National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior

National Register of Historic Places Program:
Hispanic Heritage Month
Nuestra Señora Reina de La Paz, Kern County, California

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources.

 

photo
Nuestra Senora Reina de La Paz
Photograph courtesy of the California State Historic Preservation Office

Nuestra Señora Reina de La Paz (commonly known as La Paz) is a property encompassing 187 acres in the Tehachapi Mountains of eastern Kern County, California, and is associated with Cesar Chavez (1927-1993), one of the most important historic Latino leaders in the United States. The site is also important for its association with the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), the first permanent agricultural labor union established in the history of the United States.  Nuestra Señora Reina de La Paz was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on August 30, 2011.

The period of historic importance for Nuestra Señora Reina de La Paz began in 1970, when the National Farm Workers Service Center Inc. acquired the property and made its facilities available to members and supporters of the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (renamed the United Farm Workers of America in 1971). Union organizer, farm worker and Civil Rights activist Cesar Chavez permanently relocated the United Farm Workers of America’s (UFW) administrative offices and his own residence from Delano, California, to La Paz in 1971. The period of significance ended in 1984. Although important transitions within the UFW, and a decline in UFW organizing successes, began during the late 1970s and early 1980s, 1984 was a year in which Chavez’s broadening focus on poverty, racism, and environmental justice issues became pronounced, and it was a year in which the UFW fully embraced new technologies of mass communication (including computer-generated mailing lists and modern office-printing). That Chavez wished to be buried at La Paz upon his death is an enduring testament to the strength of his association with the property.

photo Nuestra Senora Reina de La Paz
Photograph courtesy of the California State Historic Preservation Office

Development of the property later known as Nuestra Señora Reina de La Paz began in 1913, when the Kern County Highway Department opened a rock quarry in the Tehachapi Mountains near the town of Keene, California. County workers built four wood-frame buildings nearby. The county suspended the quarry’s operations in 1917. The following spring, Edythe Tate Thompson, head of the California Bureau of Tuberculosis, began to convert the property into a tuberculosis sanatorium. Thompson thought that the remote location, high altitude (2,600 feet), clean air, cool temperatures, and abundant sunshine were ideal. Work crews turned the bunkhouse into an infirmary with separate wards for men and women. The administrative building was converted into an office with living quarters for the superintendent.  The single-family house was changed into a nurses’ residence and the earlier dining hall was also increased.

photo
Nuestra Senora Reina de La Paz
Photograph courtesy of the California State Historic Preservation Office

Thompson named the new institution “Stony Brook Retreat.” By 1922, 50 patients were in residence at the sanatorium, and a new wood-frame building had been constructed to house young children. A 25-bed hospital was added in 1927 and a 30-bed addition in 1932. More buildings were added, with a final period of expansion occurring during the 1950s. As a result of declining admissions, Stony Brook Retreat closed in 1967.  It was acquired three years later by the National Farm Workers Service Center Inc. (NFWSC). The United Farm Workers added four of the properties 21 contributing buildings from 1970-1984. 14 buildings pre-dating 1970 and concentrated near the southeast corner of the property have given La Paz much of its character.  Most of these buildings reflect Craftsmen/California Bungalow influences, with wood-framing, board-and-batten siding, long porches, and low-pitched roofs with wide eaves. Constructed sites  that are considered historic include the Quonset hut, dormitory Building, financial management building, trust funds management building, cafeteria building, some houses (one where Cesar Chavez lived), garages, storage buildings, and others—most built during the years when the site served as a sanatorium years but later converted to UFW needs.

photo Nuestra Senora Reina de La Paz
Photograph courtesy of the California State Historic Preservation Office

Nuestra Señora Reina de La Paz achieved historic significance less than fifty years ago but historical scholarship, much of it produced since Cesar Chavez’s death in 1993, has firmly established the exceptional importance and national significance of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union. The period from 1970 to 1984 marked a distinct phase in Chavez’s productive life and in the larger history of the farm worker movement. It was the period during which the farm worker movement transitioned into a modern labor union, secured unprecedented gains (including passage of the first law in the continental United States that recognized agricultural laborers’ collective bargaining rights), but also struggled with certain aspects of the transition itself. Historical scholarship has firmly established that Nuestra Señora Reina de La Paz has exceptional importance as the property tied most closely to this phase of Chavez’s life and the UFW’s history.
Chavez had begun to work as a community organizer and civil rights advocate during the early 1950s, and he became executive director of the Community Service Organization in 1959. He left that position in 1962 and moved to Delano, California, to establish a farm workers’ union. When Filipino members of a union affiliated with the AFL-CIO voted to go on strike against table-grape growers in 1965, Chavez’s union voted to join them. The unions would merge to form the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (forerunner to the UFW) in 1966 and fight for contracts until their historic victory in 1970.

photo
Nuestra Senora Reina de La Paz
Photograph courtesy of the California State Historic Preservation Office

