Inclusion once transcended ethnic barriers for a pair of immigrant families arriving in Scottsdale. Now inclusion endures nearly a century later for the enduring businesses they built.
In the early 20th century, two families, one Mexican, one Chinese, opened ventures that welcomed newcomers in a sometimes unwelcoming time. The businesses, which became a restaurant and an imported goods seller, still stand in the city’s bustling Old Town.
Thomas Corral bought land on Second Street in the early 1920s and opened a community center that the family eventually turned into Los Olivos Mexican Patio restaurant.
Chew She Song opened a grocery store two blocks away in 1929. The family still operates the store today as J. Chews Mexican Imports.
Opening Los Olivos Mexican Patio
Thomas Corral moved his family from Cananea, Mexico to DC Ranch in 1919. The area at the base of the McDowell Mountains, now filled with multi-million dollar homes, was then a sprawling cattle ranch.
“My grandmother didn’t want the boys working in the mines,” said Maria “Chispa” Corral of her family’s decision to move to Arizona.
Her father, Alvaro Corral, was a baby at the time.
Thomas Corral eventually saved enough money to purchase land at 7328 E. Second St. It was more than real estate — it became a parcel of possibility.
Corral turned the space into a community center for Mexicans and Native Americans living in what Maria Corral called the “Mexican Barrio.”
“It was a pool hall first, then a gathering place where the men could talk about the neighborhood and what they wanted to do with it,” she said.
The family would transform the space into Los Olivos restaurant about 20 years later.
Grocery store to J. Chew’s Mexican Imports
Another immigrant family also was getting its start in America shortly after the turn of the 20th century.
Chew She Song moved from Chinato San Francisco in the early 1900s when a wealthy merchant he worked for sponsored his trip, his granddaughter Jayne Song-Gin said.
He worked as a dishwasher at a ranch and saved money to buy a Chinese-English dictionary. The first things he learned to write in English were his name, age and the date.
Song worked eight years to pay back his sponsor and then saved enough money to return to his village and bring his wife, Kwan Youn Show, to San Francisco.
The couple moved to Arizona a few years later to be near their nephew who was sponsored in Chandler. The Songs owned a small, dirt-floor store in Chandler they ran as a trading post with the Native American and Mexican people.
A man who delivered groceries to Song told him that Johnny Rose’s pool hall in Scottsdale was for sale. Song purchased the store at 3933 N. Brown Ave. and moved his family there.
Making their way amid discrimination
The Song family experienced some discrimination.
“When my grandfather opened the store, he said the white grocery store owners would tell him ‘No one is going to buy from you, dumb China man,’” Jayne Song-Gin said.
But the Songs catered to people that other stores disparaged: Native Americans and Mexicans, she said.
“My grandfather’s store had the largest selection of beans around,” she said.
Some closed-mindedness followed the Corral family too.
When Alvaro Corral was 19, dressed in his military uniform, he was denied service at a local bar, Maria Corral said. He’d served in the Air Force during World War II, she said.
It was common for businesses to turn away people of color, said Bruce Wall, who is a citizen adviser for the city and a local history buff. Some Arizona businesses displayed signs that said “No Negros, Mexicans or dogs,” according to a 1950 pamphlet by the Arizona Council for Civil Unity.
Alvaro Corral’s response was to urge his dad to open a restaurant, Maria Corral said.
“I want to build my own bar where the Mexicans and Indians can go,’” she said her father told her grandfather.
Alvaro and his brothers, Emilio and Claudio, opened Los Olivos in 1946.
“He really started to concentrate on the restaurant when my mom got involved,” Maria Corral said.
Her mom, Maria Eleana, sponsored the immigration of her friends from Magdalena de Kino, Sonora, Mexico. They brought with them skills at making fresh tortillas.
“The Indians would come for the red chili sauce,” Maria Corral said.
The Songs also come to the restaurant.
