Julia Viera – Island Icon

Written by Coronado Historical Association Volunteer Zoraida Payne

This article was originally published in the September 2021 Issue of Coronado Magazine. To read this article and more from Coronado Magazine, click here or the button below.

“Stand by, because there are going to be a lot of changes” is the advice from Ms. Julia Viera, who at 94 currently lives in the Alameda residence purchased by her parents in 1944. Sitting up straight with a plumeria pin on her sweater, given by her daughter as a reminder of the years that Hawaii was one of the 36 Navy destinations that they called home, Mrs Julia Viera shared her wealth of memories in our recent and fascinating conversation.

During the winter of 1928 in Boston, at the age of 2, Julia Yanquell (Viera) with her mother boarded the transcontinental train toward their new residence in Southern California. Her father, Charles Yanquell, pioneer Navy flight surgeon, embarked in the USS Lexington aircraft carrier in Boston and met his family in Coronado. By day one, her parents were struck by the charming city of almost 5,400 inhabitants at the time, and the Yanquell decided this place was home.

Although Julia Yanquell (Viera) was in and out of Coronado school due to her father’s Navy duties, she fondly treasured her recollections. Among them she shared: “The thing that I wanted to do more than anything was to ride horses, and we had stables in Coronado… They made me wait until I was 9 years old. I had a picture of me on the star horse, who was a polo pony that I loved. We used to ride all the way around the island… When we got to Ocean boulevard, if it was high tide, we had to walk along the street, but if it was low tide, we rode along the sand to the hotel, crossed at the hotel, and went along the island.” Continuing her passion for horses in other Navy locations led her to win cups and ribbons.

Mrs. Viera shared a story about the Central Drug Store’s scale: “When I was in 3rd grade…after dinner, my father would say: We will walk up to the drugstore and you can have an ice cream; I’ll buy a paper and we will weigh you on the scale.” When the closing of the drugstore took place, Viera called to the Museum requesting: “Don’t lose that scale”. Her crucial call ensured that the 1919 lollipop-style Toledo scale forms part of CHA’s historical heritage. Also, with a twinkle in her eyes, she told us that when she was in 8th grade, she was among the shortest in her class with a height of 5’ –as the picture testifies. When she came back to Coronado –after a year and a half, she was astonishing her friends with her 5’7” height.

In December 1941, Julia with two high school freshman friends were organizing the Christmas dance at the officers’ Club at North Island. Though the invitation was published in the Coronado Journal, the dance was cancelled due to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. On December 7, 1941 she got the news of Pearl Harbor from her friend’s phone call, who had just heard it on the radio. At the time, her father was at sea in the Atlantic, due to the presence of German submarines, and she was living with her mother and her 5 years younger sister, Elizabeth, at 727 G. This was their first family home; they built it in 1939 and it does not exist anymore.

In 1944, she graduated from CHS and from UCLA four years later. In 1954, Julia Yanquell drove her 1948 Ford Woodie from Washington to North Island Chapel. On March 3rd, she married Captain Jack Viera. They lived a unique and often exciting 48 years –many of them overseas– following his Navy UDT –now SEAL– and Merchant Marine Master career. Mrs. Viera was a great companion to her husband and his team, “Back in the day, the commander’s Officer wife was the psychiatrist, the nurse.” Since her move back to Coronado, she has been hosting the annual SEAL gathering in her own backyard every August.

While setting residence in his native San Francisco, Mrs. Viera got civically involved in many prominent city boards, the Park, Port, and many more. In September 2005, she was recognized with “Julia Viera Day in San Francisco”. Though the list of accomplishments in her adopted city continues, in 2005–4 years after losing her husband– Mrs. Viera pondered: “What I am doing in this big city all by myself. So, I came home and it is the best –most wonderful thing– I could possibly have done.” One of the many positive signs that confirmed her move back to Coronado was when shortly after arriving: “the retired SEAL Moki Martin in his wheelchair welcomed me saying: “Captain Viera is the hero of my life.” So, I thought: This will do.” 

Mrs. Viera’s relentless spirit remains civically committed with her 116 and counting opinion pieces published in San Diego papers and even the Economist. She also plays tennis three times a week, though challenged by her recent fall, she has already been back on the court. Clearly, her joie de vivre is contagious and her attitude is exemplary. Reflecting upon Coronado, smiling with her eyes, she expressed: “Coronado has been the most wonderful town. There is no question about that.” 

This article was originally published in the September 2021 Issue of Coronado Magazine. To read this article and more from Coronado Magazine, click here or the button below.

More photos of Julia Viera:

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