Interesting Angelenos

Ernest Marquez is a treasure from LA's past

Ernest Marquez likes to say that his family lived in three countries — Spain, Mexico and the United States — without ever leaving home. His great-great-great-grandfather Francisco Reyes was a soldier in the Portola expedition that first visited California in the name of Spain in 1769. Later, in the Mexican era, Reyes' grandson and a man named Francisco Marquez received 6,656 acres along the beach and named their land grant Rancho Boca de Santa Monica. It's there, in Santa Monica Canyon, where Ernest Marquez grew up before the artists and actors moved in. Before PCH became a highway, he could walk barefoot down to the beach.

ernest-marquez-grab.jpgMarquez is well known to Southern California historians as a determined collector of historical papers, maps and other relics of his family and of the other Mexican families that owned most of the rancho lands that surrounded the pueblo of Los Angeles. He also has an extensive collection of photographs showing Los Angeles in each of the eras in which cameras were present. Photos provided by Marquez were included in my book on the history and development of Wilshire Boulevard. He's a friend of LA Observed in other ways as well. Marquez is the author, with Veronique de Turenne, of "Port of Los Angeles: an illustrated history from 1850 to 1945." For Angel City Press, which published the Wilshire book and the port book, Marquez is also the author of "Noir Afloat: Tony Cornero and the Notorious Gambling Ships of Southern California" and "Santa Monica Beach: A Collector's Pictorial History." Marquez also wrote the history of the so-called Long Wharf, a sea port that used to exist a little up the coast from his home in the canyon — there's a historical marker for it now on Pacific Coast Highway.

I sat beside Marquez at a presentation at the Central Library about a year ago in which a featured historian recounted the story of the wharf and the creation of Santa Monica. It seemed a bit ragged in the details, and I looked over at Ernie and asked if any of what we just heard was true. He just smiled and quietly said, "no." He wasn't one to embarrass the historian in public.

Marquez is 89 now, living in the West Valley, and trying to finish his history of the Marquez family. He recently succeeded in gaining legal access to the family cemetery that is hidden behind million-dollar homes in Santa Monica Canyon. Among the relatives buried there are ten victims of botulism from tainted canned goods who died after a New Year's party more than 100 years ago. And he's looking for an institution to take his collections. Michael Dawson, the collector and dealer behind Dawson's Books, is helping.

Martha Groves did a nice Column One piece on Marquez in Monday's LA Times. Sample:

On a recent visit to the burial ground, Marquez talked about the enormous task he has set for himself. He is 400 pages into the treatise about his family and the rancho. Some of the vast knowledge he has gleaned through decades of research is beginning to fade from memory.

He sat on a fallen acacia near his grandfather's grave. The dessicated trunk stretched along the ground, then bent toward the light. From its tip sprouted slender, healthy leaves.

Marquez has asked his children to bury his ashes nearby.

"I'll be there close to my grandfather," Marquez said. "I'll be like this tree, dead but still alive."

Here's the trailer for a documentary about the Marquez cemetery called "Saving the Sacred Rancho in the Canyon."

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