There are some really good compilation CD's of 50's tunes, and The Golden Age of American Rock 'n' Roll series is excellent. This cut by The Montotones is on Volume 7 of their series, put out by Ace Records UK in '98. (2:18)
Early City Planners Saw Future in Scenic Drive
By Elizabeth Trevizo
A road that follows the rim of the Franklin Mountains, the lower tip of the majestic Rocky Mountains. A road that overlooks two countries, two states, two cities. A road that attracts the young and old, a tourist attraction and beloved site for natives, and all for $200,000? Impossible, you say? Today, yes. But city fathers in the 1920s saw the future and created this wonder — Scenic Drive — for generations to enjoy.
The magnificent Franklin Mountains and Scenic Drive, the road that leads to the most spectacular view of our city, have always fascinated El Pasoans. The Franklins are a unique feature of El Paso for their location in the middle of the city. In 1921, W. E. Stockwell wrote, "The city of El Paso, Texas, in growing from an adobe village in 1900, to a city of over 80,000 people, has spread around Mt. Franklin so that the point of the large mountain projects almost to the geographical center of the city."
No longer the geographical center of the city, the Franklins still divide El Paso into West and East sections. It is impossible not to notice the rugged crags of the Franklins whether one is flying in or out of the city or driving in any direction. But tourists and new residents must be guided to Scenic Drive. Eighty years later when the automobile has become our second home, this mountain road is still a popular place to visit, as it was as soon as it was built.
Once completed, the road became popular with the driving public. Historian W. H. Timmons notes that in the 1920's more El Paso citizens could afford automobiles to go to movie theaters and drive up to Scenic Drive on a "starry moonlit night." During construction, a brick wall was placed around the road to insure the safety of travelers. Scenic Drive attracted both natives and tourists. But the view was not entirely beautiful.
Travelers did not see the beautiful, stately homes that now line Rim Road as they drove to Scenic Drive. The area before the construction of Scenic Drive was known as Stormsville, and the city considered it a public health nuisance. D. Storms, a lawyer, owned a great deal of land along the rim where about 400 people lived in squalor.
Stormsville had no water, electricity, gas, phones or sewers and only four toilets for all residents. Stormsville was torn down in 1928 when plans for the new Rim Road development were made. No one entering this area today could believe such a neighborhood existed.
The paving of Scenic Drive occurred after it had been opened to the public. In 1932, the city contracted with J. C. Wright to grade and surface the road and over 4,000 tons of gravel were smoothed over the road. Some funds for paving came from a Reconstruction Finance Corporation grant and the project employed many El Pasoans out of work during the Depression. Hartman says it cost around $87,000 to pave Scenic Drive, making the total cost of building of the drive less than $200,000.
Many young couples still visit Scenic Point as part of a romantic date, just like their parents and grandparents did. And just like in 1933 when the paved road was opened, drivers experience traffic jams on the mountain road, especially on weekend evenings. Tourists and natives alike use the coin-operated telescopes to magnify a particular view as they gaze out over two countries and the sparkling night lights.
The narrow, winding road high above the city still terrifies new drivers while the views from Scenic Drive remain breathtaking, even in this jaded, technologically-oriented society. Not many cities have a mountain range right in the middle of their city. Still fewer have a spectacular drive around the rim of their mountains. El Paso has both.
For only $200,000 early city fathers successfully built one of El Paso's top tourist attractions. Hartman speculates that "if the pioneers who were responsible for Scenic Drive could stand at its apex on a clear evening, when millions of city lights shimmer in the distance, their hearts would skip a beat or two at the marvels spread before them." Who can argue with that?
The photo above clearly shows the delineation between the wealthy, who live along Rim Road at the top, and the great unwashed masses, who live below - in a hodgepodge of aparment houses of various sizes, countless duplexes, triplexes, etc., single family homes that range from modest two and three bedroom brick houses, to big two and three story places with large porches, dormers, and gables - all today in various stages of desperate renovation or terminal decay. El Paso High School stands prominently on the edge of this social, economic, and especially architectural, stew.
