Owner store

Jose L. Castilleja, Magdalena Castilleja, owners of El Tornillo hardware store in Little Village who helped build La Villita

When the Mexican Independence Day Parade passed their Hardware store El Tornillo in Little Village, Jose and Magdalena Castilleja smiled as the crowd cheered.

¡Long live Mexico!

¡Long live Don Jose!

¡Viva El Tornillo!

“He really enjoyed it,” said U.S. Representative Jesús G. “Chuy” García, D-Illinois. “They were beloved people in the neighborhood.”

Mr. and Mrs. Castilleja were part of the generation of Mexican immigrants who arrived in The Villita in the early 1970s. They lived above El Tornillo at 3735 W. 26th St.

Married for more than half a century, they died four days apart, according to their son Juan Castilleja and their daughter Sofia Marin. Mr. Castilleja, 85, died Jan. 30 at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn from complications from COVID-19 and pneumonia. Ms Castilleja, 79, tested positive for coronavirus two weeks before she died at home of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

Their children had hoped to reunite them, but the pandemic did not allow it.

“We wanted him to see my mum – maybe they would rise up,” Juan Castilleja said.

After his father’s death, the son said the children spoke with their mother: “We said, ‘It’s okay if you want to go with him.’

“Maybe they passed away heartbroken because they were away from each other for a month.”

The Castillejas’ death marks “the passing of an era on 26th Street,” García said, a time before “big box” stores, easy access to cars and migration to the suburbs.

“Every time you went into the store, you heard them talking to their customers about their families – about their trips to Mexico, the situation in their city or town, whether they were fixing the school or the church or were putting up a little monument in town,” Garcia said. “They were asking people about their parents or their children or if anyone had had an accident or had surgery. You would see them at funerals, at wakes.

“They were emblematic of families sticking together, keeping their traditions alive,” he said.

They met and married in Monterrey, Mexico, where young Jose learned masonry and contracting while working for his father’s construction company.

He first came to Chicago. While waiting for his wife, someone approaches the newcomer to offer him a “deal” on a television set.

“He was all excited,” their daughter said. “He came home and said, ‘I have a TV.’ And he opened the box – and it was full of bricks.

Over the years, the Castillejas have also operated the Aguascalientes bar and Los Laureles restaurant near 26th Street and Kedzie Avenue.

“Work, work, work, they instilled it in us,” their son said.

If Ms. Castilleja noticed teenagers hanging out in the street, “she would come out and yell at the kids, ‘Hey, get to work!’ said Juan Castilleja. “These gangsters knew who she was and they didn’t want to mess with her.”

Jose and Magdalena Castilleja behind the counter at El Tornillo, their hardware store on 26th Street in Little Village.

In the mid-1970s they bought El Tornillo – “the screw”.

Clients have called on Mr. Castilleja’s expertise to help them remodel their homes and undo their failed DIY projects.

El Tornillo hardware store.

El Tornilloa.

“So many people have visited their store for advice, for problem solving,” García said.

If people ran out of money, their son would say, “maestro pepesaid to them, “Pay me when you can.”

One of the couple’s proudest moments was when Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari visited La Villita and its welcome arch in 1991.

Mr. Castilleja “came here as an immigrant,” García said, “and to see a sitting Mexican president talking about the hard work of immigrants here, he said it was a very good idea that this arch had was built”.

Magdalena Castilleja with then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Magdalena Castilleja with then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.

“Doña Magda“Castilleja has made El Tornillo a comfortable place. It was his idea to sell nachos, soft drinks and ice cream. They also had a popcorn machine.

She was loyal to Lancôme products and had beautiful skin. And she believed in always being “presentable”. If their daughter was in a hurry to get ready to go out, Mrs. Castilleja would ask her, “Aren’t you going to put on lipstick?”

Her husband was loyal to Florsheim shoes, which he wore “95% of the time”, their son said.

After his retirement, he liked to meet his friends over coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts at 28th and Kedzie or at 55th and Pulaski.

Even in his later years, Mr. Castilleja worked hard. His daughter could see what he was doing through a phone app linked to his home security cameras. She would see him sweeping or shoveling.

She telephoned him or scolded him via the microphone of the camera: “Stop that, Grandpa !” Or: “You have a blower!” Or: “Go inside!”

The Castillejas are also survived by their son José, four granddaughters, a grandson and a great-granddaughter. Services took place.