QUESTION : My question is in regards to the old, falling down wood buildings next to the Sonora Gold Motel on Stockton Road. I believe it was an old saw shop. For as long as I can remember, they have been vacant and have continued on a path to decay. Are there ever going to be plans for cleaning it up? It seems like a dangerous situation just waiting to happen.
ANSWER : Tom’s Saw Shop was a blip on the timeline of history of those nearly 100-year-old buildings, and by the end of this week they will be no more.
The family has hired a contractor to tear down what’s left of their ancestral home that was once the popular restaurant El Paso, where generations of Sonorans gathered to feast on Lucy Casillas Sedillo’s famed enchiladas and to dance to Mexican and Western tunes on the jukebox.
The first building on that site was moved there from Jamestown by Albino Casillas in the early 1920s. He ran the El Paso store and gas station and soon after built a house with a large kitchen, living room and two bedrooms for his growing family. He and his wife, Pomposa, raised seven children there. One of them was Lucy Casillo.
Lucy bought the store in the 1940s and added a bigger restaurant with a long dark wood bar to the front. Linda Betti, Lucy’s granddaughter, remembers it as a lively place, a fun place. Her grandmother spoke English and Spanish and offered to translate for the city of Sonora when needed. She learned Italian because of the number of Italians living here.
“She knew so many people and they knew her,” Betti said.
They raised pigs, chickens, lambs and cows for food, and every meal was served with soup.
Betti said her parents met at El Paso while her father was in town on assignment for PG&E.
Once they married, they moved to the Bay Area, where Betti was raised
When Stockton Road was widened, the gas station and restaurant addition were torn down, and then Lucy became afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis and could no longer work, Betti said.
The space was rented to a series of businesses, including Tom’s Saw Shop. The rentals and an estate locked for years in probate took a toll, eventually ending with a building with peeling red paint, drooping lumber, boarded doors. County officials deemed it unsafe and ordered its demolition.
Betti said Monday she feels overwhelmed with sadness at what has happened to her homeplace where she spent many summers with her grandmother. Once her parents married, they moved to the Bay Area, but those buildings that were never actually finished always felt like her touchstone.
Mike McConnell Construction workers are expected on the property Tuesday to set up equipment, Betti said. Demolition began Tuesday morning.
Asked if she was going to watch, Betti said, “Oh gosh, it still brings tears to my eyes. Yeah, I guess so.”
She’s not certain what she’ll do with the quarter-acre of land. Representatives of the Sonora Gold Lodge next door have approached her many times about buying it.
Her grandmother talked about putting a McDonald’s there.
But what Betti thinks about is not what’s next but what was. The times Lucy and Tude and Dolores and Leno and the rest of the dozens of family members gathered around the two huge picnic tables in the restaurant kitchen for family gatherings.
As the jukebox hummed and beer flowed in the main restaurant, the family Betti describes as “a very loving Mexican family” gathered amidst the smell of beef and onions simmering for enchiladas, the recipe for which Betti says proudly she retains.
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