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The Rest Is History

Fateful Treaty of Cahuenga Signing Reenacted Amid Period Pomp

January 13, 1997|JULIE TAMAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — Mother Nature lent an air of authenticity Sunday to a celebration marking the sesquicentennial of one of the San Fernando Valley's most historic events as rain poured down on a reenactment of the signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga--just as it did 150 years ago.

Nearly 100 people braved the wet weather to watch local history buffs portray Mexican Gen. Andres Pico and Lt. Col. John C. Fremont, who signed the treaty that on Jan. 13, 1847, ended the Mexican-American War in California.

"It's an amazing historical event that happened right here in our backyard," said Guy Weddington McCreary of North Hollywood, the president of the Campo de Cahuenga Historical Memorial Assn. "You just don't find that every day."

Many believe that Campo de Cahuenga, located in a bustling commercial neighborhood near what is now Universal City, is the most important historical landmark west of the Mississippi River. Not only did the treaty end the war in California, it also paved the way for the state's entry into the union.

About a year later, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, formalizing the Treaty of Cahuenga and ceding an area including modern California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona and New Mexico, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming. Mexico also relinquished all claims to Texas.

In exchange, the United States paid $15 million and assumed $3.25 million in claims against Mexico. Three years after the original treaty, California joined the union.

To commemorate the event, history buffs from throughout Southern California donned authentic garb and performed a color guard ceremony while others read excerpts from the treaty, a replica of which they signed.

Roland Barajas, an actor from Westminster who has played the role of Pico the past four years, acknowledged that he knew little about the significance of Campo de Cahuenga before being invited to participate in the annual reenactment.

"All these years I thought it was a Mexican restaurant," Barajas said. But after he began studying books and original manuscripts, Barajas said the small adobe and courtyard on Lankershim Boulevard took on a new meaning, prompting him to have a period outfit created for his performances.

Huell Howser, host of the popular television series "Visiting" and "California Gold," acknowledged that although he was familiar with the Treaty of Cahuenga, he was not familiar with the place where it was signed.

"I have driven by this place 100 times and I never knew it was here," Howser said. "In fact, this afternoon I drove by it and never knew it was here."

As a member of the state's Sesquicentennial Commission, Howser presented McCreary with a proclamation from Gov. Pete Wilson declaring that the treaty will be honored statewide today.

Later, members of the Yesteryears Dancers, including women decked out in prairie dresses, bonnets and laced gloves, re-created dances from the period. Fiesta dancers from the Carolina Russek dance company also performed in honor of the Pico Fiesta that followed the signing of the treaty.

As a special way to mark the 150th year since the treaty was signed, observers wrote their names on a drawer from the original desk on which the treaty was codified. Officials said they will bring the drawer out again in 25 years.

Hollywood Hills resident Eveline Bock was impressed by what she saw Sunday.

"I find it so remarkable we have something so historically important to this area that so few people know about," Bock said.

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