The Historic Pascual Marquez Family Cemetery
The Pascual Marquez Family Cemetery in Santa Monica Canyon is rich in heritage. In 2000, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission recognized it as Historic Cultural Monument 685; in 2009, it was the focus of the program that won the Governor’s Historic Conservation Award. The cemetery lies on the very small piece of an 1839 Mexican Land Grant that is still in the hands of the descendants of the original Grantee's descendents. This is the site of the first permanent home built in the Santa Monica area and the oldest extant private cemetery in Los Angeles. Although no longer used for burials, the Cemetery is a poignant reminder that the families buried within it were intimately involved with the major events that shaped the history of Alta California. The Marquez and Reyes families lived here in the Canyon, under the flags of three countries: Spain, Mexico, and the United States, without ever leaving their Rancho homes.
Once an open area between the adobe homes of Land Grantee Francisco Marquez and his youngest son Pascual, the now adobe walled cemetery finds itself situated today in the tree lined Santa Monica Canyon surrounded by multi-million dollar homes.
The cemetery’s history begins with that of Rancho Boca de Santa Monica in 1839. Francisco Marquez, his wife, Roque Valenzuela, and their young son, Manuel moved from the Pueblo de Los Angeles to the Rancho where Francisco built the first permanent structure in Santa Monica, his family's adobe casa in the upper mesa of Santa Monica Canyon.
During the course of their marriage, the Marquez family had eleven children, only five of whom survived to adulthood. Rancho Boca de Santa Monica was a day’s trip in a carreta pulled by oxen, from the nearest Catholic cemeteries at the Mission San Gabriel and the Plaza Church in Los Angeles. The distance made this family’s many funerals and burials a difficult burden; Marquez set aside a portion of land within view of his adobe house as a cemetery. he first burials at the cemetery are believed to have included three infant children of Francisco Marquez and Roque Valenzuela who died one or two days after birth, and another that died after only a week. Life on the rancho was extremely isolated with families completely on their own for medical assistance.
The Mass Grave
On December 31st 1909, Maria Donicia Valdez, the daughter of Francisco Marquez’s widow Roque Valenzuela and her second husband, Anselmo Garcia, hosted a family gathering to celebrate the New Year. The menu included home-canned peaches that turned out to be infected with botulism. Over the next five days, 13 family members died, including an infant who had not eaten the fruit, but died of exposure when, in the anguish and confusion, the child was inadvertently left by a window unattended.
The death of so many members of the family was treated as one of the worst tragedies to have hit Santa Monica. It had an emotional impact on the entire community. Even strangers, touched by the dreadful event, came to the funeral. Saint Monica’s church was overflowing with family and mourners for the service. Those who could not get into the church stood outside on the sidewalk during the funeral mass. When the service ended, the caskets were loaded onto horse drawn wagons. The horses led a long, slow procession of mourners to the Santa Monica Canyon, where the caskets were buried side by side in the family’s cemetery. The other deceased who were not family members were buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica.
Marquez Friends Buried at the Cemetery
The cemetery holds the remains of members of the Marquez family, along with Indian servants and friends that lived on the rancho. Sam Carson, who said the famous scout Kit Carson was his uncle, lived alone in a small cabin located in Rustic Canyon and was befriended by Pascual Marquez. Both Sam and his dog were found dead one day. Pascual brought both their bodies to the family cemetery and buried them together in one grave.
The Final Burial
In 1916, Pascual Marquez was the last person to be buried at the cemetery. By this time, the cemetery had expanded to encompass the ruins of his father’s adobe. In tribute to Pascual’s love for his home, his casket was placed inside the outline of the remains of the family adobe at the same angle and in the same place as the bed in which he was born. The granite headstone placed there by his children is one of the only two remaining markers visible above the ground in the cemetery.
Preservation of the Cemetery
With the formation of La Senora Research Institute in 2006, the cemetery was made a part of La Senora’s mission under its IRS charter. Developing resources for the restoration, landscaping, and reintroduction of the cemetery to its community were undertaken. Although the cemetery holds the Los Angeles Historic Certification, joining La Senora’s historic purposes with those of the cemetery allows the seeking of state and national designations for the cemetery as part of the historic district.
Identifying the number of grave sites
No formal record of the persons buried in the cemetery still exists; thus the exact number and the names of the persons laid to rest is unknown. Over the years, wooden grave markers had either been removed or vandalized. Through newspaper accounts, the taking of oral histories and interview with relatives, it is believed that at least 30 people are buried there.
In January of 2009, the La Senora Research Institute invited the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA to utilize their Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to identify the shape, size, and location of graves in the cemetery. During that same period, specially-trained dogs from the Institute for Canine Forensics conducted their own unique survey to identify where human remains rest in the cemetery. As a result of these two efforts, strong evidence has been documented to indicate the number and location of gravesites in the cemetery.
To transfer knowledge to future generations, La Senora organizes workshops and field trips for school students and the public to explore the findings of the Cotsen Institute and Institute for Canine Forensics. Through the help of a generous donor, La Senora has partnered with the Canyon Elementary School to provide their 4th graders field trips to the cemetery. On these excursions, the students learn first hand about the history of their community.
In 2011, thanks to the generosity of neighbors, Rancho Descendants and Friends of the Cemetery, La Senora was able to purchase a parcel between San Lorenzo Street and the Cemetery. This area was turned into an Alta California Native Garden and is now rededicated as Santuario San Lorenzo. This purchase ensures access to the cemetery in perpetuity.
In 2015-16 Ernest Marquez designed replacement crosses made of bits of stone, pottery chards and concrete, each an individual work of art, to honor the ancestors buried in the Cemetery.
Use the Links Below to Learn More About the Cemetery and Cemetery Research