Old North Front Street in Belize City, prior to Hurricane Hattie in 1961
I recognize the building for the night club called the Pub, the front portion I worked for my Uncle Ray Fuller (Building Society) and the fire station.
Remember the fire station,b e c, between the two small houses the walkway I think used to be called coconut wharf or Walk, next to travellers rum. They used to ship copra from the warehouse behind Parham & Alamilla, who were ship agents for the Dutch Line.
Walking down North Front Street back in the day
by Michelle Rivana Buckley
It is with great nostalgia to write about walking North Front Street in an eastern direction. Crossing the Belize Swing Bridge was a must and itís was the best location in town to see your friends, family who lived on either the south or north side of the city. Crossing the bridge to get to various landmark in the 50s- 80s was fun. It was always exciting crossing the bridge on the right side then making a sharp right onto North Front Street which lands you in front of the Fire Station. The old Fire Station was beautiful in itís own way. The building had curved zinc roof and the wall concrete structure was painted white with dark blue trimmings of beams of wood. You could not miss seeing those huge red fire engines parked beneath ithe structure. As a kid it was exciting to even stop and touched them. I would remember stopping with my parents to see my motherís brother who at that time was in service at the Fire Station as a fireman. I could still see him in his blue uniform, blue shirt with dark blue or sometimes black pants and shiny bald head shoes the soles so thick it made skid marks at times. The station was well kept and once in a while after school was released at three in the afternoon you would see the firemen shining the fire trucks and sweeping the station. The front of the station was always opened during the day and late evening. Passing by the firemen would acknowledge you by taking their time to wish you a good morning or good evening.
Come 7am there was always a fireman at the station and best believe if the bridge was swinging for the large boats to pass during rush hour (early morning) it meant you had to wait on the North side before you could cross to the South side or vice versa for work, school, or shopping. This meant you got to go stand and wait in front of the fire station or across the way at Paslow Building which housed the post office on the first floor. For a kid standing in front of the station was exciting and an adventure in itself. If your mommy or pappy was chit chatting with the fireman you simply got to walk around the station. Onlookers were always standing around watching the bridge swing or complaining that it was taking too long and that they would be late. I truly believe many of us was happy that the bridge would be swinging. The schools nearby understood and so did most businesses. As a passersby once in a while a drunk or stray dog would be waiting or sleeping in front of the post office or at the foot of the bridge making daylight in the hot Belizean sun early morning. Interestingly Iíve learned that one of our reader Daniel Gabourel Sr. uncle Joel Gabourel was a Fire Chief back in then. These positions were prestigious for our local communities especially during Colonial governing. At one point I could recall a police hut in the Fort George area. It was a small hut near or on the Memorial Park grounds. I could be wrong.
Next to the fire station was a two storey concrete building in the early 70s the upstairs was a nightclub/bar. To access it you had to go up the stairs. The room was very dark and there were booths that had vinyl padded built in benches. Neon lights grace the room. I had snuck up the stairs out of curiosity one evening after leaving the library. I was a curious kid and always would go wandering to look inside a building. Next to it was two small wooden houses where the fishermen would be sitting chilling on the four flight of stairs that was in front of each house. Later one of the house was destroyed and all that remain was the foundation. There parked in the back were the beautiful locally made sailing boats and I remember Mr. Robateau having his huge tug boat anchored and tied behind there. The sailboats all lined up you could skip from one to another without falling into the river.
