Newsletter Archive: March 2009 -FROM THE FROSTY KLONDIKE TO THE VALE OF TEMPE
IN THIS ISSUE:
-FROM THE FROSTY KLONDIKE TO THE VALE OF TEMPE
-MONDAYS: JAMN JAZZ PRODUCTIONS BLUE MOON SERIES AT MONTI’S BACK DOOR
-SOCIAL MEDIA: MONTI’S LA CASA VIEJA ON FACEBOOK
-MORE SOCIAL MEDIA: TWITTER @100SMILLAVENUE
**EASTER SUNDAY SPECIAL: APRIL 12th
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One of the great pleasures of operating my tradition-steeped establishment is that not a year passes without some bit of fascinating lore coming to the surface. These revelations may take the form of a document or artifact unearthed, or an old menu or curio brought in by a long-time customer, past employee or friend. Sometimes history comes strolling in on two legs.
My father Leonard–lover of history that he was–nonetheless was convinced that somehow through dint of will, exercise and vitamins, he would be around to tell his wealth of stories forever. Thus, he did not get around to transcribing the countless anecdotes that he compiled over the course of a remarkable life, not the least of which would have been the stories arising from his acquisition of La Casa Vieja in 1954. Consequently, I have been deviled for years by numerous gaps and lacunae in my understanding of the chain of proprietors of Tempe’s pioneer home and place of hospitality. Through a lucky series of events in the 1990s I have become acquainted with Lucille Payne, who operated this place from 1943 to 1947 with her late husband. On the other hand, my knowledge of the operators immediately prior to my father’s takeover has always been sketchy. I have only scattered clues: A bill of sale for restaurant equipment. An old one-page menu inviting customers to “visit our Alaska Room.” And an anecdote from my brother Konrad about a lease tenant so irascible that my father had to use a third-party “straw man” to buy out the liquor license, as they refused to sell it directly to him. But that was all.
Enter Mr. Vern Spicer.
Spring has a way of bringing out voices from the past, as when Commodore Neeb showed up to tell of painting the mural in the (now) waiting room in 1943. In this case, it was exactly one year ago this month that I received a letter from Vern Spicer of Tacoma, Washington. Vern had recently visited Arizona, and came to Monti’s with his wife to revisit the scene of his experiences of 1953, when he accompanied his parents to Tempe as they entered into partnership with Vern’s uncle and aunt, Fred and Ruth Brechan, as proprietors of the bar/restaurant known as “La Casa Vieja”. (As an aside, Vern enjoyed telling the server who waited on them during the 2008 visit that he and his wife were dining in what had been his parents’ bedroom.)
[And now a brief commercial interlude…]
MONDAYS: JAMN JAZZ PRODUCTIONS BLUE MOON SERIES AT MONTI’S BACK DOOR
Next Monday, March 23rd, is Improv Nite, with the Jeff Libman Trio leading the jam session. The cover at the door is $5 and the show begins at 5:30 p.m. More Jazz info is available at (480) 966-0182 or email jamn_az (at) yahoo.com
SOCIAL MEDIA: MONTI’S LA CASA VIEJA ON FACEBOOK
We have formed a group on Facebook. If you are on FB please search for “Monti’s La Casa Vieja” and join the group–then please share YOUR personal recollections, photos, videos or anything else that you wish
that has some nexus with the Old House.
MORE SOCIAL MEDIA: FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER @100SMILLAVENUE
…and I will follow you back. http://twitter.com/100SMillAvenue
EASTER SUNDAY SPECIAL: APRIL 12th — MAKE YOUR RESERVATION! (480) 967-7594
Surf & Turf Special
5 oz. Filet Mignon &
Broiled Filet of Salmon
Entrées served with our freshly baked roman bread and your choice of two sides. Only $24.95 plus tax
Full dinner menu served all day
Vern recounted how, arriving in May, he had been assigned to be the “yard boy.” Living on the premises, it was his duty to keep the grounds tidy. In a subsequent letter and then a couple of visits a few weeks ago, Vern told me about how he fried eggs on the black stone pavement of the patio that is now the Fountain Room. Vern also said that he often worked until one in the morning, then would ride his bike down to the Laird-Dines drug store and gaze in the window at a display of weather instruments, marveling that it was still one hundred degrees out. The business venture did not work out for Vern’s family, though: “we left Tempe in late Aug. and returned to the Pac. Northwest.”