For a time our family lived about three blocks west (to the left) of the high school, in a red brick house on Florence Street. Summer days could include a hike up to the KROD TV tower on Mt. Franklin, or taking our collie Luke up to El Paso High to run through the rain jets watering the football field for a cool-off. There were snowcones at a little Mexican mom n' pop corner grocery, swimming at the indoor pool over at Cathedral High School, run by the Christian Brothers, and lizard hunting in the mesquite and brush in the vacant strip of desert that served as a natural barrier between the mansions along Rim Road and the commoners.
The excerpt below from Dirty Dealing by Gary Cartwright takes place on Christmas Eve, 1978, in Lee Chagra's new office suite on Mesa Street, just a couple of blocks from St. Pat's Cathedral. His staff had moved into the new offices while Lee was in Tucson trying his last case. We've edited here for brevity sake, but should note that the book is a fascinating read, with lots of background information on the government's miserable failure called the "War on Drugs," and its use of agents provocateurs to illegally obtain indictments, and convictions.
That old watch-me-carry-the-world smile was back on Lee's face this final morning, his first and last in the new office. He was bubbling over with tales of the previous day's Tucson victory: Donna [Lee's bookkeeper] hadn't seen him this happy in months. He came to town early and bought corsages for all the women on the staff. He was wearing his boots and jeans and enough jewelry to sink a deep-sea diver, and Donna knew there wouldn't be much work done today.
The office was a maelstrom of activity, none of it having anything to do with the practice of law. Friends, relatives, and people Donna had never seen before paraded through as though the place were a museum. The complex included not only a maze of well-appointed offices but also a fully equipped kitchen, a law library, and a completely furnished two-bedroom suite. Lee had never discussed with his staff the purpose of the apartment at the rear of the complex, but they knew the rumors. They knew, too, that he was having a regular evening affair with a stripper from the Lamplighter Club. Most afternoons as Donna and Sandy were crossing the parking lot after work, they saw her, and sometimes two or three other strippers from the Lamplighter, hurrying toward Lee's office. It was apparent from the manner in which the furniture was rearranged and toppled about that the orgies were quite vigorous. Still, few people believed that Lee would go so far as to leave Jo Annie and the children.
Donna made fresh coffee and explained the new telephone system to Lee. He sparkled like a kid with a new toy as he showed Donna and Sandy Messer where the various safes were concealed. They knew about the safe in the floor of the bathroom, but there were others - one beneath the carpet near the fireplace in the living room of the private suite, and another in the master bedroom.
As was his custom when he was in one of these expansive moods, Lee sat in his new office with his feet on the desk, telling war stories and handing out money. There was plenty of cocaine to guarantee the holiday mood; at least five ounces had been delivered a few days earlier. Lee gave Jack Stricklin $1,000 and passed out other amounts to other friends. During the morning a man they called the Cowboy appeared at the television camera mounted over the alley entranceway. Donna had never seen him before, but Lee buzzed him in and gave him $10,000; the others guessed that the Cowboy was a collector for some bookie.
Soon after noon the staff and hangers-on had finished the Christmas party and gone. Jo Annie telephoned her husband from the Sun Bowl at halftime, but Lee said he still had a pile of work on his desk.
Jo Annie telephoned one final time, from her mother's house on Rim Road. It must have been nearly 3:30 P.M. Again, Lee sounded as though he had something else on his mind. It was the way he sounded when he was counting money or totaling figures, an abstract business-first attitude.
"I've got to go," he told her. "There's a client buzzing at the door." Jo Annie tried to picture the man who had called that morning waiting outside the door.
