The good old days on 25th Street were good and deadly

Dec 15 2012 - 10:47pm

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I did my Christmas shopping on Ogden's 25th Street -- Green the World has 100 percent BPA-safe "Made in USA" toys! -- thinking "What a cool street. I should bring my granddaughter down here."

When I got home, I decided to sort a pile of old negatives in my darkroom and came across this scene, which shows a very different 25th Street.

It was 1979. I had bought an old Speed Graphic press camera and was shooting the picturesque dives on Two Bit Street, with which the street then was rife.

El Borracho, kitty-corner from the Marion Hotel, was a dive's dive, a bar with a bad reputation. I was focusing when a guy and some women smiled and said "Hey, take our picture!"

So I did.

I scanned the negative and put it on Facebook where several former cop friends said "Good thing you didn't go in the bar."

For good reason. They knew customers of El Borracho had a tendency to end up dead.

Former Sheriff's Deputy Art Haney said El Borracho, which closed in the 1990s, was the scene of regular gunfights. "There were bullet holes in the wall," he said.

"One night I come around the corner and I see these two guys are fighting, and I pull up and get out of the car. This guy pulls out a gun and he's going to shoot the other guy. I had my flashlight, and I hit him with my flashlight and down he went. I jumped on him and took the gun away.

Doug Lucero, who joined the Ogden force in the mid-1980s, said his training included a standing order to never, ever, go into El Borracho (Spanish for "The Drunk") alone.

"And when you do, you watch your back, because they were not afraid to stab a cop."

Being in the bar was weird, he said. "You'd be like a teen in a biker bar. It's like, 'Wow, I'm scared to death -- and I've got a gun!' "

Despite the risk of sudden demise, the place was popular. Why?

Great food.

"A Mrs. Gallegos used to cook there and I'll tell you what, there was not a better cook of chili verde in the whole world," Art said. "Me and Steve Turner (another officer) used to go down there and have chili verde."

John Valdez walked a beat on 25th Street in the early 1970s. He said the area was not completely undisciplined.

"There was a certain code of conduct. You knew what to do and what not to do, and how far to go and how far not to go.

"The biggest thing, I think, would be insulting someone. You knew, as a cop, that if you treated them with a certain amount of respect, some empathy and well being, they'd treat you OK."

What's interesting is that, while I'd never take my granddaughter to the 25th Street of 33 years ago, everyone I talked to missed it.

Cindy Simone, who runs the Kokomo Lounge across the street, was almost wistful about the many good times.

"We used to stand out front of our building and shoot bottle rockets, and if you hit the light pole (there is one on the corner by what was El Borracho's front door) just right, they would bounce into the bar, and they'd come out with their guns in the air."

Guns in the air?

Enjoy the memories, Cindy. I, for one, am glad that's all they are.

The Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. He can be reached at 801-625-4232, or ctrentelman@standard.net. He also blogs at www.standard.net.

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