Brabo Oral History: Tony and Mary Brabo in the 1930s

A Homestead Headlines Article by Chuck Oldenburg

September, 2011

Tony and Mary Brabo - 2006

Tony and Mary Brabo – 2006

In 1930, after living in the farmhouse for several months with her parents, Mary and Tony Brabo sought privacy. They rented a small house built by Joaquin Silva at 260 La Verne. Tony paid the first month’s rent, $20. When the second month’s rent came due, Tony could not afford it, so they moved back in with her parents.

In 1924, Mary had quit school in the eighth grade. She took on odd jobs here and there to earn a little money. Later on she got a full time job at the Mason Distillery in Sausalito where she screwed caps on bottles of medicinal alcohol. She deposited her pay checks in the bank and withdrew very little money. When she married Tony in 1929 she had a little nest egg. Tony also had saved most of his earnings from over 3 years of milking cows on dairy ranches in Tennessee Valley.

In 1931, Mary gave birth to a daughter named Loretta. In 1932, Tony had a local contractor build a house for them on an adjacent lot that Mary’s father gave them. Tony paid cash for the house, and Mary’s nest egg paid for the furnishings.

During the great depression of the 1930s, Tony and Mary had a baby and not much cash. Tony took on odd jobs and worked for the WPA on road widening projects. The farm provided milk, butter, cheese, eggs, chicken, vegetables and potatoes. Tony hunted deer, and went to the coast for fishing at Slide Ranch. Dinner often consisted of vegetable soup, at times supplemented with game, fresh fish, or chicken.

They emphasize in their oral history that “they lived off the land.” They bought very little food, although sometimes they had dried Alaskan cod from the packing plant on West Shore Road in Belvedere. Fish and potatoes made a great dinner. They often provided food to friends and relatives in need during these tough times.

One day while his father-in-law was away, Tony wired the farmhouse for electricity. His father-in-law was furious when he learned that Tony had spent $35 on such nonsense. He calmed down after Tony plugged in a radio, and a few lamps.

In the late 1930s, Tony bought a tiny concrete business. The assets were a concrete mixer, two wheelbarrows and four shovels. One of his first jobs was to pour the foundation for the Martinez house at 223 La Verne. His business grew. Ten years later it would become a large and very successful business.

[On July 27, 2011, Tony died at home—he was 99 years old. He is survived by his wife Mary, 100 years old, and their daughter Loretta George of Corte Madera.]


If you have comments or questions about this article or other topics
pertaining to the history of Homestead Valley,
please feel free to e-mail Chuck Oldenburg.