Must-Read Novel on Mazatlán

51wVr9BRpHLAnyone who loves Mazatlán, history, stories of friendship or iconic buildings infused with spirit should peruse Hotel Belmar: The ghost has the key. It’s a terrific read, a perfect holiday gift, and it’s free with your Kindle Unlimited subscription!

The novel is written by local snowbird resident Sue Carnes, who I first met years ago on an Art Walk when I purchased both a book and a print of one of her paintings—she’s obviously multi-talented! I had the privilege of having her call me years later as she started her research on the Belmar; she asked me for directions to the municipal archives. I took her there, introduced her to the crew as well as to my friend Joaquín, a well-known repository of Mazatlán’s past, and the rest quickly became history.

I sort of forgot about Sue’s efforts until, months later, Joaquín told me how much fun he was having helping with her new volume! He has authored a long list of his own non-fiction books, and helping Susan weave a story of historical fiction seemed to delight his soul.

Hotel Belmar is told in first person by Lori, a foreign resident of Mazatlán who enjoys her morning coffee on the ocean-facing terrace of the 100-year-old Hotel Belmar in Centro Histórico—the beloved yet long-neglected beauty of a hotel filled with hand-painted ceramic tiles imported from Europe and hand carved woods from around the world. If you have not spent an hour or more exploring the Belmar, you owe it to yourself to do so!

Lori becomes intrigued by snippets of stories about Hollywood stars, Carnaval queens, governors, generals and even presidents of the country, all seeming to revolve around the hotel. Then, one day, she senses a spirit in the hotel; could it be one of the ghosts her friends who live in the hotel have told her about? But, she doesn’t believe in ghosts!

I am an avid reader of historical fiction, but it never would have crossed my mind to write a novel about the Belmar that would both entertain and educate the reader about its elegant and storied past. Sue had that vision and executed it very well. My dream would be that this novel would catch on with such popularity that we might see this architectural and historic gem restored to its former glory.

Any resident of Mazatlán will recognize quite a few of the characters in the book: those who call the rooms of the Belmar home, and those who dine and dance on her patios. Local expats will identify with Lori’s life: her friendships with locals as well as other expats, visits of friends from up north, her curiosity and ongoing quest to figure things out. This is a quick and interesting tale, and in the process the reader learns a whole lot about local history, including Mazatlán’s mining heyday, visits from famous people, and mazatlecos’ role in the Mexican Revolution. Inside you’ll find quite a few historic photos and some very cleverly drawn chapter dividers.

Come on, folks. Take time this holiday season to put your feet up and enjoy a good ghost story set right here in Mazatlán. In addition to buying it online, you can purchase the novel locally at the offices of the Pacific Pearl in the Golden Zone, San Francisco Quilt Shop downtown, or at Susan’s house during the monthly downtown Art Walk.

Spanish Royalty in Mazatlán

Quinta Echeguren 1My neighbor Daniel owns the big lot just in front of Colegio el Pacífico, at the top of Olas Altas where the “castle” used to stand. Last year when I was on the roof of the school photographing the fireworks of Combate Naval, we saw him and his friends down below on their lot, having a nice party. Greg and I said to each other, “what a great site for a party place.”

Well, fortunately, Daniel seems to have thought so, too. I feared they might be building yet another tower on the property, but the workers assure me they are only filling in and leveling out what they dug up of the old chalet on the hill, planting grass, installing bathrooms in the downstairs of the home, and building an office street side. Yeah! Some green and less cement in Mazatlán! According to the construction workers, the place is to be a salón de eventos.

I visited yesterday to take a few photos while the antique home was still a bit revealed. You can see the commanding view it had. I was astounded how solidly built the home was; even after a century of abandonment, and being buried, the walls stand strong, the plumbing is still in place. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

You may have heard of the misfortune that has plagued that home. We’ve been told that anyone who builds or lives in a home there will die. Scary stuff.

Enrique Vega Ayala, official city historian, has written a history of La Quinta Echeguren, the palatial home that stood on the site, for Amigos de Mazatlán. I’ll summarize that article in English for you, below.

