Huntington acquires photo collection of Ernest Marquez

Visitors to Santa Monica Beach in the 1880s.

This is pretty awesome. Ernie Marquez, a member of the land-grant family that owned Santa Monica Canyon and Rancho Boca de Santa Monica, grew up in the canyon himself and later in life became an LA historian and collector of historical photographs. 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. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens today announced it has acquired Marquez's "unrivaled set of 4,600 images of early Southern California, including scarce pictures of 1870s Santa Monica and Los Angeles." It is the Huntington's largest acquisition of photographs in more than 70 years.

The newly acquired Ernest Marquez Collection of photographs records Santa Monica’s transformation from rustic hamlet to international symbol of the California good life, with prints from the 1870s to the 1950s. In the mid 1870s, the Southern Pacific Railroad was on the brink of connecting upstart Los Angeles to the rest of the nation, and the new township of Santa Monica welcomed city dwellers to its beachside tent cities. Photographers opened studios catering to the incipient tourist trade, and the illustrious San Francisco photographer, Carleton E. Watkins, visited in 1877 and 1880. The collection includes elusive images by some of the region’s earliest practitioners, including William M. Godfrey, Francis Parker, Hayward & Muzzall, and Watkins.

“This photo archive was amassed over a 50-year period by a descendent of Mexican land grantees who owned the 6,000-acre Rancho Boca de Santa Monica or present-day Rustic and Santa Monica Canyons, Pacific Palisades, and portions of the city of Santa Monica,” said Jennifer A. Watts, curator of photographs at The Huntington. “The resulting group of photographs is the best and most comprehensive collection of its kind in private hands.” Watts emphasized there is little to no duplication with The Huntington’s already superb collection, and that this is The Huntington’s largest purchase of photographs since 1939.

Thumbnail image for ernest-marquez-grab.jpgMarquez, 89, is a fellow author at Santa Monica's Angel CIty Press. His books include a history of Santa Monica and a history of the Long Wharf which used to stick out into the bay and form a major port near today's Will Rogers State Beach. He also is co-author with Veronique de Turenne of a book on the Port of Los Angeles.

Santa Monica's former beachfront Arcadia Hotel and the rollercoaster you could take to get there.

* Update: Watts told the LA Times that "this was the Huntington's costliest purchase of photographs since the time of Henry E. Huntington, who died in 1927."

Previously on LA Observed:
Ernest Marquez is a treasure from LA's past

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