In the spring of 1970, a property in Delano known as “the Forty Acres” served as the national headquarters  of the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, but it became clear that the property could not offer Chavez all that it once promised. In the spring of 1970, LeRoy Chatfield (director of the National Farm Workers Service Center Inc.) learned that the Kern County Board of Supervisors was considering an investor’s offer of $200,000 for a 187-acre property that the county owned in Keene, a small town located in the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains.  When county officers refused to show the site to Chavez’s representatives, Chavez solicited the support of Edward Lewis, a film producer who had offered to help the union acquire land in order to develop an educational retreat center. Lewis bought the property for $231,500 and leased the property to UFW with the intent to sell. With its residential buildings, administrative spaces, maintenance shops, water supply system, sewage treatment plant, and boiler plant, the property could support a year-round community of UFW officers and employees and a fluctuating population of union members and supporters. In the spring of 1971, Cesar announced his decision to move his office and residence from Delano to the new property, named “Nuestra Señora Reina de La Paz Educational Retreat Center.” The transfer of the UFW’s national headquarters and central administrative functions would become official in January 1972.

photo Nuestra Senora Reina de La Paz
Photograph courtesy of the California State Historic Preservation Office

This became the place where Chavez envisioned new directions for the UFW and prepared farm workers and their allies for future struggles. The acquisition of La Paz reflected the full emergence of the UFW as a permanent labor union. All of the UFW’s central administrative staff moved to La Paz during the 1970s: the board of directors and their offices, the accounting department, the contract negotiating department, the boycott organization department, the records department, the training department, and in 1979, the legal department. Other organizations opened offices at La Paz as well, including the union newspaper (El Malcriado) the Huelga School for younger children, the Fred Ross School for training labor-contract negotiations, and the radio station (Radio Campesina).  All of this activity produced a diverse population of year-round residents that numbered around 200. “There were people from all over” Paul Chavez, the son of Cesar Chavez, told Dr. Raymond W. Rast, who prepared the National Register documentation for the site. “There were priests and nuns, and there were ex-nuns that were married now, and there were lots of folks from the Bay area with real long hair, kind of hippie-ish, and there were Chicano militants here, and there were farm workers here, and there were Anglo supporters here.”

photo
Nuestra Senora Reina de La Paz
Photograph courtesy of the California State Historic Preservation Office

By the mid-1970s, La Paz was a place where thousands of union members and labor organizations from California and other parts of the country came for meetings, conferences, and training sessions. It was at La Paz that the UFW orchestrated its own legislative push for the first law in the continental United States that would recognize and protect farm workers’ rights to organize a union and negotiate contracts with their employers. And it was at La Paz that leaders, members, and supporters of the UFW celebrated the passage of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) in June 1975, the union’s greatest political victory. The passage of the ALRA and two subsequent victories-the Teamsters’ decision to withdraw from the fields in 1977 and the signing of new contracts for lettuce growers in 1979, allowed Chavez and other UFW leaders to begin broadening the union’s focus as well. Chavez sought to increase the economic power of minorities to increase their political power.

photo César Chávez at a United Farmworkers rally, 1974.
Photograph courtesy of WikiCommons and available under creative commons

Cesar Chavez is recognized as the most important Latino leader in the history of the United States during the 20th century. Chavez emerged as a civil rights leader among Latinos during the 1950s. During the 1960s, he became more widely recognized as the charismatic leader of the farm worker movement and the United Farm Workers Union, but he also assumed major roles in the broader labor movement, the Chicano movement, and the environmental movement. As a result, Chavez earned a higher degree of national prominence and significance during his lifetime than any other Latino in U.S. history. During his lifetime, a long list of political and social leaders recognized his importance, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, and Jerry Brown but also Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. Labor leaders such as George Meany and Walter Reuther saw Chavez as an important force of reform within the labor movement. Religious leaders ranging from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops to activist Dorothy Day acknowledged Chavez’s leadership and influence. Mexican American activists such as Bert Corona and the younger Chicano activists such as Rudolfo “Corky” Gonzales recognized Chavez’s national stature and embraced him as a leader. Upon Chavez’s death in April 1993, President Bill Clinton noted that Americans had lost “a great leader.” President Carlos Salinas de Gortari of Mexico remembered Chavez for his courageous leadership and constant efforts to improve the lives of all workers of Mexican descent. In 2006 historian Dan La Botz noted (in his book César Chávez, pages xi-xii) that due to Chavez’s efforts “the concerns of Mexican Americans and other Latino peoples were, for the first time, brought into the national political debate.”

Written by Juan Llanes Santos/ Historian for the Puerto Rico State Historic Preservation Office, and compiled with additional information by Rustin Quaide, National Register of Historic Places, and edited by Blaise Farina, National Conference of state Historic Preservation Officers.  Most of the above is taken verbatim from Santos’ National Register documentation.
Dabbson, Deborah
“Diversity, Identity, and the American Dream.” Houston Teachers Institute Web. 2008 < http://hti.math.uh.edu/curriculum/units/2008/07/08.07.03.php> quoted from 
Henriquez, Marilyn Fay. "The Dynamics of Movement: Toward a Definition of a Latin American Identity in Contemporary Fiction." 2003. Florida International University.
  Juan Llanes Santos, Casa Dra. Concha Meléndez Ramírez NRHP Nomination, Puerto Rico SHPO, May 10, 2011
Latin American writers (3 Volumes) / ed. Carlos A Solé, 1989

Hispanic Heritage Month

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