Thursday, May 17, 2018

An Elder Speaks: Remembering the Springs of the Wounded Deer

Daniel Cano

Ysidro Reyes (1912-2007)

                                                                                     PART I                                                                                                                                                                  
In the fall of 2001, Ysidro Reyes invited me to visit him in an office at Gates-Kingsley-Gates Mortuary in Santa Monica, where he’d spent much of his life working in the mortuary business, or as he liked to see it, "serving the community in times of grief."

Nearing 90, Ysidro appeared to be frail, walking slowly, and leaning forward. Yet his thinning white hair combed neatly back, and his fiery blue eyes showed he was anything but frail. He was impeccably dressed in a dark blue pinstriped suit, white shirt, and navy colored tie. Though officially retired, Ysidro said he works on a contract basis for the funeral home he helped found in the 1930s, directed in the '80s, and left just as the corporations were taking over the business.

In a low, raspy, but confident voice, he said, "In the old days, I only needed to fill out a half-sheet of paper. I could spend more time comforting the families that came to see, too many state laws and regulations. We have to hire ten people just to complete all the paperwork. It's a different world.”

Ysidro Reyes makes the fourth generation of Reyes males in Santa Monica to carry the name Ysidro. Like his cousin Forrest Freed, whom I wrote about in an earlier La Bloga post, Ysidro is related to both the Reyes and Marquez families. Some historians write Ysidro's great-grandfather, Ysidro Reyes II, was the first child of non-Indian heritage born in the Santa Monica Basin, which in the 1800’s was simply a coastal region in Alta California.

Writers have recorded the Reyes’ history in various books, newspapers, and journals. When I asked what he thought about historians' portrayal of his family, Ysidro held out an open hand, palm down, and made a teetering motion, as if saying, sometimes good, sometimes not so good. "Most of it is hearsay, and [they] write about it in the gringo way. It's very haphazard." I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by, “…the gringo way,” but before I could ask, he continued talking.

He told me his great-great grandfather the first Ysidro Reyes was born in the early 1800s in the San Fernando Valley, where he made a living making and repairing harnesses. From San Fernando, Ysidro Reyes I would travel to the pueblo of Los Angeles to conduct business and visit friends. One of those friends was a blacksmith named Francisco Marquez. The two men decided to go out to the coast, just to see what was there. In those early days, only the Tongva people lived along the rugged coastal lands.

The Spanish and Mexicans mostly inhabited the lands in San Fernando, Los Angeles, and San Gabriel, working close to the mission grounds. The Sepulveda, Alvarado and Machado families had begun grazing cattle on the lands to the south, near the ocean, towards the King’s Beach (Playa del Rey). They did not live on the land but traveled back and forth to the pueblo of Los Angeles by way of la cienega, the swampland to the south. Some historians say the dirt road they traveled then was called Paseo de Las Carretas or what we know today as Washington Boulevard.

Maybe it was the long coastline, the cool weather, or the magnificent landscape that made Ysidro Reyes I and Francisco Marquez decide to settle in the canyon that reached the ocean and would one day bear the name Santa Monica Canyon. Like the other rancheros, they, at first, began to graze animals. In 1831, well after Mexico’s independence from Spain (1821), Francisco Marquez opened a blacksmith shop in the canyon to service visitors coming from el pueblo de Los Angeles, 21 miles inland. In 1838, the two men applied and received the land grant, and they called their land Rancho Boca de Santa Monica.

Ysidro described the families' first homes in the canyon and the natural dangers they faced living among the wolves and mountain lions. “About all that’s left of the adobe today,” said Ysidro, “is a plaque on a bolder at the corner of Chautauqua and Sunset Boulevards.” Some historians have told romantic tales of how the first early Reyes and Marquez families exchanged gifts with Indians in the area and how they became friends, the Indians even visiting the men's homes. Each year as the Indians boarded their canoes and headed to the sacred mountains rising from the ocean (Catalina), the Mexican families would watch the canoes head out toward the sea and disappear. It was understood some of the Indians’ small boats would not survive the treacherous journey.

Though Ysidro respected his family's past, he preferred to talk about his early days, growing up in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles. Ysidro Reyes IV was born in 1912, near the corner of 10th Street and Wilshire Boulevard. He remembered few homes in that part of Santa Monica. He also remembered that his uncle, Manuel Marquez, owned a gravel yard there. "Where did they get the gravel?" I asked, "And what was it for?"

Ysidro explained how after a rain, the gravel from the hillsides along the coast would wash into the ocean. At low tide, usually two or three in the morning, his uncle, and the workers he hired, would take their horses, and spend the day dragging the sands with a screen, separating the gravel from the sand. They would haul the gravel back to the yard on 10th Street and Wilshire where they would spread it out and let it dry.