Next to the small wooden house was an alley that lead to one of the most popular places in the 80s the nightclub called The Pub. It was a gold mine for us as it had a lounge and a dance floor plus can you Belize it? A balcony that hung over the river. The Pub was the in place and you would see the youngsters of affluent Belizeans in there. You know The Whoís of whoís meaning the high society children. I wonít indulge much about it as I will be writing about the Belizean night life at another time. In the front of the building was the Building Society owned by Raymond Fuller. The Pub building was two stories with black trimmings and painted white. In the early 50s-70s I have no knowledge if it was a business or was someone private home. Going pass it you came to a warehouse looking blue building Iím not sure if it was part of the Sugar Mill that was a lot away or not. I remember the building being blue and the front never opened. It was protected by a chain link fence on either side. On the right side was the gas station not sure if it was Esso or Shell and the one room tiny wooden snack shop that sold the best bread pudding and potato pound (red sweet potato grated and baked with ginger, coconut milk, condensed milk and butter). The elderly gentleman always serious and having his butcher knife on the counter near him. He was grumpy on the weekends if too crowded from
the matinee or events held at the Fort. His shop was opposite Majestic Alley and in front of the yard for the old sugar mill. Many of you probably donít know this but he used to make cheese sandwiches from white bread and his own meat pies. My dad and my brother Ashley was one of his loyal customers. Many of the fishermen and laborers at the sugar mill were his customers.
Opposite the gas station was the Eden Theater. This theater as I remember had an upper level and the lower level was slanted in a downward direction. Walking into the theater you were greeted at the entrance a counter where you would purchase your ticket and your snacks. I remember them selling Valencia Ideal (ice pop), plantain chips, and soda. Upon entering the area where the screen was on each side of the ginormous white screen was two tall pharaoh golden statutes. It was the first time I saw a black statue and Iím not kidding! It was the first place I saw my first Disney cartoon movie Robin Hood not from a ViewMaster Slide but an actual screen. You know the one that has the characters as animals. The Eden was also the first place as a teenager I saw the movie Carrie with my two older sisters. I remember being scared and not being able to go to sleep that night. More than likely I probably crawled into my sister bunk. Those were memorable moments for me and of course you know the theater was the meeting place for young people to see their girlfriend or boyfriend. Years later it went out of business which was really sad.
Before I forget next to the post office was a public office building and then our and my favorite gem in the city our mustard color wooden two storey library. The place of all place to be for a young mind like me was at the Belize Public Library. Inside on the first floor was shelves lined with the books gathered from across the globe or as I thought back then as kid age 7 the land where all the history of Rome and Italy could be found. Our library had a great collection and it was readily available to those of us who attended Holy Redeemer School, St. Mary School, and St. Catherineís Academy. It was also a place you could go ask for help with your homework once in a while. You had to have a library card and get it stamped every time you checked out a book. I believe the cards were different colors for different reason. Nothing was electronic back then. The librarian would stamp and type up your date on the old typewriter in the back. The lady that worked their was very strict if you dropped a book in the dead of silence the look she gave you made you understood that you were disturbing the peace. Going past the library were several homes and a businesses.
Before the pink house was a two storey building that housed upstairs a real estate company. I will never forget meeting the great Emory King a foreigner that was an adopted Belizean son of our nation. He was wearing his white Bahamian hat with a cigar in his mouth coming down the stairs of the building. The balcony was wrought iron and the stairs was on the side. Here comes Mr. King smiling and stop to compliment me. He was really a cheerful person. The downstairs on the first floor I remember having huge windows and a metal garage type door type that protected the window. It was while passing underneath the building balcony that I met Johnny Canto who I believe worked in the office. I have to mentioned Johnny because he was a wonderful party person and a cheery soul. If he was born during the era of the Spaniards or British coming to Belize Iím pretty sure they would have fell in love with his personality and taken him back to Europe to represent our local people. He was the type of individual that upon their entrance you know everyone will be happy and smiling. His energy was full of life like so many other Belizean I knew. Tommy Searle Jr., Jerry and Michael Singh, Kimano Barrow, Lionel Welch and many more. I think pretty much most of Belizean society folks knew Johnny. My friends and I have partied with the great Canto and laughed with him so many times at local events. In the early 80s if you went to Lumber Yard on the Northern Highway you would have seen him there. Yes he would stand at the front of the business of his employer smiling with folks and just being friendly.
