Jesse Valadez, Sr. was born May 1, 1946 in Nueva Rosita, Mexico. His family migrated to the United States, settling near San Antonio, Texas. In the late '50s, the Valadez Family moved again, and finally settled in East Los Angeles. Alongside his mother and father, five brothers, and one sister, Jesse’s life journey was one he would not endure alone, as the family’s bond grew stronger throughout the years. He was blessed in his immediate family as well, finding a beautiful and dedicated wife in RoseAnn, with whom he shared three children, Candice, Cindy, and Jesse Jr. While it is evident that Jesse was loved by many; God loved him even more and took him home this past January, at the age of 64. His final number happens to be the same year of a car that made him, his family, and his car club world famous. Coincidence or fate? I believe it is a little bit of both, but what is certain is that this man was as fine of an example of a true Lowrider as God could have ever graced us with. A humble man full of conviction, dedication, and genuine love for his fellow man, his leadership is felt in the legacy he leaves behind today.
As young men, the Valadez brothers worked at Gils Auto Body and Upholstery in Huntington Park. This is where Jesse learned the trade and style of building cars. Of course, the story of the Imperials Car Club and the infamous Gypsy Rose go hand-in-hand. Jesses younger brother of two years, Armando Valadez, founder of the Imperials, talked about starting a car club with his Brothers before beginning the organizational and conceptual stages of the club before finalizing things in 1965. Jesse’s beautiful 64 Impala, known for its wild paint scheme and cultural impact, wasn’t built overnight. Few actually know the first car Jesse named Gypsy Rose was really a 1960 Impala! The car was Jesse’s first major Lowrider creation, but the signature roses hadn’t blossomed and made their debut just yet. The sixty was painted pink with the words Gypsy Rose on the back window. He then purchased a 63 Impala that he gave the same name to. This time, the pink, white, and red paint schemes were laid on by Walt Prey including seventy-two hand painted roses, which made the car visible for miles.
Unfortunately, even though the 63 was an instant award winning car on the show circuit, winning at many Southern CA., Hot Rod shows, the car met its demise by way of an accident. Jesse patched up what was left of the 63 and traded it to his painter, Walt, who painted it yellow. Jesse then purchased a red and black 64 two door hard top from a local sheriff. With Jesse’s eye for talent, and master painters Walt and Dunn assisting him, he began his design by stitching his elaborate hot pink velvet interior. This style would become the standard for Imperial members after him. This car was laced with one heck of a paintjob which included one hundred and fifty hand painted roses, each taking about an hour and a half to complete, thanks to the over twenty-five hundred leaf petals borne on the design. The crew also added cobb webbing, scrolling, and stripping on the design to accent the pink base. This was the start of the trendsetting Imperials. Soon after, the Imperials were building other award-winning Lowriders, which made Whittier Blvd., their home.
Beyond being a visionary car builder, Jesse was a firm believer in community service; he often mentored car club members and stressed the importance of community involvement. He became a positive influence within all ranks of the Imperials and the overall Lowrider Community, as he was conscious of the foundation that needed to be established for the up and coming generations of Lowriders to follow.
Jesse Valadez was also honored with the Lowrider Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Honor for his community work and years of service as the President of the Imperials Car Club. Most of us who knew Jesse also knew that his legacy would not only be recognized by the awards or recognition he earned in this culture, his impact would be measured by the countless life lessons, conversations, and the obligation he felt for always doing the right thing at the right time. Some are blessed in that way, and Jesse definitely was.
For those of us who have been fortunate enough to have a ride featured in Lowrider Magazine, it makes an immediate impact not unlike that of becoming a celebrity. Imagine seeing your masterpiece on wheels on a nationally syndicated television show called Chico and the Man, with millions watching weekly, catapulting Lowriding into mainstream America overnight! Jesse and the Imperials were also part of the big screen in playing roles in the movie Boulevard Nights, capturing Lowriders on film throughout theaters around the country. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy from Garden Grove, California flying an Imperial plaque.
It is relatively impossible to write an accurate account on a Lowrider Legend with so many stories and life lessons like Jesse Valadez. Lowrider Magazine doesn’t have enough pages to properly credit his accomplishments as a man, father, uncle, grandfather, and Lowrider. In attending the funeral services for Jesse, I saw firsthand the sweeping tide of change in our Lowrider Community. Not too long ago, if a car club experienced a loss, you would see those club colors scattered between family and friends. But at Jesse’s services, there were throngs of Lowrider Car Clubs, which paid respect to the Lowrider of Lowriders, his family, and The Imperials. The church on Atlantic, just off Whittier Blvd., was standing room only. And even though it is now illegal to cruise or have a funeral procession down Whittier Boulevard. City Officials allowed this special occasion for a very special man. This time, Gypsy Rose and Jesse were leading their last caravan together down Whittier with close to five hundred Lowriders from various car clubs and independents honoring this man.
Jesse Jr., now an officer with the Imperials, was told he had big shoes to fill. On the day he buried his father, he replied I’ve been wearing my father’s shoes all this time, and now I will tie them tight. Of course, those shoes are black and gold. Jesse Jr. is a true testament of his father’s legacy and demeanor. His father taught him well. He plans to continue to keep the Rose showing and flying his and his father’s car club plaque. Special thanks to Tomas, current President of the L.A. Imperials, and Jesse Valadez, Jr. for their recollections of Mr. Gypsy Rose.
Jesse was a personal inspiration to me. As a young man, he built, from the ground up, a car club that would become the standard to which other organizations would set their goals. He created a car club where Lowriding was the life blood of the people in it; and a club in which your car had to be something special to be considered Imperial Material. We pay homage to the life and work of the man that lead the Imperials as president for over 14 years; a man who will forever be remembered as one of the culture’s most recognized, admired, respected, and dedicated Lowriders in history. Ride in Peace, Jesse.