Part #1: Ruben Salazar, The Silver Dollar Bar

Site #1, 4945 Whittier Boulevard, the former Silver Dollar Bar, site of the killing of L.A. Times reporter Ruben Salazar during the Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War, August 29, 1970.

The Silver Dollar Bar is now J. Nissi, “Tallas Grandes, Ropa de Maternidad,” a shop on the north side of the street that apparently sells both wristwatches and maternity clothes, which could be good if you’re pregnant and need to know the time. Embedded in the wall of the storefront is a black granite plaque that simply states, “Ruben Salazar/ March 3, 1928/ August 29, 1970”---and you’re standing on the street like, “So what?”

Whittier Boulevard is 35-plus years later a commercial artery through the Eastside, essentially the same in the glaring sun today as it was the day of the mass anti-war march when Ruben Salazar died. As everybody bustles about their everyday business on Whittier, imagine the boulevard filled with 10,000 demonstrators chanting “Raza si! Guerra no!” as they march west into a phalanx of L.A. County sheriffs preparing to attack. As one of our favorite books, 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, puts it,

“Chicano resistance to the Vietnam War began as a defense of our own people, who were being drafted far out of proportion to our population. It reached a climax with the 1970 national Moratorium. 10,000 marched peacefully with our families. Police attacked on a pretext, tear-gassing and shooting at us. They killed Angel Diaz, Lyn Ward (a 15 year old Chicano) and Ruben Salazar, who was sitting quietly at the Silver Dollar Bar when they shot him... The Moratorium and Ruben Salazar became symbols of our oppression and our resistance. In opposing the war, we learned more about our enemy. It wasn’t just the gringo or the police, we saw, but a whole system of imperialism. The U.S. empire has always produced wars, racism and exploitation---which benefit only the rich. The struggle of our barrios is the struggle of this whole world. And the only way to win liberation for our world is by uniting with other oppressed people.”

Reportedly,Ruben Salazar had just sat down to sip a quiet beer at the bar, away from the madness in the street, when a deputy---ignoring the pleas of a woman outside who begged him not to shoot---fired a projectile into the interior dimness of the bar, killing Salazar instantly. This ended the rapid ascension of Salazar as an early spokesperson for the Chicano community in Los Angeles, fueling fears that his killing was an assassination aimed at keeping Mexicanos and Chicanos excluded from both media as well as political representation. The economics and business building at Cal State University L.A. was later named Ruben Salazar Hall, but it’s doubtful that any students now know either the high hopes or the deep fears that attended Salazar’s death on that day.

The Silver Dollar Bar is gone, but you can belly up to the bar across the street at the Hi-D-Hi Bar at 4952 Whittier Boulevard (open after 2 PM most days), where friendly folks will gladly serve you a Corona with a slice of lemon as you ponder this weighty history. “Pare de sufrir,” says the marquee down the street of one of those movie theaters that has turned into a church. “Stop suffering,” and check out the soccer game or see what’s on the jukebox. What kind of beer do you think Ruben Salazar ordered on that day?

1 2 3 4 5 6

Take this guide with you!