The building that stood out for me was the three story faded pink wooden house that was next to the pastel green Chinese restaurant that was next to Eden Theater. That house was withered and the pink paint being chipped. I was always fascinated to see a house with two flights of stairs on the front of it with its wooden verandas with no rail on first floor. To me that was a huge home and I guess what drew me in was the family that lived there. Often visible were teenagers on the veranda. It was not a fancy house looking at the exterior but it had character.
Next to the faded pink wooden house was the Chinese restaurant. Besides Chong Sang Restaurant on Euphrates Avenue this mom and pop restaurant sold the best Chow Mein and Lo Mein. It was a regular treat for us before heading into the theater. Who could forget their vanilla ice cream cones? So velvety soft and to a kid watching the machine swirl those vanilla or chocolate swirls made your mouth water. The table were covered with plastic plaid table cloth and to each table was 4 wooden chairs. The husband and wife was very kind and friendly. Their son as years went by attended St. Johnís College-and he dated my friend/classmate Raquel August. He would walk her at school events while riding his bicycle. According to Mr. Nick Pollard back in the day next to the Real Estate office was the three storey Palace Hotel.
He also remembered in the same area The Militia Hall on the way to the Fort/ Customs on the left and not far from Fort George Hotel. The Volunteer Guard Band used to practise there, the Colonial Government held dances at the hall. His parents would attended these dances. Also housed there were Volunteer Guards from the districts. It must have been the happening and happiest place during that era.
Going past the theater you would pass Majestic Alley. This alley was interesting because it was the short cut to take to Queen Street, the Majestic Theater and taxi stand. All I know was you would not want to be caught walking thru the alley at night time. It was considered a rough area of the city. The alley was red dirt road often dusty. The coolest thing weíre the families that lived alongside it. I remember one yard having a mango tree in it and it hung over the fence. Going past the alley I believe was another private home which was opposite St. Maryís School. You could not miss the school. The school was situated on Gabourel Lane. The entrance to its main building was grand. Itís stairwell was built like an upside down ďYĒ. Stairs on both sides then met in the middle made from concrete that lead to the great hall. At midday you could hear the church bell
Ring. The main building for the school was next to it. Itís structured had high vaulted ceilings and the front gate of the school entrance was tiny. As we all can laugh some of the kids that attended there were the best fighters or as we say in Belizean language ďfight-a-some.Ē If you were kicked out of Holy Redeemer School, your next school would be St. Ignacius and if it didnít work out your best bet would be St. Maryís as these were the popular elementary and middle school for the wealthy folks. At this four way junction the street that was on St Maryís side led you to the old shoe store in the early 70s, to the Education Department office. I once had to go the department to obtain my CXC (Caribbean Examination Council) and RSA (Royal Society of Arts) Exams certification. The office was in a two story upstairs house with a veranda. Further down Gabourel Lane was the US Embassy with its court yard having a shelter where you would sit and wait for your confirmation of visas granted to go a foreign. The building was very well secured with one of our local security company Wakenhut if you can remember. Yay! I remember them. Mrs Janice Eleanor Savory working there. Always helpful and smiling with such warmth. She was a loyal employee and worked there for many years. Yes it was also the place where your nerves would be racking waiting with anticipation and nervousness to see if you would get your visa. I believe rarely did the Consulate General got cursed out. As you know some of us Belizeans we fire a word or two at times. To date the embassy is now located in the capital Belmopan.
On Gabourel Lane was the office for one of merchant ship. It wasnít too far from the Education Dept. This was where the local staff that were hired by the ships had their payroll office as I recall. My dad was one of their employee and on payday we would go with him there to collect his paycheck and as a reward stop for treats along the way. Maybe a Saturday matinee at Eden or a trip to Valencia Ice Cream Parlour.