Family History in Mazatlán
Don Pedro and Don Francisco Echeguren y Quintana established businesses in Mazatlán in the 1860s, even though they continued living in Spain. They quickly became one of the richest families in Mazatlán, owners of various mines—including the Guadalupe de los Reyes in Cosalá—businesses, industries and properties. By 1863 they were the owners of the majority of all mining operations in our region.

Don Pedro Sr. died in 1877 and his inheritance was distributed between his widow Doña Concepción Moreno, his five children and his brother Francisco. The “Compañía Echeguren Hermanos” changed its name to “Francisco Echeguren, Sister and Nephews.” The sister and nephews ignored the Mazatlecan business. Three of Don Pedro’s four daughters married French and Spanish noblemen: the Baron of Dampierre, the Viscount of Chollet, and the Count of Mayor. Only the husband of the youngest, a wealthy Spaniard, ever made an appearance here in the port to check on their businesses.

Don Francisco held the family business until 1901, when it was transferred to Pedro Echeguren y Herrerías (Jr). It’s probable that he paid part of the reward for the capture of Heraclio Bernal, the generous bandit who ravaged gold and silver from the mines and interfered with the fortunes of the Echeguren. Under the protection of the good relations that Pedro Sr. and Jr. had cultivated with Sinaloan Governor General Francisco Cañedo, their income increased even more and very quickly.

Pedro Echeguren y Herrerías (Jr) is the one who built the chalet on Paseo del Centenario and who sought to maintain a life near his businesses here, even if during only certain seasons of the year. Pedro Jr. died in 1907. After his death no one wanted to take direct responsibility for the businesses: La Mercería Nueva (the new haberdashery), Almacenes Echeguren (warehouses), Guadalupe de los Reyes Mining Companies, the textile factory in Villa Unión, the Water Supply Board, and innumerable real estate properties came to be administered by agents in Mazatlán. The family’s riches here that had been built over 50 years soon went broke. The family’s influence declined not just because of its loss of fortune but also due to the Revolution.

Quinta Echeguren 2The Castle on the Hill
Formally called “La Quinta Echeguren,” the home was designed and built in the late 1800s by architect Elizalde from San Sebastián, Spain and built by Ramírez y Cia. It would burn down twice and its inhabitants would suffer many misfortunes, leading to rumors that the lot is cursed.

Long after the home’s heyday, local newspaper Correo de la Tarde of September 13, 1944 said this: “Mr. Echegurén, desiring to bring his wife who lived in San Sebastián, Spain to this city, wanted to give her the impression that he had transplanted their finca from home. He brought photos and plans to build La Quinta, an exact copy of the house in which Mrs. Echeguren lived in San Sebastián. No detail was forgotten: they built gardens just like at home, bedrooms, the orientation to the ocean was the same. They planted similar plants, brought over the same furniture, rugs and wall hangings, even the acoustics were the same. They didn’t forget the exotic plants and animals, either.”

However, “When Mr. Echeguren started the journey to bring his wife, she died, and they would never live in the home he had especially designed for her. In this way the Quinta remained generally uninhabited, with only the caretakers cleaning and maintaining it.”

Huge parties were held at the Quinta in the late 1800s, hosted by Doña Plácida Herrerías de Echeguren. Amado Nervo was a reporter at the time for the Correo de la Tarde and discussed the parties in some detail. Sadly, the lady caretaker of the house died in the bubonic plague in 1903, and, according to Dr. Martiniano Carvajal, the Junta de Caridad burned the home due to its location in the neighborhood where the plague originated.

One year after the house burned down it was rebuilt even bigger and better. The main house was 27 meters long by 20 wide, and on the ocean side they built a three-story section. The servants’ quarters were on the ocean side, 16 meters x 10, and below that was the wine cellar. Dining room, smoking room and living room were downstairs. On the second floor were five bedrooms, various living rooms decorated luxuriously, a bathroom, a lookout, and a terrace. The residence had three servants’ apartments with bathroom and dormitories. The building was 20 meters tall with another 5-meter tower. 80 men worked on its construction. Rocks in the walls are from the cerro. They lowered the road so carriages could get up it more easily. The new one would be better than the one that was destroyed, more elegant.

