|Grant Park block in south Phoenix encompasses four specific sites that tell a story about women significant to the history of Phoenix's Mexican American community. This block is the core of one of Phoenix's oldest Mexican barrios (also referred to currently as "Grant Park"), originally subdivided in the late 1800s. Grant Park, created in the 1930s as part of a WPA construction project, functioned as an important site for Mexican American children's recreation. The recreation programs were led by a recreation director, Laura McClelland, who was well-known in the community for her time and compassion for the area children.
The Friendly House, located just south of the park, was established in 1922 and served for many years as a social services and employment organization for the community, and specifically reached out to fill the needs of local Mexican American women. Placida Garcia Smith led this institution from 1931 until the 1960s. She was a dynamic leader and highly involved in the community. Garcia Smith worked to help new immigrants find jobs and to become adjusted to their new community. She urged new arrivals to learn English and become citizens while also retaining their native customs.
The American Legion Post 41, established in 1946, is located just east of the park. The Post was established to create a social space for World War II veterans of Mexican descent, but served as a place to unite in the struggle for social justice issues such as desegregation. Women in the Auxiliary were highly involved in canvassing the neighborhoods to register voters for various bond issues which would improve the local barrios, and worked at the well-baby clinic which operated out of Post 41. Finally, an example of a small woman owned business, El Portal Restaurant, is directly south of the Post 41 building. Mercedes Zapien, a Mexican American woman, established El Portal in the 1945, and it still exists today as a popular restaurant and gathering place.
The Grant Park block reveals the stories of how women participated in and served the local Mexican American community. These women were involved in various aspects of building their community, through business, health care and a variety of social issues, along with meeting the needs of children. Friendly House is located on this block at 802 S. 1st Avenue.
For more information see the following:
Mary Ruth Titcomb, Americanization and Mexicans in the Southwest: A History of Phoenix's Friendly House, 1920-1983.
David Dean, Jean Reynolds, Phoenix Hispanic Historic Property Survey (Phoenix: Historic Preservation Office, 2007).
Placida Garcia Smith - Courtesy of Herb and Dorothy McLaughlin Collection, Arizona State University Libraries
American Legion Post #41 Auxiliary - Courtesy of Jean Reynolds