It is late Monday afternoon, Christmas Eve 1945. We are standing on the southeast corner of Main and Forrest streets, in front of Crown Grocery, planning to begin a one-block walk from Forrest to Constitution Street.
The temperature is in the 60s. The sky is overcast. There has been occasional light rain. Tomorrow will have a high of 71 and a little sun. Children will go outdoors to try out their new bicycles and other toys. Many Victorians will worship on this holiday and thank God that World War II has ended.
There’s a feeling of optimism in the air this Christmas. The war is over. Our boys are coming home. It is a time for peace.
As we stand on the corner, preparing to begin our walk, people are scurrying about. There is last-minute Christmas shopping, gift-wrapping, turkey and ham to cook. Things to do.
A small group of uniformed soldiers passes us by. One is sure that the soldiers are idling their time before heading to one home or another, where they have been invited to a Christmas Eve family dinner.
Crown Grocery is on the corner, boxes of fruit displayed in their shipping cases, leaning against the front wall next to a newspaper stand. One of the young men who’ve just passed us stops and drops a nickel into the slot and takes out a copy of the Victoria Advocate. The headline reads, “YANKS SANTA TO EUROPEAN TOTS, 3 Million GIs Still Overseas”.
Victoria Pharmacy is next door to Crown, and beyond that, Bill Barnes Credit Jeweler. Several of the soldiers that passed us earlier are studying the jewelry displays. A Christmas necklace or earrings for a pretty Victoria girl? Or, perhaps an engagement ring?
Frenchie’s Beauty Shop is next. Peeking in, we see a late afternoon customer in the final stages of her permanent wave, her head buried under what seems a torture machine: clamps covering her head, wires extending from the clamps to a console with complicated-looking dials and electrical switches.
Moving rapidly past Frenchie’s, we find F. W. Woolworth’s in the center of the block. One can buy almost anything at Woolworth’s, from penny candy to needles and threads to cosmetics. One can even grab a sandwich at the lunch counter.
Next door to Woolworth’s, we find Jack’s No. 2, a five-and-dime. Jack’s No. 1, on the Main Street block between Constitution and Santa Rosa, isn’t known by that name. It’s simply called Jack’s.
At last we come to A & S Levy Department Store, an imposing three-story masonry building. A & S Levy’s has been at this location since the 19th century.
And, here at the intersection of Main and Constitution, we end our walk. Standing on the corner this late afternoon, looking cater-cornered at the 5-story Victoria National Bank building, we know that later this evening, church bells will ring throughout Victoria, calling the faithful to Christmas Eve services. All faiths are thankful this holiday season that it is a time of peace.
Christmas in Victoria. Vanished? No, of course not. Only 1945 is gone, and the businesses on the block we just walked are different. It seems appropriate this 2019 Holiday Season for us to look back to a time when the Second World War had just ended. The spirit of peace, faith and patriotism of that long-ago Christmas is still part of Victoria.
Merry Christmas, Victoria!
Special thanks to the UHV/VC Regional History Center for assistance with this column.