On September 12 of 1944, however, the Quinta de Echeguren was semi-destroyed in a huge electrical and wind storm. Lightning hit the lightning rod of the home but the ground for the rod wasn’t fastened down, causing the home to ignite. Firemen and police were called about midnight; the second floor was lost but they were able to save the ground floors.

That’s when the rumors started: two fires, the supposed death of Pedro’s wife, the death of the caretaker, bubonic plague… black rumors about the house.

Vega Ayala cites Cleotilde Bernal: “The Quinta was gorgeous. It had parquet floors and decorations brought from Europe, very luxuriously furnished. It was almost all wood, only a few walls were made of brick. The floors and staircases were all fine wood. The Quinta went unoccupied until they rented it to the Corvera-Gibson. The wife had been Carnaval Queen in her youth. They paid 600 pesos in rent, which was a lot of money, a fortune, but Mr. Corvera was the owner of the textile factory in Villa Unión and had a lot of money. The house still had the original furniture, but the renters replaced it with their own and stored the originals below the house. I took care of the children of Doña Carmen and Don Bernardo until they left Mazatlán. Then a family named Páez lived in the Quinta. He got sick from tuberculosis and died in the house. His family left, leaving the house alone. That’s how the home was when it was hit by lightning.”

So, maybe rumors of a curse have saved us from yet one more condo tower! I will say I’m happy to be getting some grass and an open view!

The Duke and Manuel: From Mazatlán to Hollywood

_DSC9062©The Wild Goose

Imagine yourself at twenty years old, a poor fisherman hauling in 400 kilos of lobster—there were loads of lobster in our waters back then—in your panga in the bay of Mazatlán. Suddenly a 136-foot yacht pulls up and none other than John Wayne himself shouts out to you, inviting you aboard for coffee. This is what local boat charter operator Manuel Valdéz tells me happened to him.

Wayne spoke Spanish fluently, having been married to three different Latina women and having spent considerable time filming and vacationing in México. Of course, Manuel boarded the large vessel, counting his lucky stars. The Duke asked him about his catch and offered to trade bottles from his extensive wine cellar for some of the lobster. “No,” Manuel said, “I don’t want to trade for wine. Thank you.” “I know what you want!” Wayne apparently responded with a twinkle in his eye. “You want a magazine, one with some nice chicas.” Handing Manuel a girlie magazine, they shared their first belly laugh.

He had to deny John Wayne for the third time.

“No, I can’t trade. I am going to take the lobsters to my rancho in Mesillas,” Manuel told the actor. Upon hearing the word “rancho” Wayne got excited and asked if he could accompany Manuel to his ranch. Manuel believed that Wayne was imagining a ranch with a big house and lots of cattle, when in fact the fisherman was the son of a poor family with a simple home that didn’t own any livestock. He had to deny John Wayne for the third time. “Not today,” he said with embarrassment. “Maybe some other time.”

Then the Duke returned to the topic of the lobsters. “If you don’t want to trade, I’ll buy them from you.” Proving that he was a very clever young man, instead of selling the lobster Manuel gifted the star two large sacks of lobster. When Wayne insisted on paying him, Manuel asked that instead of money he be invited for dinner. Would you have been able to think that quickly? I don’t know that I would have. Happy to oblige, Wayne invited Manuel for dinner at 8 pm. Manuel says that he arrived on the boat at 7:00, excited to be able to socialize with the Hollywood star and eager to taste what Wayne’s private chef would serve!

Wayne took a liking to the young Sinaloan.

Wayne took a liking to the young Sinaloan, offering Manuel a job as deckhand on the Wild Goose, his remodeled Navy minesweeper. Manuel explained that he had neither a passport nor a visa and had not yet completed his military service. “You do your military service and get your credential. I’ll take care of the passport and visa,” Wayne told him. True to his word, a few months later Manuel was working on the Wild Goose full time: six months in California, six months in México. That job would last twelve years, until Wayne’s death.

That job would last twelve years, until Wayne’s death.

