corner of West Canal and Sunnybrook. The school year we arrived was the school's fourth. Casey and his buddies were there when it opened, our second-grade year (1954-55).
            When I first got to know the Bakers, they lived on "the other side of the canal." The canal. Other than the school -- and later the brand-new Oak Terrace Junior High just a few blocks away -- nothing was more distinctive than the canal which ran north-south right through the middle of Sunset Acres.
            You either lived "on this side of the canal" or "the other side of the canal." And, believe me, you knew where most of the kids in Sunset Acres lived, if not the exact house, at least the vicinity. You knew all the streets; you traveled those streets by bike or on foot. Many, many times.              
         The canal ran parallel to and between -- surprise -- West Canal Street, where the elementary school was located, and Canal Street. It was really a concrete ditch and, while we called it a canal, it never had much water in it. What water it had was great breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
          It was tough to get into the canal because the banks were steep, and the area between it and the backyard fences was overgrown with bushes and brambles. You could get quite scratched up playing around it.
         But you'd see kids playing in there. I didn't have much desire -- or the guts -- to do that. (However, there's a story there. I'll get to it soon.)
         The canal, though, split the neighborhood only geographically. Not in spirit. You made friends, no matter where they lived. And the friendships lasted; looking at my Facebook friends today, I counted 26 with Sunset Acres ties (and there's probably more). I like that.


  1. From Pam Reid Summerlin: Nico, did you count me among your Sunset Acres friends? I started there in 4th grade, Miss Carter's T-building - a transfer from Creswell Elementary in Byrd territory! My address was 6618 Burke Street, a corner house on the "new" side of Sunset Acres. I think it cost $11,000 new.

  2. From Pat Booras, Shreveport: Sunset Acres Elementary School. My mom, Katina Manitzas Booras, taught 5th grade there for many years. I went to and enjoyed 1st and 2nd grade there. My brother Bobby was a grade in front of me.

  3. From Glen Gordon: So many wonderful memories from that great neighborhood, Nico and you and your family are part of them. Love your blog!

  4. From Beverly C. Porche: Loved your writing about Sunset Acres. We residents on the other side of the railroad tracks -- that being Cedar Grove -- have wonderful memories of growing up in the '50s -- and some of the things you wrote about could mirror our neighborhoods and memories. Keep writing!

  5. From Jimmie Cox: Outstanding job of putting our feelings and memories of life in Sunset Acres. I moved to Marquette Street in 1952. I moved away in 1966 when I went into the USAF, never to return to S'port. Returned often to see parents and neighbors. GREAT TIMES!! Keep up your outstanding writing, as always.

  6. From Brenda Boyette Laird: Thank you so much for writing about Sunset Acres. My sisters and I talk all the time about what a wonderful childhood we had growing up in Sunset Acres. I don't think my mother ever wondered about us; she knew we would come home when it was time to eat. Thank you again.

  7. We moved to the little house on Amhurst when I was in the second grade. My memories aren't as clear as Nico's, but life was good and the friends were great. We played hard and Brenda is right about our long as I made it home for dinner, we got along just fine.

    I don't remember exactly when I met Nico, Jimmie, Brenda, Beverly, Wayne & Delane, David, Dale, Casey, Harvey......and many more, but it doesn't seem like 55+ years ago.
    Rick Harrelson

  8. Charlotte McDearmont PenningtonSeptember 28, 2012 at 2:55 PM

    From Charlotte McDearmont Pennington. I also want to thank you for sharing your memories of Sunset Acres. We lived on Parkridge and my parents raised 4 kids there. Sunset Acres and the the neighborhood schools produced many productive citizens. Something was right about that community. Enjoyed the walk down memory lane.

  9. We moved to Sunset Acres in 1954 when I started the 4th grade at Sunset Acres Elementary School. My teacher that year was Mrs. Kennedy. She lived right across the street from the school. Nico, your next door neighbor, Glen Gordon, was in several of my classes; and we graduated from Woodlawn together in the class of 1963.

    My family lived at 3007 Sunnybrook for 13 years until 1967 which was my senior year in college. My parents moved away for a short time to Sulphur Springs, TX but later moved back to Shreveport where they remained the rest of their lives. While I never lived in Shreveport after I went away to college, I will always consider that house on Sunnybrook as my home.

    When I was 13 I got a paper route. My route started at Hollywood and Hearne and extended to Lancaster and Wagner along the fringes of Sunset Acres. This meant that I traversed half of Sunset Acres twice a day on my bicycle at all hours of the day and night. I often threw routes for other paperboys if they were going to be away on vacation or gone for the weekend. I knew every inch of that neighborhood.

    In those days, Shreveport had 2 daily papers. The Times was the morning and Sunday paper and the Journal was the evening paper. I had both routes (rain or shine). I learned more about business throwing and managing those paper routes than I ever learned in graduate business school. And, I learned what it meant to accept responsibility.

    After high school I was awarded a scholarship and went away to college at then Northeast Louisiana State College (now ULM). I graduated from pharmacy school and graduate school from Northeast.

    While in pharmacy school I worked at McKellar's Sunset Drug, working for a wonderful mentor, Malcolm McKellar. Needless to say, I knew a lot more about the residents of Sunset Acres since I filled their prescriptions!

    The memories I have of Sunset Acres are still in good repair, and in far better shape that some of the houses there. But, it was a wonderful neighborhood in which to grow up.

    Lawrence Robinson