Editor’s note: Portions of the following article were published in the Victoria Advocate on Dec. 20, 2015.
In this article, we are asked to imagine ourselves standing on a street corner in Victoria on a winter day 75 years ago. It is the day before Christmas in 1945, a day when all the world had reason to hope that there would be, truly, peace on earth.
Our street corner is Main and Constitution in Victoria. It is late afternoon on Christmas Eve. We are about to take a one-block walk, from Constitution to Santa Rosa.
The temperature is in the 60s. The sky is overcast. There has been occasional light rain. Tomorrow, Christmas Day, is forecast to have a high of 71. Children will go outdoors to try out their new bicycles and other toys. Many Victorians will worship on this holiday and thank God once again that World War II has ended.
There’s an almost palpable feeling of optimism in the air this Christmas. The war is over. Our boys are coming home. It is a time for peace. Things are going to be a lot better.
People are scurrying about as we stand on the corner this cool, late, fall afternoon. There is last-minute Christmas shopping, gift-wrapping, turkey, and ham to cook. Things to do.
Several uniformed airmen are strolling along the street, while others are lounging in DeLeon Plaza. One is sure that many of the soldiers idling about are biding their time before heading to one home or another, where they have been invited to a Christmas Eve family dinner. Perhaps more than just a few of the handsome, clean-cut young men will escort a young lady from one of those households to a Christmas Eve worship service.
Bianchi’s Drug Store is on the corner behind us, but we won’t go in for an ice cream soda this cool day. Across Constitution there is a three-story department store, and across Main Street, the Victoria National Bank’s lobby can be seen through glass doors. The tree inside is splendid and many have come to town just to gaze on the well-decorated tree.
We turn towards Santa Rosa and begin our walk. The Manhattan Café is next door, and we know it’s a great place for lunch, dinner, or maybe just a cup of coffee and a piece of pie. The Manhattan is where everything happens. The Rotary Club meets there, the Mayor and other town dignitaries often have their morning coffee there, and if one wants to know anything at all about what’s going on in Victoria, a short visit to the Manhattan will fill him in.
Across Main Street is Victoria’s Candy Kitchen. One can smell from all the way across the street the fresh hot taffy being kneaded and made ready for sale.
Farther down the block is Kruger’s Drug Store. More than one 12-year-old boy has saved his nickels and bought his first girlfriend a 15-cent ice cream soda at Kruger’s.
We find ourselves passing Victoria Dress Shop. The display of gloved mannequins are dressed nicely in winter woolens and velvets, with hats perched cunningly on their heads.
This block of South Main Street is home to two five-and-dime stores. Jack’s Five-and-Dime and Duke and Ayres 5-10 Cent Store. You can buy a Big Chief writing tablet at either for a nickel, and No. 2 pencils for another nickel. In both, a few of the counters are at eye level for a 6 year old, where one can gaze at various toys and perhaps new yellow and green packages of crayons. The boxes of eight crayons are 10 cents. There are larger packages, but they cost more.
And last we come to the Victoria Bank and Trust building, on the corner of Main and Santa Rosa. The bank is a 1940 white, art-deco design, five-story building.
The lobby, visible through the double glass doors, is filled with a magnificent 20- to 25-foot-tall Christmas tree, decorated with lights and ornaments and tinsel, each strand of tinsel placed just so.
Standing on the corner, looking around, we know that later this Christmas Eve one can hear the bells of St. Mary’s and other churches throughout Victoria.
All faiths are thankful this Christmas 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 2020 holiday season for us to look back to a Christmas Eve when there appeared to be no war anywhere in the world. The spirit of faith, patriotism and Christmas felt that long-ago day is still part of Victoria.
Merry Christmas, Victoria.
Special thanks to Marie Adcock, UHV/VC Regional History Center.