9780826353726“Hotel Mariachi – Urban Space and Cultural Heritage in Los Angeles” by Catherine L. Kurland and Enrique R. Lamadrid, photographs by Miguel A. Gandert, introduction by Evangeline Ordaz-Molina

University of New Mexico Press, $29.95, 106 pp.

Gandert,  Kurland and Lamadrid will discuss, read from and autograph “Hotel Mariachi” at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16 at the New Mexico History Museum, 113 Lincoln Ave., Santa Fe.

By David Steinberg

“Hotel Mariachi” is a book that presents four views of a long-neglected landmark in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights neighborhood. It is also an important cultural document on Mexican California life.

The landmark is the Cummings Hotel or Cummings Block, later renamed the Boyle Hotel, but today widely known by its nickname – the Mariachi Hotel. It’s been a residential hotel for Mariachi musicians since the 1960s.

The brick-and-mortar building is across the street from Mariachi Plaza, (originally a traffic triangle with a donut shop on it) where the musicians wait for people to hire them for family events (weddings, baptisms, quinceaneras), for romantic serenades or for public fiestas.

In her introduction, Evangeline Ordaz-Molina talks about the East LA Community Corporation buying the Boyle Hotel/Cummings Block.  “In our minds at ELACC,” Ordaz-Molina writes, “the walls of the Mariachi Hotel hold the keepers of the Mexican musical heart close at hand, where residents of the 95 percent Latino neighborhood of Boyle Heights can always access them.”

At the same time, the introduction is an overview of the perspectives of the book’s three major contributors:

– Catherine Lopez Kurland. Kurland explains in these pages her lengthy investigation into the family/historical background on the hotel; she traces the ownership of the land on which the hotel was built to a great-great-grandfather, Francisco “Chico” Lopez. Chico Lopez’s son-in-law, entrepreneur George Cummings, built the hotel in 1889. Kurland  became involved in the movement by preservationists and local residents to save the building.

– Enrique Lamadrid. Lamadrid’s invigorating essay in the book is “A Paean to Santa Cecilia, Her Fiesta, and Her Mariachis.” It covers the history of mariachi music, the origins of the name “mariachi,’ the musicians who play the music and their patron saint. The article carries the grand subtitle “Mariachi Plaza/Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles, Alta California, Greater Mexico/U.S.A.”

– And Miguel Gandert. Gandert supplied the more than 75 black-and-white photographs as a visual documentary and as a complement to the texts written by Lamadrid, Kurland and Ordaz-Molina.

Interestingly, these main contributors form an interlocking New Mexico lattice.

Kurland, a Santa Fe resident, was a student at the University of New Mexico. “I implored one of my professors, photographer Miguel Gandert, to make one visit to Los Angeles in order to document the hotel and the mariachi musicians for posterity,” she writes. “He made many visits there for that purpose.”

In late November 2010 Lamadrid, chair of UNM’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese, joined Gandert and Kurland on their next trip to LA.

There are more connections.

Prof. Chris Wilson, director of the Historic Preservation and Regionalism Program at UNM, visited Mariachi Plaza and wrote a letter supporting the hotel’s designation as an historic site.

Geraldine Forbes Isais, dean of UNM’s School of Architecture and Planning, shared her own personal remembrance of the Mariachi Hotel at an ELACC-sponsored fundraising dinner.

Lamadrid is also a folklorist and author and is a UNM distinguished professor. Gandert is a UNM distinguished professor and teaches in the Department of Communication and Journalism. Kurland is the executive director of the journal of El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro Trail Association.

There is yet another New Mexico link: UNM Press is the publisher of the book.