Manuel says he got to know the Wayne family well. The actor was then married to his third wife, Pilar, a Peruvian beauty, and was almost always accompanied by her and their children, Aissa, John Ethan and Marisa. Manuel has many memories of the giant family man laughing, playing cards, horsing around, jumping into the water and swimming with his children. He says that Wayne had a heart of gold and absolutely loved children. He would work the boat with the crew, loved piloting it and especially loved the 3 am watch.

When I first met Manuel, he showed me several photos of him and the Duke and him and the crew on the boat. Sadly, his cell phone was stolen, as was the printed photo in his office, and now he has no photos left from this period of his life.

The Duke also enjoyed hosting his friends from Hollywood; the boat, according to Manuel, had four bars, was made of Douglas fir, and would sleep 25 guests plus eight staff. Dean Martin was a frequent visitor aboard the Wild Goose, and Manuel told me that Martin’s drinking wasn’t just part of his act; in real life he loved Russian vodka, too. Wayne once told Manuel, “Don’t waste time watching the boat tonight; I’ve got a more important job for you. Watch Dino so he doesn’t fall overboard!”

The way John Wayne greeted Manuel on their first meeting was a pattern he frequently followed. The Wild Goose had a huge tank to store live seafood, and in Manuel’s memory it was always full because, whenever they sailed past a fisherman, Wayne would insist they stop and see what the guy had caught. He’d offer the man some coffee, engage him in conversation, and end up trading for his day’s catch. “We never bought fish or seafood. Mr. Wayne would always trade for it. He loved to meet people and to barter.”

The first trip Manuel made with John Wayne was to Acapulco: 600 miles from Mazatlán at 12 mph with their 1000 horsepower turbine engine, one of only two in the world, according to Manuel. They pulled into Acapulco right next to Frank Sinatra’s boat, Pussycat. “I was really lucky as a young man,” Manuel told me. “Our very first day of fishing we caught two marlins. Wayne told me I brought him luck.”

Every year they would visit Vallarta, and head over to Acapulco prior to heading north to Newport Beach, where they’d anchor at Lido Isle. “One time when we were in Acapulco Wayne received a huge check. He had sold one of his prize steers from his 26 Bar Ranch in Eagar, Arizona. He took us out to a hotel for dinner and drinks. He hosted us to the best of everything, saying, ‘Let’s see if we can spend this money tonight!’ I had so many great experiences and met so many incredible people,” Manuel reminisced. “Mr. Wayne was a really good guy, very patient. I remember one time when we got five or six miles out of Acapulco, and I realized that I’d forgotten the fuel back on the dock. I told Mr. Wayne, fearful of what he would say. But, fortunately we just turned around, got the fuel, and went on our way.”

In Newport Beach Manuel had a room in Wayne’s home or, if he returned home late from a party, he might sleep on the boat. He remembers the very first time he arrived at Wayne’s mansion, which seemed to him an entire city block in size. “If you were on one end of the house you couldn’t tell if anyone was home in the other end.” That first night Wayne’s staff, all from Guadalajara, cooked carne asada and fresh tortillas. Manuel was in heaven. He says that after his twelve years working for Wayne he would never again eat so well.

Manuel was the only Mexican crewmember on the Wild Goose. The captain he sailed with most was named Jack Curley. The first mate was Bert (Albert) Minshall, and Bert’s brother Ken was the engineer; they were English. The chef, Bill or “Memo,” was German. Manuel was especially impressed with how Bill would cook the duck that Wayne would hunt. “Duck tastes gamey. It’s tough. But Bill would cook it so we’d all lick our fingers and want seconds.”

Manuel remembers that they would always stop at Isla del Cedro, south of Ensenada, to go duck hunting. They’d stay there about fifteen days. “We’d get a lot of abalone and lobster there,” he told me. “It was the only place that sold diesel fuel.” Manuel talks about the guide there—a big fat guy—with some envy, because Wayne would always leave him a month’s worth of food provisions, including lobster, snapper, abalone and scallops; “I wanted some of that food,” Manuel told me. “In those days there were so many fish. We could stand on rocks at the edge of the Mar de Cortés and shoot snapper with harpoon pistols, as many as we could. It was heaven.”