Lee turned the channel-selector knob to the camera over the alley entrance. On the monitor he saw a tall, muscular black man in his early twenties. A second man stood behind him, out of camera range. "It's David Long," the first man said. An electric current unbolted the door. Lee left the money spread across the bed and closed the bedroom door behind him. He crossed the living room and closed the apartment door behind him. He walked to the top of the stairs and looked down at two black men and the guns in their hands. (cont'd below)
Lee Chagra's funeral was a microcosm of all the extremes in his life. The Most Rev. Sidney Metzger, bishop emeritus of El Paso, came out of retirement to say mass. The bishop was a folk hero in his own right, having led the long and bitter boycott against the Farah Manufacturing Company. While federal agents snapped photographs from the parking lot across the street, hundreds of mourners jammed and overflowed St. Patrick's Cathedral.
State Senator Tati Santiesteban, who had known Lee Chagra most of his life, led the procession of pallbearers. The district attorney, several district judges, and a former mayor stood elbow to elbow with Sailor Roberts, Amarillo Slim, and at least a dozen convicted dope dealers. There was no way to count the number of ex-lovers who crowded the cathedral to say a last farewell, but they were discreetly scattered and only occasionally exchanged glances. If Jo Annie was conscious of this, she moved among them without rancor, beautifully composed and self-possessed. Those near the front leaned forward to hear the final words she whispered in Lee's ear, but no one heard.
Lee Chagra's younger brother Jimmy was the first dope trafficker in the southwest to forego the mules, campers, and Cessnas, and started bringing in high-grade Colombian pot in ocean-going freighters and DC-6 cargo planes. The feds referred to him as a "kingpin" in the national drug trade. Richard Baron, a freelance writer/photographer now living in Santa Fe, was contacted by Jimmy Chagra when he was released from federal prison to do an "authorized" biography for print and film of Jimmy's life. It didn't work out quite the way it was supposed to. Below is an excerpt from a blog entry by Baron that tells the story, with a link for the full text.
From Where's the Money? The Saga of Jimmy Chagra and I by Richard Baron
Jimmy Chagra was three years older than I and he was a senior at El Paso High when I was a freshman. I remember once seeing him punch out a guy in the hall by the library, and another time I saw him beat the crap out of a skinny dude in a Burgess letter jacket in the parking lot of the YMCA. I gave a wide berth to most of the seniors but I tried to stay out of Jimmy Chagra’s sight altogether.
After I got out of high school and left El Paso, first for Austin and then New York City, I would hear gossip throughout the 70's that a lot of El Pasoans – I forget exactly who now – had involved themselves in the smuggling and distribution of contraband from Mexico. Everyone was doing it. When I would visit town I would run into old acquaintances who had turned into cosmic cowboys, bejewelled in turquoise, snakeskin boots and runny noses, and they would laugh as they told me that they were in the import business, nudge nudge wink wink, and Jimmy Chagra’s name often came up in this context, usually as the head honcho.
My parents lived in Mission Hills on Santa Anita just across the street from Jimmy Chagra’s parents and they would tell me how they would come home from dinner sometimes and find the whole street blocked off by the FBI doing a search of their neighbors’ home. My parent’s assured me that Jimmy Chagra’s mom and dad were the nicest people you would ever meet, and they didn’t want to know what was going on, it wasn’t any of their business.
Naturally I heard about the murder of Jimmy Chagra’s older brother Lee and later I heard about Jimmy Chagra being indicted for smuggling. I heard about the assassination of Judge Maximum John Wood, and how Jimmy Chagra was a person of interest, and I heard that he was given a lengthy sentence, if not for murder then at least for ongoing criminal activity.
When I first moved back to El Paso in the early 80's, I remember reading Gary Cartwright’s book Dirty Dealing and I remember being fascinated by transcripts published in a now-defunct local magazine of embarrassing, wire-tapped conversations held in Jimmy Chagra’s new Leavenworth headquarters.
After that Jimmy Chagra kind of receded from mind as people in the pen tend to do, although occasionally his name would pop up like other famous Pachucos – Debbie Reynolds, Gene Rodenberry, The Night Stalker – but he certainly commanded less and less attention as the years rolled on.
