Alejandro Villalvazo was born 1938 in Tijuana, Mexico.
His mother was Guillermina Romero Walk (b. 1916 in San Bruno, Baja California). San Bruno was located near the mining town of Santa Rosalia and the town became a port that belonged to a French copper mine company El Boleo. (Guillermina also happened to be the sister of Beatriz Rocha. Both the womens’ grandfather was German Jewish and their grandmother was Mexican.)
Alejandro’s father was Alejandro Villalvazo Puente (b. 1903 in Sonora, Mexico). Alejandro Sr.’s life will be described here.
The Mexican Revolution Brought Them to the U.S.
Alejandro Sr.’s father was Rosalio Villalvazo and his mother was Magdalena Puente. They lived together in a town called Cananea, Sonora during the Mexican Revolution. When the Pancho Villa forces came into the town of Cananea, Rosalio and Magdalena had 8 children: 4 daughters ages 20, 19, 18 and 17, and 4 boys ages 15, 14, 9 and 8. Alejandro Villalvazo Puente was the youngest.
The Pancho Villa fighters took the 15 and 14 year old boys away to the war because they were strong enough to carry a rifle.
As was well-known, Pancho Villa did not pay his soldiers. Instead, they could take what they wanted in the villages they pillaged — especially the women. Frightened and determined, Magdalena packed her girls and two little boys (including Alejandro) on a mule cart and rode 100 miles to Nogales, Mexico.
In the meantime, her older two boys found a way to AWOL from Pancho Villa’s forces — something incredibly dangerous because if found, they would have been shot on-site. With the family reunited in Arizona, they all traveled to and settled in Los Angeles.
There, their eldest daughter, Maria, met a gentleman who was assigned as a Mexican Customs agent in Tijuana. The year was about 1917. She fell in love, married and moved to Tijuana. When little brother, Alejandro, went to visit his sister in about 1922 he saw a great future for himself in the city.
The Gas Station in San Ysidro
While living in Los Angeles, Alejandro’s brother Carlos met a man who worked for Shell Oil Company. This gave Carlos and Alejandro an idea of opening a gas station in Tijuana. However, Shell Oil Company did not want to finance them across the border. In the meantime, Magdalena passed away and left Alejandro $600 in her will. Using that money to invest, both Alejandro and Carlos opened a gas station in 1928 along San Ysidro Blvd. close to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Business went so well, they opened a second gas station in Tijuana near the Agua Caliente casino in 1929. Then another in Mexicali and another in Ensenada. They also opened the “Half Way House” in 1936, which was the only gas station for travelers who were going from Tijuana to Ensenada. Alejandro Jr. explained that there was a little pump and barrels on the side. The bartender would run over and give customers gasoline.
When the Villalvazo family came to LA, they were dark complexioned, so their neighbors and school friends would call them indios, particularly since they came from the area where the Yaqui Indians lived. As a bit of fun, they called themselves the Indios Villelvazo Hermanos.
Then — in 1938, Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated all oil companies through his nationalization program. The two Villalvazo brothers lost everything. Shell would not sell them anymore gasoline.
Cárdenas Nationalizes the Gas Industry
The brothers did retain a parts store (related to cars) in Tijuana. After 1938, the brothers began selling Coleman stoves. A local taught them how to change the jet that throws the flame and they realized from this gasoline stove they could make one using butane instead. They started turning these gas burning stoves into propane stoves. From there, they started distributing the propane gas.
In 1946 Alejandro and Carlos applied for a concession to create a distribution system for propane gas throughout Tijuana. They sold stock for the company and gained many stockholders. From there, they became pioneers in Tijuana, delivering huge tanks of gas and digging all the underground lines to pipe propane gas throughout the city. At that time, the work was done 100% by hand. No back hoes. No large industrial construction equipment.
Building an underground pipeline had many challenges. When they received their concession, the world was facing WWII. Steel was being used for the war effort. As a consequence, they were not able to start work in 1946 when they got their permit. Instead, they had to wait until after the war in 1948 when they started installing the huge tanks. In 1949, they laid the first 20 feet of pipe coming out onto the street — going into the city. The gas plant, however, had to be out of the city of Tijuana for safety purposes. It was located at the bottom of the Agua Caliente racetrack. The business continued to grow and Alejandro became Vice-President of Compañía de Gas de Tijuana.
Alejandro Sr. married Guillermina and they lived in a small house on Hall Avenue in San Ysidro.
His son Alejandro Jr. went to San Ysidro Academy. Then in 1953 Alejandro Sr. took his family to live in La Mesa, Tijuana beyond the racetrack.
Alejandro Jr. went to Agua Caliente high school that had been converted after Cárdenas abolished gambling. He then went to University of San Diego for two years, but his father passed away in 1963 and Alejandro Jr. had to take over the business. He served as Vice-President for about five years and then sold the company to another propane business.
Alejandro Jr. still owns “The Halfway House” and his children run it now.
(Interview with Alejandro Jr. Villalvazo March 14, 2016)