According to Manuel there was usually a photographer on board, a man named Joffrey. One day over in Baja, Joffrey had a cold and asked Manuel to take pictures for him while he rested. He showed Manuel the basic operation of the camera. When Wayne and Manuel later took the zodiac to shore they noticed a huge, maybe three-meter-long shark on the dock. “Mr. Wayne got so excited. ‘Take my picture! Take my picture,’ he shouted. I did, and he shared that photo with all his friends, and it appeared in newspapers and magazines. Joffrey was so mad at me,” Manuel recalled. Joffrey was jealous that he missed such a great photo opportunity. To thank Manuel for the great photo, Wayne bought him a pair of new shoes. Manuel continued to wear his worn-out pair, but Wayne noticed. “Where are your new shoes, buddy?” “I’m keeping them for special occasions, for Sundays,” Manuel responded, but the Duke forced him to start using them.

Manuel says they got new uniform shirts, khaki slacks, grey sweaters and topsider shoes at least once every six months. When they were up in California they would cruise over to Catalina Island most weekends.

Manuel told me about the time he tried to cross the border heading north, in order to get back to work, and the US border agents detained him. “I called Mr. Wayne, and he called the State Department. Then he actually showed up at the border. He put his arm around my neck, looked straight into the border official’s eyes, and said, ‘He’s coming with me.’ No one stopped us then!”

Manuel made his last cruise with John Wayne in April of 1979; he was on the boat the day the Duke died of cancer. “He was happy and strong right up to the end,” Manuel tells me. “The service was private, a family affair. After that, when I came home, a big Texan at the Tijuana/San Ysidro border crossing told me, ‘Your patron is gone now. This visa is history.’ I had a lot of time left on that visa, but he took it from me. And that was that. I returned to reality.”

Happy Birthday Mazatlán/The Old Textile Factory

DSC_0130Quick! What was the first name of Mazatlán? Don’t read ahead… Do you know?

What was your answer? El Presidio? If so, you are correct—El Presidio de San Juan Bautista, established in 1596. But where was El Presidio located? Shall I give you another clue? The name of the town was officially changed in 1828 to Villa de la Union. Yes, indeed, Mazatlán’s initial location was in Villa Unión. On March 23, 1792, the first municipal government, under the command of Don José Garibay, was established by royal decree. The town was uninhabited, and Garibay was charged with protecting the security of the port. Mazatlán with the name and in the location we now know it was born in 1831, according to Mazatlán’s official historian, Enrique Vega Ayala.

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a ceremony in the old textile mill there to commemorate the 223rd anniversary of the first military and political government of Mazatlán. I was so excited, as I have long wanted to get in there to take photos. The hacienda was host to a huge Queen tribute band concert with Gordon Campbell’s orchestra back in 2007, but I was unable to attend that event. At the time, they said the hacienda was spacious enough to accommodate 1200 people. I heard it was gorgeous that night, all lit up with luminarias along the walls.

Well, not only was I able to take photos last night, but the hacienda was lit up with colored lights, we had a gorgeous moon and Jupiter in the sky overhead, a military honor guard and drum and bugle corps performed the national and state anthems, and the Mazatlán camerata/chamber orchestra played as well! It was a gorgeous evening! Click on any photo to view it larger or see a slideshow.

Originally owned by Francisco Echeguren, C. Corvera and Company textile mill opened in 1864, and closed its doors in 1956. The site includes the ruins of the textile factory, the family home, and huge gardens. The entire structure, or what’s left of it, is made of brick. Long corridors of arches lead to small and large rooms around at least two large courtyards. Some of the walls are still covered in tile, and trees grow from the walls in several places. A watchman also tends the gardens of the site.

To add to our good fortune, we met Jaime Coppel and his wife, who currently owns the historic site, and who kindly invited us back to take photographs during the day. Mayor Felton, Rosa María, the city’s Citizen Relations manager, and another city official kindly posed for my friend Jeanett and I in the ruins. We also met Manuel, owner of the world’s best aguas frescas, Tropico, who gave us a tasting of almost every one of the FIFTEEN water flavors he had on hand last night! He tells me he’ll bring a selection of 15 waters to any party you hold, for 1500 pesos for 100 people, and stay for four hours with his staff serving your guests. With every fresh fruit flavor you can imagine, you’ll make people happy and it’s easy enough to mix in a little piquete or liquor to add some punch to the drink if you wish!

