Thursday, July 13, 2017

Ygnacio Machado’s Map

Daniel Cano

When I told my father, a long-time West Los Angeles resident, Santa Monica College had given me a sabbatical to interview old-time Westside Latino families, I asked him which families I should first  interview. In a flash, he started rattling off names, like the Gandaras, Rivas, Redondos, Cassillas, Holquins, Juarez, Villas, Villasenors, Escamillas, Garcias, Gonzalez, Guajardos, Arujos, Sapiens….” I had to stop him. He didn’t just know the names. He also knew many of their stories.


“What if I start with the original Californio families? Any of them still around?” I asked him. “Yeah,” he answered, “the Tapias, the Marquez, the Reyes, the Lugos, Sepulvedas, Avilas, and Frank Machado’s family. Start with them.

So, I was off.

I contacted Fred Machado, one of the oldest living Machados, at the time, and I told him about my project. He invited me to his house.

On a cold November night in 2001, he and his nephew, Ron Mendez, greeted me at Fred’s front door. Both men, and their cousin, Julie Lugo, had committed years of their lives to studying the family history.

Fred still lives in Culver City, “part of the old land grant,” he told me, laughing at the irony of having to have purchased a house on land his family once owned. The Machados, Lugos and Talamantes built Rancho La Ballona after receiving grazing rights in 1819 then a land grant from the king of Spain a few years later.

The original grant spread from Playa del Rey to La Cienega, and Palms to Rancho Park, land originally known as Pwinukipar, or “full of water” by the local Tongva people, who had inhabited the land for thousands of years before the first Europeans and Mexicans arrived. And as sure as its Indian name, during high tides and times of rain, much of the land was a lake before Los Angeles constructed a complex system of canals to prevent flooding.

At one point during my visit, Fred, unable to contain his excitement, spread a copy of a map across his dining room table.

"This [map] has its own story," Ron said, turning to Fred.

Fred said, “After my cousin Jimmy died, Jimmy's wife found an old tube container packed away at the back of a closet.” He described how his cousin’s wife opened the tube and pulled out a faded, rolled-up cloth--a map. Since she knew about Fred’s interest in the family history, she called him. Printed on linen, the map measured three feet by four feet. Someone, in 1868, probably their elder ancestor at the time, Jose Agustin Machado, had meticulously drawn, in neat handwritten script, an outline of the land, Rancho La Ballona, indicating all boundaries. He had drawn parallel lines starting at the coast. Fred laughed calling it, "beachfront property." Agustin Machado had written a family member's name in each tract, which represented three hundred feet of land. This was the Machado family inheritance as handed down by Agustin Machado to his children.

As I looked at the map, I couldn’t help but think how some of the lines, curiously, showed portions of land where today Playa Vista Development and west-side environmentalists are still battling over La Ballona’s Wetlands.

Fred pointed at the map to show me where his grandfather Ricardo’s ranch house, or as Fred called it, “the Big House,” his birthplace, had once stood. Fred took out a wrinkled black and white photograph of the house, surrounded by open fields. He said, “Today, that’s near the corner of Jefferson and Centinela.”

Growing up in both Santa Monica and West Los Angeles, I remembered the area as empty fields, Hughes Aircraft Company, and the Lopez Ranch—all gone, replaced by a new, modern Shell gas station, its bright red and yellow colors screaming for attention, a few old stucco storefronts, and a new entrance into Loyola Marymount University, and off to the west, the miles of new construction--Playa Vista Development.

Fred guessed his cousin Jimmy received the map from their grandfather, Ricardo, who received it from Jose Agustin. Ricardo Machado, who dealt in farming and real estate in the early 1900s, continued to use the map, making his own pencil markings and notations. Throughout the years, some of the pencil markings had faded. Fred took the original linen map to someone who had a blue light, and under closer observation, he could decipher much of the handwriting.

“Let me tell you an interesting story about this map,” Fred said. “One day, I received a call from a young man in Washington D.C. He had been discharged from the Air Force and was living back East.” Apparently, the young man had been studying there and doing some research into the Machado family history.
Fred invited the young man to visit him in Culver City and stayed with Fred and his family for a few days. Surprising Fred, the young man confided that his grandmother was the daughter of a man named Juan Lugo, a relative of the Machado family. Fred told the young man there were Lugos in the family, but he had never heard of a Juan Lugo and nothing in the family's records showed that name. Fred said, “It could have been a mistake, or Juan Lugo could have been illegitimate,” in which case his name probably wouldn’t show up anyplace.

At the time of the young man’s visit, Fred still had possession of the original 1868 linen map. He thought the young man might enjoy seeing it. As they looked closely, surveying the designated plots of land, boundaries and names, their eyes came to rest on a tiny corner where they saw the almost invisible name written, Juan Lugo. Fred had never noticed it.

"The kid became unglued, just unglued," Fred said, delightedly. “No one had ever mentioned a Juan Lugo. And there in my grandfather or great-grandfather’s writing was the notation, showing where Juan Lugo had lived on the ranch, close to where Walgrove and Venice cross," today a busy intersection filled with apartments on one side and Venice High on the other.

What we realized at that point in Fred’s story was the kid wanted a link to his past, maybe even a family connection where none had existed.

Fred's eyes gleamed as he finished telling the story, a near tear-jerker, which showed me that to Fred, and his nephew, Ron, history is not simply books with facts and dates. History is people and their stories. As someone once said, history is a breathing, living thing. If teachers approached it in this way, students might have a better appreciation of our past and the people who lived it.

As for the map, Jimmy's wife told Fred to keep it. Fred told her, "Whoa! You're not giving this to me. It's too important for one person to have."

After verifying the map's authenticity and its place in Los Angeles history, the family donated the map to Loyola Marymount University, where, Fred said, scholars are still studying early Southern California history, particularly the history of L.A.’s west side, a history so few people know about.

6 comments:

Latino Heritage said...

What a wonderful find- on so many levels. Thank you for making this bit history more visible.

Daniel Cano said...

Thank you for the response. It is nice to know people are listening to the voices of our ancestors.

Alfred Herrera said...

So much history about this land that I drove by so many years..

Daniel Cano said...

Alfred, it is a rich part of our history, all around us.

Anonymous said...

What I want to know if how is your "talks to the pobladores originales" has been going. You've been at it for quite a while. Did you ever talk to the Ruiz people or the Duartes? I know that Ernesto Marquez has been writing about his family but I don't know about the Ruiz. A couple of them are still around, you know.

Anyway, let me know because I am interested.

Scott Duncan said...

I'd like to hear more as well. Visiting my uncle in LA, I realized Pio Pico's house was close by. It was nice as my Californio ancestors would have visited there in Pico's time. Another visitor would have been Tiburcio Vasquez, the famous folk bandit, though the film they play at Pico's house place his photo decades earlier and make it seem Pico didn't welcome him in his home. I love bumping into history around LA.