Today, no one knows very much about why Juan Nepomuceno Machado showed up in Mazatlan in the 1820′s, after leaving his home in the Philippines. At the time, Mazatlan was only a small town on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Still, Juan Machado left behind a legacy that has been enjoyed by millions of people who have come to Mazatlan to visit, from poor miners to wealthy movie stars.
There are many versions of the legend of Juan Machado. Some say he came to Mazatlan because he wanted to dive for pearls. Others say he saw opportunities in the shipping industry here. Some say he wanted to work in the silver mines in the mountains nearby. It does not matter too much that we do not know why he came. It only matters that we can see what he left behind. Juan Machado constructed a wonderful plaza in Mazatlan that took up a block and looked like a classical European town square. No doubt, it had pleasant walkways, stores guarded by wrought iron fences, pleasant inns, and outdoor areas for dining beneath the orange trees. This was a pleasant place for natives of Mazatlan to stroll in the evenings, to talk with friends, and listen to music. It is not a surprise that the square soon became known as the Plazuela Machado. Why did Machado build it? Some say it was built to encourage European workers, especially those from Germany, to come and work in the silver mines. It is true that many Europeans came to this town after the plaza was built.
A few years later, the town of Mazatlan and its plaza became well-known to thousands of miners heading for the gold fields of California. They came by steamboat down the eastern shoreline to land in Panama, and then they crossed by land and river to get to the Pacific, on the way to their ultimate destination of San Francisco. These gold-rush miners often stayed in Mazatlan to take a break and enjoy some wild fun. By this time, the city had a definite, European charm. The next group of people to discover Mazatlan was Americans in the 1920′s, looking for ways to escape their country’s prohibition laws.
Prohibition in the States was supposed to make alcohol illegal, but just across the border in Mexico, there were unlimited amounts of it available to anyone who could jump on a yacht and make the trip. Once there, tourist could visit a score of resort hotels that were open for business right near the beach. The city filled up again with visitors, but this time they included the very wealthy people of Hollywood, including studio moguls and beautiful stars and starlets.
Some of these once glorious hotels are still open in Mazatlan today, although few of them resemble their glory days. The Belmar is being restored. It was once an opulent resort that hosted stars like Rudolph Valentino and Mae West. The Plaza Machado still exists, and today it is considered the crown jewel of Mazatlan’s large historic district. Tourists can walk around the plaza, admiring all the galleries and cafes, just like so many have done before them.
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