The young, developing city hired Manuel Marquez to cover the dirt sidewalks throughout Santa Monica with gravel. This kept the mud down during rainy season and the dust down during the summer months. Ysidro told me, with a cackle, how years later when the city constructed newer, wider cement sidewalks, the city workers poured concrete over the old gravel. "What do you think happened?" he asked. Before I could guess, he said. “The sidewalks all crumbled. You can't mix concrete and ocean gravel, because of the salt." He slowly shook his head, smiled, and raised a wrinkled hand, and said, “What are you going to do?”

Ysidro told me his father, Ysidro III, and his father’s brothers and sisters all attended the one-room Canyon Elementary School down in the canyon. After completing the Canyon School, his dad attended an elementary school on 6th Street. When he reached high school age, his father enrolled at Santa Monica High School when it was located at 10th Street and Oregon Avenue (Santa Monica Boulevard today).

In 1906, the high school moved to its present location on Pico Boulevard. Ysidro made a point to tell me his father spoke, read, and wrote both English and Spanish fluently. Ysidro's mother, Ysoila, was raised in Sawtelle (West Los Angeles). After his parents married, they moved to different locations around the Westside. There didn't seem to be much difference if they lived in Sawtelle, Santa Monica, Palms, or Venice. Many of the Mexican families knew each other anyway.

At the time, the Reyes family still owned some of the original land grant in the Canyon, but most of it had already been sold. In the 1920s, Ysidro's father, apparently foreseeing the value of real estate, purchased two acres of land in Sawtelle for two hundred dollars an acre, a smart business move at the time.

Of his own schooling, Ysidro said he completed his early school years in Santa Monica but later attended school in Sawtelle, where he completed the seventh and eighth grades at the 15th Street School, which would become Woodrow Wilson before changing to Brockton Avenue School, the current name.

Recently, a friend gave me an old typed paper, a brief history of W.L.A. that said Woodrow Wilson School held its first Father's Night in 1921, its first Boy Scout meeting in 1932, and its first Girl Scout meeting in 1935, the same year the school administration purchased its first motion picture machine.

When I asked my father about the name 15th Street School, he told me when he was a boy, Sawtelle Boulevard was 1st Street, or la calle primera to the Mexicans in town. All streets to the west of 1st Street received numbers, so Brockton must have been the fifteenth street to the west.

Ysidro said that sometime around 1922 the school district decided that the kids, mostly Caucasian, who lived west of Stoner Avenue would attend Woodrow Wilson School. The kids who lived east of Stoner, a more congested area, and a mixture of Mexican, Japanese, and white kids would attend the First Street School, later to become the Sawtelle Avenue School, and Nora Sterry Elementary School today.

In 1925, the Woodrow Wilson School changed from eight grades to six. So the kids going to junior high school, regardless of ethnicity or race, after 1925, all attended Emerson Junior High in Westwood, the only junior high in West L.A. After completing Emerson, the West L.A. kids all attended Warren Harding University High School (today University High School).

University High School, Springs of Wounded Deer

Ysidro enjoyed talking about his years in high school. As an adult, he wrote a pamphlet describing the history of the school. He attended Unihi when construction workers started grading the hillside and leveling it into terraces. The spring of the Wounded Deer, flowed down the mountainside and formed a lagoon. John V. Bosveld, an internationally known architect, designed the grounds and included a botanical garden using the natural surroundings, the site of a Tonga village, and today named Indian Springs.

Some historians maintain it was at this location where Father Crespi, on the first Spanish expedition in 1771, camped alongside the Tongva villagers who were living there at the time. To mark the location, Crespi named the springs San Gregorio, for it was St. Gregorio’s feast day. During this overnight stay, a young, over-enthusiastic Spanish soldier shot a deer and wounded it, chasing the animal in circles until he was able to subdue it, hence the name Spring of the Wounded Deer.

On the next expedition in 1776, Junipero Serra, returning from Monterrey to Los Angeles, followed Crespi’s route and also camped beside the springs and the Tongva village. It was said the flowing water reminded Serra of the tears St. Monica shed for her wayward son Augustine, so Serra changed the name from San Gregorio to Santa Monica.

Maybe it was this rich history and his family’s place in it that inspired Ysidro's love of the high school, the springs, and the area surrounding it. When I asked about his family being cheated out of their land by unscrupulous speculators and government machinations, Ysidro answered, indignantly, "Nobody was cheated out of anything. That's just 'dijeron'." A businessman and community leader, it was clear, Ysidro did not want to see his family as victims but as business people who took advantage of every opportunity available.

(Part 2, May 31st)


Antonio SolisGomez said...

hijole! what a great interview and story. you should be very proud of the information provided. cant wait for part II

Daniel Cano said...

Antonio, I was humbled by talking to these men and women. Now that I am revisiting these interviews so many years later, I am seeing so much that I missed the first time around. Gracias