My Mother's Family

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Arnulfo M. Gonzalez

Arnulfo M. Gonzalez was born in Corpus Christi, Texas on March 31, 1908. He was forced to quite school at the age of 9. Today, we can only imagine the circumstances which would permit for Jose and Adela to allow their son to withdraw after the 3rd grade. But we do know that Arnulfo was a willing ally and wanted to assist in anyway he could.

Arnulfo’s duties were to stay close to his father and listen, learn, and obey. He was never able to return to his schooling but this did not impede his education. While working with his father, he gained knowledge of basic mathematics. Later, he taught himself to become a fluent reader by checking out books from the public library. He especially enjoyed reading books pertaining to business, history, real estate, and politics. He was proud of his Retama library card.

In the 1930’s the Great Depression hit Laredo hard. Young Arnulfo accumulated $50 and a few equally adventuresome buddies and set off for Corpus Christi in search of better business opportunities. With his $50 he was able to marginally capitalize his new business. Assets consisted of an old sewing machine, a bale of cotton, and several yards of fabric plus whatever cash was left  over.

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My great-grandfather’s store in Corpus Christi.

In today’s environment Arnulfo would have been called the Chief Operating Officer and his three buddies would all be Vice Presidents of Marketing. But in those days little attention was placed on such things. And, so without titles, Arnulfo would make the mattresses and his buddies would go knocking on doors in the surrounding small towns. This business became so profitable that Arnulfo was able to convince his family to move form Laredo to Corpus with him. This enterprise grew and became known as the “Gonzalez Mattress Factory.”

Arnulfo continued to pursue his business instincts. He decided to build a service station. Due to competitive gas wars certain persons refused to sell him gasoline. This forced him to drive to Laredo to purchase gasoline for his business. He would often encounter unfair and even bullying tactics form business competitors. A favorite tactic of his business rivals would be to pour water into his gasoline canisters while Arnulfo was parked off the road. His struggles were very troublesome but Arnulfo never gave up. When his service station became successful he gave it to his dad. The Gonzalez Petroleum Company became the family business for many years.

Wedding.jpgArnulfo M. Gonzalez and Catalina C. Cavazos

By the age of 30, Arnulfo was ready to start a family of his own. In November 1937, he married Catalina Cavazos at St. Augustine Church in Laredo, Texas. The reception was held at the beautiful ballroom in the Hamilton Hotel. The cost was a staggering $35.00. 

Arnulfo was fascinated with construction/structures. He had a great appetite for learning about carpentry, electricity, plumbing, and construction. In his busy schedule he still found time to study as much as possible in these areas. Popular Mechanics was his favorite reading material.

Arnulfo designed and built a home for his parents and siblings on 946 Lexington Ave in Corpus Christi. His parents and siblings moved into the house in 1938. Today, his sister Lela lives there with her husband Reynaldo.

Other businesses Arnulfo built, owned, and operated included a skating rink (the building that housed the stating rink later became the Avalon Theater named after the then popular cigarette brand), the Pan American Theater, the Buccaneer Drive In, and The Tower Drive In Theaters. The Avalon Movie Theater was often visited by many of Mexico’s famous stars such as Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete. Not so famous visitors included Lilia, Irene and Anna who performed the Brazilian samba at his theater. Business was prospering at the Avalon until one day the theater was destroyed by fire. Everything was gone including Lela’s pharmacy, which occupied a portion of the building. Arnulfo, suffered a severe financial loss because the theater was uninsured.

The Buccaneer Drive In was equipped with 300 sound speakers. There was always a double feature (featuring both English and Spanish language movies).  Business was doing fine until one day union organizers tried to dictate how Arnulfo should operate his business even though he had no affiliation with them. After his movie machines had been bombed and his family threatened, Arnulfo decided to move back to Laredo in the summer of 1955. He always suspected union organizers as being the culprits. The Buccaneer Theater continued to operate until a hurricane completely destroyed it.

momdrivein.jpgMy mother at our family’s drive-in in Laredo.

The Tower Drive, Arnulfo built was the first for Laredo. This theater had no speakers and people loved to set-up picnics while watching all the hit movies of the time. Catalina’s Aunt Tules, a spunky and witty lady (a.k.a. La Senora Matagatos), was assigned the position of business manager. The theater later closed down in 1961 due to the expansion of HWY. 281 from San Antonio through Arnulfo’s Laredo drive in on its way to Mexico.

Arnulfo acquired other real estate properties including a ranch near Saltillo, Mexico. Tragically, under Mexican Law, the ranch was seized by squatters following Arnulfo’s death. Business was the great paradox for Arnulfo. He loved it and yet it was probably a cause for his early demise. Business cycles and pressures brought on stress related to chest pains. At the age of 53, Arnulfo had a massive heart attack and died with discussing new and more exciting business opportunities at a coffee shop in Nuevo Laredo with other Laredo businessmen.

Today, Arnulfo and Catalina’s family has grown. Now included with the four children are four spouses, 13 grandchildren, with on more scheduled to arrive in July.

Family.jpg Catalina Gonzalez with children Rachel, Lilia, Arnulfo Jr., and Bertha 

 Catalina has continued Arnulfo’s legacy. At the age of 90, Catalina still owns and leases Arnulfo’s properties. As for Arnulfo, he is probably in heaven operating several businesses and developing and leasing apartments for new and incoming tenants while waiting for his family to join him. 

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