Walking a little further up on Gabourel Lane you would be at the very grand old concrete City Prison. Yes itís walls was so high not even the Maklala aka lizards would scaled the walls. It was always quiet and eerie in the area. A resident of the area had mentioned in her comments that she used to play with the other neighborhood kids in front of it. How cool was that! The old prison like St. Catherineís Academy faced the back of the sea and along the back the sea wall went as far up to the old Belize City Hospital.
North Front Street met two other side Street the one that was in front of St. Maryís and the other was next to the building that was I believe the old water department next to the sugar mill. It was an elaborate white building with blue trimmings. For some reason it seems that a lot of the government building were painted white with a light blue trimmings of beams to represent the government (People United Party aka PUP) that was in power at the time. The street next to the water dept lead you to the sea. Across the street was Hofius (major shopping store) and I believe an office for the Belize Estate Company. This branch for Hofius
was where you could purchase agricultural machinery and motor boats engine for your boats. Sort a like Pep Boys only for boats. They sold mechanical parts for John Deer tractors and often around Christmas time in their window they would showcase the latest Yamaha boat machine with the different horse powers. Yes, you could not help
but look in a window shop. It was a favorite place for our brother to go purchase his fishing line and rod and reel. You could always heard his excitement upon his return telling our dad about the latest outboard machine and what he saw. I guess Tim the Tool guy would have loved it. Along the way of the wharf in that area was pretty much empty until you came to the Customs Department.
Going a little further on North Front Street you came to another YĒ junction that lead you to the Memorial Park on the left and on the right to the Baron Bliss Lighthouse and the British Maritime building which hosted their landing crafts. Going pass the maritime building you would see the wooden Belize Customs Building near the wharf. Docked to the wharf were huge private yachts and tugBoats. Some of those boats had wrapped around rails. In the center was private homes. The main one at the center was a very ornate guest house. Itís colonial style gracing the neighborhood. This was where the wealthy descendants of the British Colony lived. The homes were massive and the yards were big. If heading to the right you would go past several homes and joila you landed at Fort Point area. In this area was the public park well maintained. For the kids there were no swings but beautiful carved animals made from
Concrete. There was a blue hippopotamus, lion and fish. The metal rail that surrounded the park was painted bright red and yellow. It was a few steps away was Baron Bliss )One of Belizeís greatest benefactor) grave and the Lighthouse. The grave was near the wharf and on any given day when the tide was low and the weather calm you could see the huge moss green rocks in the sea. Someone fishing from the wharf or young lovers sitting on it holding hands or kissing. As kids my older sisters would take us for walks in the area just for fun after church on Sunday morning. Walking the wharf was fun and watching those beautiful giant blue and emerald green waves crashing into the wharf. You could sit on the wharf for hours capturing those sweet sea breeze and watching the huge merchant ship anchored offshore. Speed boats zooming by and as kids it was the perfect opportunity to wave at them. Coming in from the cayes the Light house and Firt George hotel was the first buildings you saw. The base of the Lighthouse was painted red.
Heading along the wharf in an northern direction you would come across the Fort George Hotel later renamed Radisson Fort George another iconic landmark. Fort George hotel was where the tourist and Belizean from abroad would stay. A beautiful hotel that had wonderful carved doors, furniture and possibly the best room in town. A view of the Caribbean Sea from Itís huge windows overlooking the sea and itís pool. At any given time in front of the hotel you could witness, meet and purchase local woodwork by our local artisan. The young men sold their wooden Zericote or Mahogany carvings of sharks etc. At times they sold birds made from the horns of the cows. Tourist and locals flocked to the men to purchase their carvings before returning to their country or the US. Perhaps some of your parents or family members have some of their carvings. I know my older sister does. In front of Fort George was Mr. Steve Maestre hotel called ďThe Villa.Ē It was not as grand as the Fort George Hotel. It had two separate buildings with a nice pathway filled with Bougainville flowers. The building for the restaurant and check in was first painted a light mustard yellow. Itís deck huge. I have to state that both my sister and I worked there. The other building on the ground was the three story white wooden house located near the garden. Mr. Maestre was an awesome employer and was very humble. He came from a family that had owned the Colonial or Independence Cigarettes company in Belize. As I mentioned before in the Fort George area there were many private residences.
