The Museum of South Texas History (MOSTH) is honored to display a new exhibit, “Dr. Garcia’s Gold.” Last year, the museum was gifted with gold coins with an elaborate story of the coins being buried under a house nearly 100 years ago.
CEO Dr. Francisco Guajardo shared the story of how the coins came to be in possession of the museum.
In the early 1900s, Dr. Jose Garcia founded and operated a medical practice in the small town of San Diego, TX.
“According to a financial ledger that his sister-in-law kept for the family, there [is] evidence that Jose Garcia was obtaining gold coins,” Guajardo said.
Garcia had decided to remodel his house in 1929, installing a trap door in the kitchen.
“That trap door would be used by him to store certain things under the floor of the house. It was [about a two-foot crawl space] between the dirt and the surface of the floor,” Guajardo said.
In 1933, during the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order to collect all privately held gold from Americans known as “The Hoarding Act.”
“Garcia would go to the bank, take out all of his gold coins, bring them to his house and bury them under his house,” Guajardo said.
Over time, Garcia collected and buried around 500 gold coins under his house.
Garcia had a daughter, Gloria, who married her husband, Hector Lopez, in 1950. It was then that Dr. Garcia told Hector and Gloria about the gold. He wanted Gloria to use it to care for her brother, Lico, who had special needs.
For many years, Hector failed to find the gold under the house. Unfortunately, Dr. Garcia had begun to lose his mental faculties and could not remember exactly where he had put the gold.
After Dr. Garcia died in 1964, Gloria and Hector became the owners of his home. They sold it in 1976 to a man named Alejandro Lopez.
“Hector and Gloria had thought for many years that the gold story was [the imagination of a man] who had lost his mental faculties,” Guajardo said.
In 2002, Alejandro Lopez found a leaky sewer line and hired a local plumber, Serafín Treviño, to fix it.
Serafín used the trap door in the kitchen that Dr. Garcia had installed in 1929 to access the leaking pipe.
“[In the crawl space], he [didn’t] have enough room to maneuver to replace the pipes. So he began to dig to create more space,” Guajardo said.
As he dug, Serafín unearthed a huge clump of mud. Upon examination, Serafín realized the mud was enmeshed with gold coins.
Serafín stole the gold and began pawning it over town. Word got out about the coins, and Alejandro realized Serafín had taken the coins from his home. Alejandro contacted Serafín, claiming the coins had been given to him by his father.
Serafín wasn’t willing to give up the coins, and the two sued one another for rightful ownership.
Word of the trial at the Duval County Courthouse made it to the local news. Gloria and Hector found out and approached Alejandro and Serafín. They shared the story of Gloria’s father and how he had buried the gold for them under the house many years ago.
Alejandro and Serafín continued to fight for the gold for themselves. Gloria and Hector took legal action to obtain possession of the gold. In 2004, a Duval County jury ruled in their favor.
The exhibit at the MOSTHistory shares this story of the legal proceedings that determined the rightful owner of the gold, along with a detailed account of Dr. García’s life.
Hector and Gloria Lopez acquired wealth apart from the gold. They donated $275 million, creating the Hector and Gloria Lopez Foundation to provide scholarships to first-generation Hispanic students from South Texas to attend college.
“Dr. García’s Gold” is on display now and included in the museum’s regular admission fees. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.