By Tom Marshall
Our recent quarterly program by the San Clemente Historical Society (SCHIS) shined a light on a dark corner of our country’s past. The saga began when Juan Luna migrated from Mexico to this area back in the late 1930s. He established himself as a gardener, saved his money and decided to purchase a house in the 100 block of Paseo de Cristobal in the early 1940s.
However, his attempt at home ownership was thwarted by covenants in the deed that prohibited people of Mexican descent from owning property in our “Spanish Village by the Sea.” Back then, such ethnic, racial and religious profiling were not prohibited by law and were actually quite common throughout the U. S. They, of course, are no longer legal, though such covenants do sometimes still turn up in property deed searches.
This all happened during World War II, as Juan’s sons, Ricardo and Octavio, were serving in combat for the U.S. Army’s 8th Air Corps in Europe. When Juan explained this to one of his customers, a Mrs. Williams, she was outraged by this injustice. She bought the property herself and immediately resold it to Juan, who worked as her gardener. The house remains in the Luna family today and is listed as one of the historic “Ole Hanson Structures.” It has recently been beautifully updated and even expanded without detracting from its original Spanish charm by Juan’s grandson Ricardo Luna Jr.
“We worked with the Historical Society to ensure it was within the scope of preservation codes,” said Ricardo, who lives there now with his fourth-generation family. “That added some time to the process, but in the end it was to our advantage because the result was wonderful.”
Despite the roadblocks their grandfather faced when buying the home, the Luna grandchildren say they never felt discriminated against.
“We felt we were treated just like anyone else growing up here,” Roberto Luna commented. “Race wasn’t an issue. We were just another bunch of kids,”
Ricardo Jr. and siblings Roberto, Juan, Leonardo, Georgina, Abril and Maria (Pilar), the third generation of Lunas, all grew up in San Clemente. Their father, Ricardo, Sr., insisted that all the kids go to college, which they did. Maria is now a lawyer for the U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (formerly Immigration and Naturalization Service) and lives in Huntington Beach. Her siblings all returned to San Clemente and her brothers entered the family business, Luna Tree and Luna Landscaping Services.
“We’re all college-educated gardeners,” Juan laughs.
They’re an amazing family with an instructive life story. Perseverance, education, integrity and a healthy sense of humor will allow most anyone to overcome life’s many challenges.
Editor’s note: SCHIS was used as the acronym for San Clemente Historical Society because it’s already used for San Clemente High School throughout this publication.
Tom Marshall is a member of the board of directors of the San Clemente Historical Society and a retired journalist.