More Latino Heritage Initiative Research

Hi Friends! This week I have another Latino Heritage Initiative research example to share with you. It’s the Bernal Family Home in Fullerton, California. The Bernal Family Home is significant for its key role in the Orange County Superior Court case Doss v. Bernal (1943) that set legal precedence as the first successful claim that restrictive housing covenants violated the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Alex Bernal was the California-born son of Mexican immigrants, and his wife Esther was born in Mexico. The Bernal family was sued in 1943 by their white neighbors upon purchasing the home located at 200 E Ash Avenue in Fullerton. In the Orange County Superior Court case Doss v. Bernal (1943) the Bernal’s neighbor claimed that restrictive race covenants applicable to the property were violated. The 1923 covenant read, “no portion of the said property shall at any time be used, leased, owned, or occupied by any Mexicans or persons other than of the Caucasian race.” The Bernal’s attorney, David Marcus, argued that race restrictive covenants violated the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The judge’s ruling in favor of Bernal marked the first successful use of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments in a housing restriction case. This ruling helped pave the way for Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that overturned race restrictive covenants. That same year, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge dismissed a suit to enforce a race restrictive covenant against Nellie Garcia, a Mexican American woman who had purchased property near El Monte. In the case of A.T. Collison and R.L. Wood v. Nellie Garcia (1943), the judge claimed there was no such thing as a “Mexican race,” therefore the covenant was invalid. Though many scholars suggest these covenants were used less frequently against ethnic Mexicans, because of their vague classification as white, there are examples where they were used against Mexicans like in the Bernal case. The Bernal Family Home is a tangible connection to the restrictive selling practices that took place prior to the Civil Rights movement as well as the discrimination faced by many Mexican American families at the time. Although the Bernals kept the house after the court ruling, the family did not live in the home. Esther, Mr. Bernal’s wife, died of cancer and the family never moved in to their home on E Ash Avenue. Instead, the home was rented out until the Bernals sold it in 1965.[1]

Time Magazine, Photo by John Giilhooley

Historical photo of the Bernal family. (Image courtesy of Time Magazine, photo by John Giilhooley)

Preliminary research on the house suggests that the house retains high integrity for designation. Do you think the fact that the Bernals never occupied the home lessens the significance and/or integrity of the resource? If so, one may suggest the designation of the courtroom where the court case was decided. However, I would argue that the residence has the highest potential of conveying its significance because of its location in a community among other similar single-family residences. What do you think? [1] Gustavo Arellano, “Mi Casa Es Mi Casa,” OC Weekly, May 6, 2010, California Office of Historic Preservation, Latinos in Twentieth Century California: National Register of Historic Places Context Statement, (California State Parks, 2015), 107-108.

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