by Mary Kasulaitis
From the 1950s through the 1970s, the place to eat Mexican food in the Santa Cruz Valley was the Half Way Station, one mile north of the Cow Palace. Angelina Jaurequi cooked, her children waited tables and husband Felipe (Phil) welcomed the guests. The food was so memorable, especially the red chile, that many people remember it to this day. One person went to great lengths to get the recipe, (but by trial and error, not from Angelina herself.) Another person’s parents ate there several times a week, while the kids did their homework at their own table. Felipe was made for this business: hosting parties and dances. He knew everyone: he had so many friends that even people who weren’t inclined to go to bars or dances would patronize his place. Tourists loved to come there. Celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Mitchum, Robert Wagner and Arnold Palmer were a few of the big names. Felipe would close the place down when they came so no one would bother them. “Pablo and the Dancing Chihuahua” is a 1968 telefilm produced by Walt Disney Productions that was made at the Half Way Station. But the Jaurequis were not the first to own this station.
Back in the late 1800s, Arivaca Junction was the place where a road left the Nogales highway and went west 23 miles over the hills to the village of Arivaca. Lyman Smith brought his family here in about 1871. He homesteaded a site that bordered the Canoa Land Grant on its southwest corner. He had some cattle, a small farm, and of course, mining claims in the nearby Santa Rita Mountains. Lyman was from Kentucky, born in 1830. He caught the gold bug and went to California. On the way out he went through Yuma in about 1865 and met his wife, Isabel Ballesteros, who was from Altar, Sonora. Then it was on to the Santa Cruz Valley, where he could do some mining.
Lyman referred to his stage stop as “the Junction.” It appears on maps as “Smith’s” or just Junction. It was a waypoint on the road from Tucson to Nogales, but it didn’t become the “Half Way Station” until after he died. Among other things, Lyman was appointed Road Overseer in 1905 by the County for the whole road between there and San Xavier Mission. Lyman died in 1908 and Isabel began cooking for people, serving up good Mexican food. She may have cooked when it was still a stage stop. After it was sold, she moved to Tucson.
When Basilio Caranzano bought it in 1914, he dubbed it “Half Way Station,” and began providing gas, food and a bar. Basilio was born in 1887 in Italy and immigrated to the U.S. in 1912. In 1920 he married Anita Ybarra who was originally from Sonora, but whose family had moved to the U.S. At the Half Way Station they provided Mexican food and Italian as well. According to Gus Amado, Basilio originally was hoping to serve the Fifth Cavalry soldiers who were stationed at the Junction in 1913 to stop ammunition smuggling by various factions during the Mexican Revolution. Apparently arms and ammo had been regularly smuggled by automobile from Tucson through Arivaca Junction, Arivaca and Sasabe for some time. (Tucson Citizen, 6/22/1913) This was a profitable location for many reasons! How long the soldiers were there is not known.
Basilio built the big white building that we can still see on the I-19 west frontage road (old Nogales Highway) The restaurant was on the south side and a dance floor was on the north side of the building. He later built the adobe home next door. Angelina’s father made the tiles used on the floor of the bar. Basilio had also established a farm and sold vegetables wherever he could. Later on, he sold vegetables in Arivaca and Ruby. Since he owned the 160 acre Smith homestead, he had land up on the ridge above Half Way and also land north of it on the flat where they raced horses and which eventually became a trailer park. In 1957 Basilio sold some of this land to Kemper Marley who was building up his vast ranch holdings. Half Way Station was also conveniently close to the railroad station at Amado and a good distance from Sahuarita, besides being half way between Tucson and Nogales. And the food was good! Rene Perez, future owner of Papagayo Mexican restaurant in Tucson, shared with Alva Torres that when he went to work for Anita and Basilio around 1950: “I had the best teachers. They made that place famous. Tres Mujeres, including Dona Micaela, a sweet Indita, would come and at 2 am we would begin making the tamales and work all night to have fresh tamales for the day.” (Arizona Daily Star, 25 Jul 1989) Angelina also learned how to make the famous red chile from Anita. Basilio held horse races from time to time, bringing in a large crowd of patrons, sponsored dance programs and of course, quinceaneras and parties of all kinds. Local bands were brought in to provide music.
Felipe Jaurequi had moved from the Jerome area to Tumacacori when he was young, where he met Angelina Alegria. He served in World War II and when he got out he came back, married Angie and went to work for Basilio. They had five children. Felipe soon proved to be invaluable to Basilio. In fact, he was like a son in some ways since Basilio and Anita had no children. Soon he was running the Half Way Station himself and Basilio could retire. Anita passed away in 1956. Basilio continued to hang out there, up until he died in 1966.
Felipe put the Half Way Station up for sale in 1972, having put in 20 good years. That was also when I-19 was being constructed, meaning that business would be dropping. The exit (48) was over by the big competitor, the Cow Palace. He didn’t sell it right away, however, and finally retired in 1978 shortly after it was mentioned as the “legendary” Half Way Station in a Cafe-hopping article in the Tucson Daily Citizen. Half Way Station was being operated by Elizabeth Caryl in 1984. There were other owners, but from then on it went into a state of decay. Jessie Jaurequi thought to preserve it as a historic building but to no avail. Jessie still owns the house to the south of Half Way Station.
Big excitement interrupted its quietude in 1986 when Paul McCartney, of all people, decided to use it as a venue for a music video! The song is “Stranglehold”… …on the Press to Play album. He had planned to do it in Mexico and changed his mind. Looking around for a location, he came across the Half Way Station, which needed some work. Trevor Jones, Paul’s aide, said: “The ceiling was knocked out to get the lights up near the roof, and holes were knocked in the walls to get the best camera angles. (All fixed before we left!)” “Anyway, the flavour is discreet, onstage at least: a neon cactus, vaguely cowboy clothes, an Indian clasp at Paul’s neck instead of a gent’s necktie as worn… The audience of 180 extras can’t help being a shade Mexican, of course, living so near the border.”**
Note: the boy in the video is not local, but came from L.A. Also in the video is Linda McCartney and their 9 year old son.
See the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=wE41epNvdY4
**For more background, see the “Paul McCartney Project”: https://www.the-paulmccartney-project.com/concert/1986-11-04/
*sometimes incorrectly spelled Carranzano
Special thanks to Terry and Delia Jaurequi for their memories.