We did not have tickets for last night’s event, so we were worried we’d drive all the way out there and not be able to get in. Fortunately, the event was open to the public and we had the pleasure of thoroughly enjoying ourselves—a great evening’s adventure for a couple of girlfriends who enjoy photography!

Municipal Treasures


You’ve walked by it dozens of times, as you leave the Plazuela and head down towards Topolo or the Mercado Pino Suarez—El Archivo Municipal. It’s a beautiful and colorful old building, but have you ever peeked in?

Yesterday Greg and I got a terrific tour by a long-lost acquaintance of ours, Chon (Concepción), who was our waiter back in the day at the Hotel Camino Real, where we were married. We were thrilled to see it all! Our city, Mazatlán, has (literally) tons of written archives dating back to the early 1800s. It is a treasure trove of history and heritage!!! Rooms and rooms full of city historical records, piled floor to ceiling, many dating from the early 1800s! We saw some of the earliest maps of Mazatlán, Angela Peralta’s wedding certificate, construction permits for some of our most historic buildings, etchings of the French invasion of our port, and editions of every newspaper ever published in our fair city. Click on any photo to view it larger or see a slideshow.

While in Europe, Canada or the US such an archive might be something we take for granted or at least expect, the fact that we here in Mazatlán have such an incredible resource is truly remarkable! Culiacán’s archive burned down, so they lost most of their historical records. But, throughout the centuries and despite decades of minimal funding, our Archivo Municipal is a sight to behold! Historians, researchers, university and school-aged students are able to come in here to look up what they need to know, thanks to the foresight and perseverance of our forebears.

We met, or re-met, Chon, who speaks beautiful English. We met the lovely Lorena Ferral, who is so excited to see interest in the archives. They are very passionate about the work they do. They love the treasures they guard and catalog to the best of their abilities—and the limited resources allocated to them. The head of the Municipal Archive is Aristeo—Sergio Aristeo Herrera y Cairo Yarahuan—though he was not present during our tour yesterday.

Staff members bind some of the documents by hand, using serviceable yet antique, artesanal equipment. I thought you might like to see.

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How did we come to be at the Municipal Archive? For several years we’ve been loving the photos of Viejo Mazatlán that the Amigos Viejo Mazatlán group has been sharing on Facebook. A year or so ago, we met Fernando Higuera when we went to the Plazuela to buy a CD of the photos from him. Monies received were earmarked to fund a museum of the photos of old Mazatlán. Since then, the Amigos Viejo Mazatlán has held several exhibitions, historical talks, and fundraising events. I wrote about one of those events here.

We’ve stayed involved with the group, and we keep hoping and working to create space for a photo museum here in town. The good news for our small yet significant project is that we might be given a room at the Municipal Archive in which to display historic photos of our fair city. What is especially exciting to me is the perfect dovetail this would be! Amigos Viejo Mazatlán could display historic photos alongside documents from the city archive. The Municipal Archive could be reinvigorated by public talks and events, by locals and tourists coming in to view photos, thus raising awareness of the treasures it guards within.

The Municipal Archive needs time and attention! Many of the documents are fading, crumbling; they need expert care. If you have archivist or restoration skills, please let Lorena Ferral at the Archive (981-00-48) or Fernando Higuera of Amigos Viejo Mazatlán know! Join with us to help preserve and make public Mazatlán’s rich history!

The archive has a small display of books on Mazatlán’s history, along with a price sheet. If you read Spanish, you may be interested in a volume or three.

This is yet one more piece of bright news for our city’s heritage! Right now, several new museums are in various stages of planning: one of Sinaloan music, another on Carnavál history, and the new Neto Coppel city museum that was front page news earlier this week. To us that is all good news. Mazatlán has so much to be proud of! Locals, national and international tourists need to know about our claims to fame! And a city that is proud of its heritage builds on its strengths. I’d like to wish godspeed to all these worthwhile projects.