In Los Olivos Mexican Patio’s early days, brothers Alvaro, Emilio and Claudio Corral would gather around an old, dark mahogany table.
At this table – which they associated with the “crisol,” or melting pot of ideas – the men would discuss their plans, future projects and their lives.
Now, over 70 years since the first iteration of the restaurant opened as a beer and wine bar and exactly 100 years since the Tomas Corral family arrived in Scottsdale from Cananea, Sonora, Mexico, members of the Corral family continue the tradition of “el crisol.”
The meetings have moved to Our Lady of Perpetual Help on Main Street a mile from the restaurant – with a newer mahogany table, to boot.
The topic of discussion? The family’s plan to release a book on the history of the Old Adobe Mission and the Mexican families who helped build it, including their own.
Brothers Jay, Ernie and Alex Corral were seated in the bar area of Los Olivos on a recent afternoon.
Paradise Valley resident, librarian and family friend Sally Thompson just arrived.
“We, along with another group, are putting together a book about the Old Adobe Mission and the contribution of the Mexican community in building the Mission and the people involved who pushed for the Mission to be started,” Jay said.
Members of the Corral family, along with Thompson and members of Scottsdale’s other original Mexican families, have worked on the book for 10 years.
Now nearly 300 pages long, the book is complete – save for a title, further proofing and a publisher.
“It’s about the architects who contributed their time, the masons who had the knowledge of the adobe coming in and showing their expertise, the gentleman who did the tin work inside that took up making the stained glass,” Jay said. “All of that is in our book, and this was all done back in the 1930s.”
The group began the project shortly after the Old Adobe Mission’s 75th anniversary in 2008.
“We all volunteered as docents at the Old Adobe Mission,” said Thompson, who moved from Chicago to Scottsdale in 1971. “At that point, we realized people don’t know a whole lot about the history here.”
The group of six then volunteered to serve on a history committee and after hosting several well-attended programs, they came up with the idea to write the book.
“The people that came into the Mission, for the majority, knew nothing about the beginnings of Scottsdale – and God forbid you mention a Mexican because they didn’t know there were Mexicans here at the time; they have no idea who was here,” Thompson said.
She added: “I decided that it was about time that somebody say something about who built that gorgeous church over there and what life was really like out here because people would come in from all over the world.”
The group conducted about 40 interviews, including former Scottsdale Mayor William “Bill” Schrader; Whitey’s Auto Repair owner Paul “Whitey” Almhjell, who also worked all through high school for J. Chew’s Mexican Imports in Scottsdale; and historian Paul Messinger of Messinger Mortuary.
The group also spoke with current Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane.
“He’s fascinated with history; he loves what’s going on,” Thompson said. “He said, ‘There hasn’t been a lot written about the beginnings that’s easily out there.’ He said, ‘You fill in all the blanks.’”
Most importantly, though, the group spoke with descendants of about 35 families who helped build the church.
“In our collection of records, we have the original property names and the people that were there,” Ernie said.
In addition to over 100 photos, the collection also includes birth certificates and land deeds.
Siblings Reuben and Margie Gardella – who met up with Thompson, Ernie and the rest of the group, including Raquel Leva, Nellie Ulloa and Juan Alvarez, during one of the weekly meetings – are among Scottsdale’s original families.
“I got really interested in [the book] because it was all of us from the same neighborhood. We all had stories to tell,” Margie said.
It’s believed Rueben’s and Margie’s grandfather was Scottsdale’s first cowboy.
Their grandmother was among a handful of women who arrived in Scottsdale as single mothers.
“[They] came only with five kids. No men. 1919,” Thompson said, adding the other women included Ulloa’s mother and Leva’s mother.
“Moving everything to come up here with not knowing what’s going to happen and no man to help you, they were tough women. They were strong women. They didn’t take a back seat to anybody,” she said.
The group has brainstormed around 25 different titles for their book about the Mission.
“The first chapter is the building of the Mission,” said Thompson, who has five manuscripts of the book.
“You can see by the chapters how I go back in history to how religion came,” she added, as she flipped to the table of contents page.
Before the Mission was built, Mexican and American Catholics attended mass at St. Mary’s in Phoenix or Mt. Carmel in Tempe.
In Scottsdale, however, masses were celebrated in the basement of the Little Red Schoolhouse, at J. Chew’s Mexican Imports, inside the homes of the Lopez and Burian families and Los Olivos when it was a pool hall.
“[Los Olivos] was many things before: It was a bakery. It was a pool hall. There was a church in that other room,” said Ruby Corral, Tomas Corral’s granddaughter and sister to Jay, Ernie and Alex.
The family used to dismantle the billiard tables to make room for masses, and Ernie remembers sitting atop the tables and watching on as people danced.
“They stacked a couple of pool tables on top of the other, and I was very little, and they put me on the top. I remember looking over the edge while they were dancing. I remember that so well,” he recalled.
A church club then raised funds for the construction of Our Lady of Perpetual Help on Brown and First streets – a structure that is now known as the Old Adobe Mission. The church moved to Miller Road in 1956.
In 1933, the Corral family not only helped build the church but also laid adobe in homes around Camelback Mountain.
Following the construction of the church, the pool hall was transformed into a beer and wine tavern in 1946. And in 1948, when the population of Scottsdale was a mere 2,500, Alvaro and his two brothers added a restaurant to the tavern. It closed for lack of business.
In 1953, however, Alvaro and his wife, Elena, gave the restaurant a second shot and it still stands to this day.
“The legacy of Los Olivos is worldwide and part of it is because of the Corral family,” Ruby said. “It is unique. Some people arrive at the airport and call and say, ‘We’re going to be there in a few minutes. Do we need to make a reservation?’”
The untitled book includes an introduction by Monsignor Thomas Hever.
The book then dives into the arrival of Catholics in the southwest, the first settlers into Scottsdale; the arrival of the families from Cananea, a chapter dedicated to Father Eugene Maguire and Scottsdale’s spiritual growth and much more.
Jay said they’d like to publish their book as soon as they can, but they’re currently in need of a publisher and funding.
The goal is to publish 5,000 hardback copies and proceeds from sales would go directly to a Scottsdale-area nonprofit that benefits Hispanic children, Thompson said.