Thursday, February 25, 2010

Restauranteur, Collector, and Historian

A stop at Harla May's Fat Boy Grill in Belen, New Mexico, is a "3-in-1" experience.

It is clearly a very good restaurant (more on that tomorrow), it is a look into a person's attic collections amassed over many years, and it is a history lesson provided through one couple's family and friends.

The history begins with the Oñate Theater, built in 1932, and named after Juan de Oñate y Sálazar, who was selected in the late 1590s by the viceroy of New Spain to conquer the Pueblo Indians.

Anthony Baca, the present owner, is part American Indian and had the experiences of his ancestors to assess Oñate's actions.

After passing through a curtain from the lobby of the former theater, we entered the restaurant and the collection of one couple's history. My conversation with Anthony began with the Pittsburgh Steelers jerseys that he had obtained.

A friend of Anthony's was cleaning out his garage, and Anthony asked if he could have the 1953 Buick engine. He could, and it now occupies a place near the entrance.

There were photographs of family members with pick-up trucks. "These men could get jobs only if they used the names Sanders or Smith."

Anthony spoke of instances in which he was refused to be served in restaurants in the Northeast.

There was a jersey from one of the cycling clubs in the area.

There were photographs of one of his German relatives with an accordion in a band. "Mexican bands often play what sounds like German polka music, but they're called 'rancheras.' The German influence on music was very strong."

I don't know the story behind Bob here, but the two pair of black platform shoes at Bob's feet belong to Anthony and his wife Carmen. Bob wore his shoes with a rented leisure suit at his high school's 30-year reunion held at the restaurant last year.

There was a poster for the movie Hidalgo. "See that horse in the corner? My aunt raises Spanish horses, and that is one of several of hers that were used in the movie."

"Over here is a photo taken in Chicago of a young Eric Clapton."

"This old photograph shows the Oñate and across the street is a building that has a lead-lined second floor with one window. It seems that during the Depression, all the banks in the state moved their reserves to this room. One guy sat looking out this window with instructions to use his 10-gauge shotgun to shoot anyone who even looked as though he was heading for that building."

Remaining from the old movie theater are the 10 seats in the balcony, the movie screen, and 32 (shown on the left) of the original 400 theater seats.

The theater-turned-restaurant was a dream of Anthony and Carmen, and it was a restoration project that stretched from 1993-2004. The restaurant now seems to serve as the community center for Belen. Several meetings and social functions are held in this space created by leveling the theater floor.

Anthony also spent several minutes during our nearly two-hour tour and conversation talking about his biker experiences. As the theater marquee announces, the Bonecracker Run is a biker event that will collect food for the town's food bank.

He is a fascinating historian of his family, Belen, and the culture of the Southwest, and it wouldn't surprise me if he weren't also a volunteer fireman.

1 comment:

消化 said...