On the left is attorney Joe Chagra (obituary below), with Oscar Goodman, an attorney who led the defense of Joe's brother Jimmy (right) as they leave a courthouse in Florida, after Jimmy was acquitted in one of his several court appearances. Goodman is today Mayor of Las Vegas, Nevada. Jimmy died last July, after serving 25 years in the pen, and living out the last years of life in a trailer court in Mesa, Arizona in the federal witness protection program. Note in the photo the vial with something white inside in Joe's hand. I wonder what that is.
Joseph Chagra, 50, Lawyer Linked to Assassination, Dies The New York Times Dec. 15, 1996 Lawrence Van Gelder
Joseph Chagra, a Texas lawyer who admitted his complicity in the first assassination of a Federal judge in more than a century, died last Sunday in Thomason Hospital in El Paso. He was 50.
His son, Joseph Jr., said Mr. Chagra's death was caused by injuries from an automobile accident on Dec. 6 that also killed two passengers.
Mr. Chagra returned to El Paso in 1988 from a Federal prison in Stafford, Ariz., where he had served six and a half years of a 10-year sentence for conspiracy.
Mr. Chagra was a pivotal figure in a dramatic 1979 murder case, and his testimony helped convict Charles Voyde Harrelson, the father of the actor Woody Harrelson, of killing Judge John H. Wood Jr., an enemy of drug traffickers.
''I asked him if he was the one who murdered Judge Wood, and he said he was,'' Mr. Chagra testified in a San Antonio Federal Court.
On the morning of May 29, 1979, Judge Wood, 63, was slain in the driveway of his town house in San Antonio, struck in the back by a bullet from a high-powered rifle. The assassination came at the height of a Justice Department campaign to slow the flow of illicit drugs across the Mexican border.
Almost immediately, investigators turned to Mr. Chagra's plush law offices. Mr. Chagra was one of three sons of a Lebanese rug merchant who had emigrated from Mexico to El Paso. The three had risen from an unremarkable middle-class upbringing to live among El Paso's wealthiest residents.
Less than a year before Judge Wood was slain, Lee Chagra, Joseph's older brother, who had defended numerous narcotics suspects in Judge Wood's court, was killed in his office by armed robbers.
Just after Judge Wood was killed, Joseph Chagra, then 31, said the slaying was the worst thing that could have happened to his other brother, Jamiel, 32, who was known as Jimmy. Jimmy Chagra, who was facing numerous narcotics charges, would become a suspect in the killing.
The Chagras said they were convinced that Judge Wood, who was scheduled to preside over Jimmy's case, had a bias against them. Judge Wood denied any impropriety and refused to remove himself from the case. Jimmy's trial was scheduled to begin on the day the judge died.
By September 1982, five suspects were under indictment: Joseph and Jimmy Chagra; Jimmy's wife, Elizabeth, and Mr. Harrelson and his wife, Jo Ann. Jimmy Chagra was granted a separate trial.
Joseph Chagra accepted a plea bargain. He agreed to testify against Mr. Harrelson and pleaded guilty to conspiracy in return for a 10-year prison sentence and relief from having to testify against Jimmy. The prosecutors alleged that Jimmy, who was serving a 30-year term as a drug trafficker, had paid Mr. Harrelson $250,000 to kill the judge.
Mr. Chagra testified not only that Mr. Harrelson had told him he had killed Judge Wood, but also that his brother had suggested killing the judge and had identified Mr. Harrelson as the man he paid to do so.
On Dec. 14, 1982, a Federal jury in San Antonio found Mr. Harrelson guilty of conspiracy to murder, murder and conspiracy to obstruct justice. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Mrs. Chagra was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Jo Ann Harrelson was found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice.
At a subsequent trial, held in Florida because of the publicity in Texas, Jimmy Chagra was acquitted of murder and conspiracy to commit murder but convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice and conspiracy to possess more than half a ton of marijuana with intent to sell. Joseph Chagra did not testify.
In addition to his son and brother, Mr. Chagra is survived by his mother, Josephine, and two sisters, Samantha and Patsy. All but Jimmy live in El Paso.