The Corrals and Songs helped build Scottsdale, joining other volunteers to construct Our Lady of Perpetual Help Mission Church, which still stands on the corner of First Street and Brown Avenue, Wall said.
Growing with Scottsdale
Los Olivos got a boost when the San Francisco Giants began training at the nearby Scottsdale Stadium in the late 1950s and ballplayers frequented the restaurant.
Meanwhile, the Song family stopped living in the back of the store, building a home at 4120 N. Miller Road in 1955. Meanwhile, Jayne Song-Gin’s father, John, turned the grocery store into J. Chews Mexican Imports store.
“My dad speaks Spanish better than Chinese,” she said. “They were more than just businesses partners, they were my father’s friends.”
John, like his father, hired teenagers from Mexican and Native American families that could speak the languages of the store’s customers.
Arizona — and Scottsdale — were growing helped by the invention of air-conditioning, which became more prevalent. The city also was becoming a tourist destination.
Scottsdale’s grew from 700 people in 1940 to 67,823 by 1970. Dirt roads were paved and the city launched an urban renewal program.
The transformation threatened Los Olivos with condemnation in 1972, Alvaro wrote in a brief recap of the restaurant’s history.
The barrio around the restaurant was being sold off little by little, Maria Corral said. The city wanted to build a parking garage on the site, she said.
“What could we do? They had eminent domain,” she said. “But Senator (Barry) Goldwater (R-Ariz.) wouldn’t let them take it from us. He declared it a historical place.”
Change still came.
The dirt streets they’d run on as kids became the Civic Center. Maria Corral’s grandmother’s home was razed. The Songs’ first home on Miller is now a CVS Pharmacy.
Time also brought greater openness to diversity.
Still a minority in an increasingly inclusive city
Chinese and Mexican residents remain a minority. Hispanics make up 10 percent of Scottsdale’s population; Asians make up 4 percent.
But the city has become more culturally aware. Scottsdale in 1998 became the first Arizona municipality to establish a diversity initiative that pushed for equal access and fair treatment of all people.
The effort came after a race incident involving the Scottsdale Police Department, said Donald Logan, former director of the city’s Diversity Office.
He said the office cultivated relationships with the “little pocket communities that didn’t look like the majority of Scottsdale.”
The next generation
The Song and Corral families lived through the cultural shifts.
Growing up, John Song had to attend a separate school for the Mexicans, Native Americans and Chinese children. But his children and Alvaro Corral’s children attended integrated schools.
But not without mishaps.
“I remember getting off the school bus one day and a group of boys were pretending to hold machine guns and pointed at us as if they were shooting us down,” Jayne Song-Gin said. “They were saying, ‘Die, you dirty Japs.’ I ran home crying to my mom, and she told me, ‘You tell them you’re an American just like they are.'”
She said her children had a far more accepting experience.
“Societal changes along with legislation have improved,” Jayne Song-Gin said.
“In kindergarten, my girls would tell people they were Mexican because they didn’t know any better,” Jayne Song-Gin said. “They grew up in a community where their grandfather and father’s best friends were Mexican. These are people we consider family.”
Both Los Olivos Mexican Patio and J. Chews Mexican Imports sport signs in their front windows that say: Scottsdale for All. It’s part of a city initiative to promote inclusiveness.
John Song, now 85, can still be found overseeing J. Chew’s Mexican Imports, which his daughter, Rosanne Song, and granddaughter, Carly Wallace, help to manage.
“He comes to the store in his wheelchair and tells us what we have to change,” Jayne Song-Ginsaid, noting that he’s usually right.
At Los Olivos, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the Native Americans who frequented the restaurant remain loyal customers.
Maria Corral’s mother died in 2016, leaving the restaurant to her and her three siblings. Maria and Ruby Corral are the bookkeepers. Johnny Corral oversees maintenance; Hector Corral oversees the bar.
Maria said she and her siblings will hand down the restaurant to their children to run.
“It’s the cycle of life and it’s amazing,” she said.
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