On the other hand, Fred and Ruth persevered until 1954, when my father purchased the property. (Bear in mind that they leased the building from Nellie Covert, so my dad bought the real property from her.)
The Brechans held the lease and the liquor license at that time, and did not wish to leave. Now imagine my surprise and pleasure upon hearing from Vern that Ruth Brechan was still alive and lucid. In fact, thanks to Vern’s good offices I enjoyed a telephone call with Ruth last week, which I hope will be the first of many visits and chats with both of them.
Ruth, still feisty at 90–now I understand why as the irascible lessee she was so hard to dislodge in 1954!– told me that she and Fred had met and married in Alaska, where he was a construction supervisor building airfields for the Morrison Knudsen company. Ruth had owned bars in Nome. The couple came to Tempe because Fred’s parents were from here, Dr. Fred C. Brechan and his wife, Myrtle. Setting up shop at La Casa Vieja, Ruth ran the bar, because Fred’s expertise was in construction. The menu was Mexican-American, and they had music and dancing on the patio throughout each weekend. In 1952 Fred, builder that he was, enclosed what is now the bar at Monti’s, dubbing the new room the “Alaska Room” in homage to the couple’s origins. This was to supplement the original bar, which occupied the space in the Northeast corner of the building that we now call the Back Hayden Room.
Other interesting tidbits that came to light in this first chat with Ruth had to do with her father-in-law Dr. Brechan’s role as a pioneer physician in Tempe. (I did, by the way, run across this advertisment from The Arizona Republican, December 7, 1915: “FOR SALE FOR CASH — My well known thoroughbred driving mare. Inquire Dr. Fred C. BRECHAN. Tempe.”) Ruth asserted that Myrtle Street in Tempe was named for her mother-in-law, Dr. Brechan’s wife. The Brechans also apparently had land on which they kept cattle over near 8th Street. There was a home in the area, part of Tempe’s Historic Property Survey, known as the Page/Tomlinson/Brechan House. It remains for me to discover whether that property was owned by the same Brechan family as Ruth’s.
It is wonderful the way things can and frequently do come full circle. After all of these years, suddenly I know why there was an “Alaska Room”, and which one it was. Another incident was also explained. Last spring, I received a letter from the caregiver for a 90 year-old Navy veteran named Bob, who resided in a long-term care facility in Phoenix. Bob had been showing little desire to eat, but when asked what he wanted he kept saying that he craved a red chile burro from La Casa Vieja. This seemed odd, as Monti’s La Casa Vieja has always been a steakhouse since the 1950s when my dad bought it. In any case, though we do not serve Mexican Cuisine, we do have some people in the kitchen who know a thing or two about crafting red chile beef. So they whipped some up, and Eddie Goitia and I piled into the car and drove over to deliver the burro. In chatting with Bob, though his memories were hazy, it was apparent that he had been a customer in the time just before my dad took over. Now it is clear that it must have been red chile burros as served by Ruth and Fred that Bob craved.
So, thanks again to my new friends, Vern Spicer, his wife Linda–and his one-of-a-kind Aunt Ruth. We at Monti’s wish you all a Happy Easter. Please come and see us again soon.
(For more updates, variety, photos and intersting links see my BLOG: michaelmontiDOTwordpressDOTcom)
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PHYSICAL ADDRESS and ‘WORLD HEADQUARTERS’
Monti’s La Casa Vieja Restaurant & Catering
100 South Mill Avenue
Tempe AZ 85281