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Curbside L.A.

Buried Treasure : Beneath Los Angeles lies a king's ransom in hidden gold, cash and jewels, according to legend. But treasure hunters would probably be chasing nothing more than myth.

February 20, 1995|CECILIA RASMUSSEN

1. CAMP 19

* 22550 East Fork Road, Azusa

In 1853, near what would become Claremont, four outlaws robbed a stage carrying a Wells Fargo chest filled with $30,000. They fled up San Antonio Canyon, with a posse not far behind. The leader headed down the east fork of the San Gabriel River. Before he was shot down, he is said to have buried his money-laden saddlebags in a grove of oak trees, now believed to be part of State Prison Camp 19. The money was never recovered.

2. MONTEREY PARK

* West of Garfield Avenue between El Repetto Drive and Coral View Street

On April 14, 1874, Tiburcio Vasquez, a legendary Mexican bandido, and his gang of outlaws tortured and beat Alessandro Repetto, a prosperous Italian immigrant who owned a 5,000-acre ranch.

Vasquez sent Repetto's nephew to a bank to withdraw the rancher's money, but suspicious bank officials called the sheriff and the shaken boy told of the holdup. Meanwhile, Vasquez beat Repetto until he revealed two bags containing $40,000 in gold and silver.

Fleeing with the heavy loot as the sheriff arrived, the outlaws were seen burying something on Repetto's ranch. Repetto supposedly searched for his money for years in vain. Today, most of the ranch has been paved over.

Vasquez, who was hanged in 1875, left legends of buried treasure across Southern California.

3. SAN PEDRO HARBOR

On April 27, 1863, a small steam tug, the Ada Hancock, was dropping passengers off at San Pedro. Suddenly, the tug lurched, and cold water flooded into the engine room. The boiler exploded, sinking the vessel. Twenty-six of the 53 passengers were lost, including William Ritchie, a Wells Fargo messenger carrying $10,000 in gold, and Fred E. Kerlin, who had $30,000 in cash strapped to his body. The money has never been found.

4. ELYSIAN PARK

* 835 Academy Road, Los Angeles

Elysian (the ancient Greek word for "paradise") Park is, if you believe the tales, a 585-acre bank vault crammed with valuables buried more than 160 years ago by frightened residents. Many tales have been told of locals stashing gold coins and jewels in the hills, hoping to keep invading American troops from seizing them as Mexicans and Americans fought over Southern California. Francisco Avila, the mayor of the pueblo, built the first house on Olvera Street and became rich selling sheep and cattle. With no banks then in town, rumor holds, he placed his gold in tin cans, sealed them, and buried them under a pepper tree in what is now Elysian Park. When Avila died in 1831, the secret of his supposedly buried gold died with him.

5. AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE

* 2021 N. Western Ave., Hollywood

Before the Sisters of Immaculate Heart of Mary bought the grounds in the early 1900s to establish a school, the famous Southland bandit Joaquin Murrieta is said to have buried his treasures on a hill here. Treasure seekers--armed with "authentic" maps--besieged the sisters for almost a century. But in 1957, when the hill was gouged out for expansion of the school, no buried treasure surfaced. The sisters sold the grounds in 1980 to the American Film Institute.

6. CAHUENGA PASS

* Cahuenga Boulevard and Highland Avenue, Hollywood

In 1861, three Mexican government agents came north with $200,000 in gold, silver and jewelry to buy guns for the democracy struggle of Benito Juarez. For safekeeping they buried the valuables in the hills of San Mateo.

A shepherd named Diego Moreno observed the men burying something. After they left, Moreno dug up six packages and fled to Los Angeles. He stopped at a tavern near Cahuenga Pass and supposedly buried his stolen treasure in six different holes under an ash tree.

Continuing into town, Moreno took ill and went to his friend Jesus Martinez. Wanting to repay Martinez for his kindness during the illness, Moreno told him about the fortune. After Moreno died, Martinez went treasure-hunting with his stepson, Gumisindo Correa. As Martinez found the tree, he dropped dead. His stepson, believing the treasure cursed, ran away.

A quarter-century later, a Basque shepherd supposedly unearthed one parcel filled with gold coins and jewels after his dog began digging under a tree. Elated with his newfound wealth, he returned to his homeland in Spain. But as his ship began to dock, he stood on the rail, slipped into the sea and sank with the heavy treasure sewn into his clothes.

It is a matter of record that Correa grew up to be a respected Los Angeles lawman, and after overcoming his fear of the treasure, he decided to look for it again. But before he could start, he was shot down in the streets of Los Angeles.

In 1939, the county issued a permit for two mining engineers to dig for the reputed treasure in one of the Hollywood Bowl parking lots. Nothing was found.

Sources: "On the Old West Coast," by Major Horace Bell; "A Guide to Treasue in California," by Thomas Penfield; "Where to Find Gold in Southern California," by James Klein.

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