Going pass Fort George you would come across Chateau Caribbean Restaurant and Hotel another iconic landmark. Before it became a restaurant it was the clinic for a major Doctor from WWII Dr. Gowsinki who testified against the Nazi regime. The hotel once had a discotheque on the first floor facing the historical Memorial Park. I had my first taste of our local whiskey there as an adult. The restaurant made the best T-Bone steak in the 80s. The chef who prepared it was so good he left and worked at the Villa. I cannot remember his name but I can see his face even today. Btw he also made the best conch soup at the Villa Hotel.
Memorial Park was another iconic landmark for the Belizean people. It was an open grassy lot that was huge with a concrete stage. The back of the stage faced the sea and the park faced the city. Memorial Park has been around before my motherís time. At the park most of our celebrations were held in the month of September. The Queen of the Bay pageant queens would be in attendance at the 10th of September Commemoration ceremonies. The Mighty bands or as we call them Combos such as the Professionals or Lord Rhaburn, the Delphonics would have performed there. In the early 70s talent shows were held there all free of cost. There is so much to write about this park that I would need to do separately.
Heading further past the park were a few more homes and St.Catherineís Academy. This was a private college for young girls operated by the Catholic Church. My eldest sister attended there. On any given day you could see the students from the college in their white uniforms with the different color neck scarves which told you the level or year they were in . The neck scarves colors were green for the first year students, yellow for second year students , blue for third year students, and red for the fourth year students. The school ground was huge and it house the Sisters of Mercy Convent. The buildings were concrete and all facing each other. In the center was a statue of the Virgin Mary or Catherine. The school back in the day had boys in elementary section as stated by Bernadette Moody and the high school was for girls. Courtesy of Robert Raymond we have a photo of the school taken in 2012 as his sister was a student at the College from 82-86. Most of my classmates from Holy Redeemer attended the college. I knew a few from my generation that were students there: Marilyn Marilyn Morris-Robateau, Beth Sanchez, others were Jeanne Cattouse (Aguet), her sister Jacqueline, my cousin Francine Zangwill (Encalada), my older sister Paula Coye, Luz Hunter, Yvonne Paulette Hunter Romero and many more during my sister generation. During the 80s Jeanne Aguet had invited me to a dance that was held at the school which I never forgot. I could recall the St. Johnís male students showing up. It was no surprise if a boy from SJC was dating a student from SCA it was the norm. Iím sure most students would recall having precious memories and birthing of life long friendship at the school. It would crack me up with laughter if they had a school song like the St. Maryís and St. Ignatius elementary schools. Because to date Holy Redeemer students canít remember theirs. Eugene Trench help me out on this one because your sisters attend there Nelly, Christine Trench, and Carolyn Trench-sandiford as I recall. At the college they would have annual dances for fundraiser and other members from the other colleges could attend. I believe they had jumble sale (purchased used or new clothing at a very cheap price) too.
As much as I can write or remember from memory I truly enjoyed walking this main Street and enjoying my childhood memories of a very beautiful community. Much love to all the families who lived in these neighborhood. Belize was small and the only transport besides a car, donkey or bicycle were our two legs that took us near and far. Across the city we went with pure hearts appreciative of our surroundings wether great or small, rich or poor.
To note Mrs Josephine Humphreys Meighan shared that the original Pickwick Club was first located on North Front Street. Both Josephine and Nick Pollardís lived in the area like so many of your families. Josephineís home was behind St. Maryís and the Pollard family lived upstairs of Quintin Zelaya in the 50s. Also a known fact is the school St Mary's was also historic for the 1954 Adult Suffrage General Elections. It was also a location to go do voting during the 70s-early 80s. For proof of voting back in the day a voter had to dip his or her finger in the red ink.
Photograph by Noel Escalante
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