Little Acknowledgement of Mexican American Historical Site

First published in the Jan. 14 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

Félix Gutierrez is returning to live in the South Pasadena home where he spent his teenage years — still carrying the story he has shouldered since those days.
And he wanted to share that story with me — and those of us who may not know about El Adobe Flores and South Pasadena’s brush with destiny on Jan. 11, 1847.
It has been 175 years since leaders of the Californio forces — which is what Mexicans in California called themselves — gathered at what was then called the Manuel Garfias Adobe to consider next moves and a possible peace offering from U.S. forces during the Conquest of California in the Mexican-American War.
Two days later, the two sides signed the Treaty of Cahuenga near what today is Universal Studios. The treaty marked the official end of military operations between Mexico and the United States within California. The Californios agreed to hand over their artillery and arms and return home. In exchange, they were promised “equal rights and privileges as every citizen in California” and every U.S. citizen. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in 1848, officially ended warfare between the two nations.
On Sunday, some friends and I visited this historic place — sandwiched between two apartment buildings on Foothill Street on a hill overlooking the northern edge of Garfield Park. There are three historical markers on the front of the home. One, placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1920, reads, “Headquarters of Gen. Jose Maria Flores before the capitulation to Gen. John C. Fremont, Jan. 13, 1847.”

Photos courtesy South Pasadena Preservation Foundation
El Adobe Flores, the oldest home in South Pasadena, is listed as a historic place. Its story doesn’t seem widely known, however.

Remember, while all this was happening, California was considered what was called a department, which had its own sense of identity and some degree of autonomy. So, when America declared war on Mexico, that country pulled most of its troops back into Mexico to defend the country.
Flores was assigned to command the resistance using local militia, volunteers and without most of the guns, which went south with the regular army.
Despite a series of early victories, the Californios faced increasing pressure — Flores lost two nearby battles and was forced to stop at the adobe in what eventually became South Pasadena.
It was a headquarters of necessity. The Californios needed a place to consider their next move. A diplomatic option came from John Fremont — then a lieutenant general and later a general — by way of Californio John Pico. Flores decided to continue fighting closer to Mexico City. The next day, an armistice was called and on Jan. 13, the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed at a site near Universal City by the Californian forces under the Mexican flag.
So, the adobe’s fame came and went.
We talked to a man who rents the home directly behind the adobe, and he said that there were some people who recently stopped by looking for the home, which he knew had historical significance. If he hadn’t told me where to look, I would have missed it.
But the silence later made my imagination wonder to what it was like in those last frantic days and what it must have been like on Jan. 11 that year when they gathered to figure out just what to do and how that decision — made in an adobe in our city — helped to change the course of California.
“Wow, you’re educating me. You are telling me about something that I knew nothing about,” said Janna Philpot, president of the Latino cultural nonprofit Vecinos de South Pasadena.
Philpot said she asked her son, who was home from college, about the adobe, and he knew nothing about the place either. Annalee Pearson, a teacher at South Pasadena High School and adviser to the Latinx Student Union, said it was news to her, too.

Photos courtesy South Pasadena Preservation Foundation
A plaque from the Daughters of the American Revolution showcases the significance of the El Adobe Flores home in South Pasadena.

“Not only do the students not know that — I did not know that part of local history,” she said.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was an elevated sign on Garfield, where it turns onto Foothill, explaining what happened at that white adobe building on the hill 175 years ago? Or if there was some city monument in the park? Or maybe if it was part of some city guide?
That’s one reason Gutierrez was so passionate about having me think about my doing a story.
The adobe is also part of his family’s journey. Remember the treaty of Jan. 13, 1847, which provided for those Californios who gave up their arms to have the same rights as other American citizens? Gutierrez’s family goes back into the 18th century, and his family has had to deal with prejudice for being Latino.
“A single-story adobe home framed by red roof files and a cactus garden, El Adobe Flores seemed just an out-of-place curiosity near the modern apartment houses to which I delivered newspapers in the 1950s,” Gutierrez wrote in an essay titled “The Manifestations of Destiny.” (The essay was included in a book edited by David Halberstam, called “Defining a Nation.”)
Today, it is a private residence and the oldest home in the city, according to Jane Apostol, in her history of the city.
Gutierrez spent his teenage years in South Pasadena, where his mother purchased a home in order to get him a better education. He went on to earn a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University, became an assistant dean at Stanford, earned his doctorate and was a dean at USC. He was most recently an executive at both the Freedom Forum, an organization dedicated to freedom of the press, and also at the Newseum, which was dedicated to showcasing artifacts and items of interest in the area of news coverage.
Both of Gutierrez’s parents were teachers.
“My father would tell me: ‘Be proud and show what a Mexican can do,” he said.
Gutierrez recalls the South Pasadena of his youth as very friendly and very white, while he now finds it more racially diverse and less isolated. He said that he recalled that South Pasadena used to have everything a person might need within the boundary of the city. He was among a handful of minority students in his SPHS graduation class, in 1961.
“They would make fun of you — some of it was physical, and some was said by someone in jest — but it hurt. You had to overcome it,” he said. “There was no positive reinforcement and being Latinx was never presented as a plus.”
No one makes fun of Gutierrez now. He and his family are a success story. He and his two sisters have gone on to earn 10 undergraduate and graduate degrees from six universities: Cal State Los Angeles, Stanford, Northwestern, UC Berkeley, the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan.
And now Gutierrez is moving back into the home his mother bought in 1955, with a desire to use the Adobe Flores to promote discussion of Latino history and culture in our community.
“This is important to know and recognize because of what happened, and perhaps more importantly,” he said, “it factually counters the common belief that Los Angeles was a sleepy pueblo that was taken by the U.S. forces from Mexicans characterized by sexy senoritas, handsome Vaqueros and lazy peons taking siestas instead of working to improve themselves and their land.”