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Pioneer Family Saw Baja Fishing Village Grow Up

November 17, 2000|PETE THOMAS

CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico — Asked recently to name his favorite restaurant in town, a crewman aboard one of the local sportfishing cruisers paused only briefly before responding, with a straight face, "KFC."

Apparently, the Colonel's place is quite popular among locals. So are McDonald's, Dairy Queen and Domino's Pizza, to name a few fairly recent arrivals.

They're further examples of the so-called "Americanization" of this once quiet and dusty fishing village; the result of progress, which doesn't sit well with everyone and in fact has some longing for the good old days.

As for Mark Parr, he'll stick with La Noria, the Mexican restaurant at Hotel Hacienda Beach Resort, which the Parr family happens to own. The food is of much higher quality (the beef is shipped in from the United States); the convenience is unsurpassed.

As manager of one of Cabo San Lucas' oldest hotels and having spent most of his childhood here, Parr, 48, can remember a time when food was neither American-style fast nor Mexican-style gourmet.

One time, in particular, stands out.

"I was out walking around with a .22-caliber rifle," he fondly recalls, from behind his cluttered desk. "I was 7 and thought it was just great to have that rifle in my hands. Well, I saw a turkey buzzard up there and I didn't think I could really hit it, and lo and behold I nailed the damn thing.

"My father comes along and says, 'You killed it, you eat it.' And he made me eat it. My father was an avid conservationist."

Asked how the buzzard tasted, Parr paused only briefly before responding, with a straight face, "It tastes just like what it eats."

Which is mostly the rotting carcasses of other animals. And they don't taste anything like chicken.


Cabo San Lucas has undergone a dramatic transformation from sleepy village to boom town since the Parr family helped pioneer Baja California's southern extreme as a destination for adventurous tourists.

The late William Matt "Bud" Parr was a partner in the building of Hotel Las Cruces Palmilla (now simply the Palmilla), which opened in 1956, and Hotel Cabo San Lucas, which opened in 1961 on the bluff overlooking beautiful Chileno Bay. The Parr family purchased Hotel Hacienda Beach Resort, which Mark Parr manages, in 1977.

In the early 1960s, these were basically the area's only hotels and they catered mostly to the rich and famous (John Wayne, Bing Crosby and Kirk Douglas, to name a few), who came by private plane and, in some cases, by yacht.

Parr refused to share any gossip in regards to the celebrities, which also included Raquel Welch, Desi Arnaz, Lee Marvin and Chuck Connors, only to say that "they were all pretty good guys" and that Wayne, to him, seemed larger than life.

Today, sprawling new resorts and condominium complexes are springing up all along the once-barren corridor between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas.

Championship-caliber golf courses (five and counting) are being plopped down, like patchwork, amid sand and cactus, further sapping a well-water supply some fear will eventually dry up.

At the northeastern corner of the Cabo San Lucas marina, a massive multilevel shopping mall is being built, further blocking an ocean breeze that once offered relief for those strolling through town.

If that's not enough, developers of the mall, among others, are trying to win government approval to have a pier erected for cruise ships. It would shoot straight out 900 feet and dog-leg to the left another 900 feet, parallel to Cabo's only accessible public beach.

This is a highly controversial issue, since such a pier probably would have an adverse effect on the marine environment (there has been no environmental impact study), and it would certainly impede the view from resort-lined Medano Beach of Cabo's most prominent landmark: Land's End and its famous arch.

Most growth is good, Parr maintains, but erecting a pier for cruise ships, merely to funnel their passengers to the mall instead of ferrying them to the docks across the harbor, as ship tenders currently do, caused even him to lament, "This is going too far. I mean, how much is too much?"


Bud Parr, a retired entrepreneur from the Southland who came to Cabo for a fishing and hunting trip in the early 1950s, realized immediately the region's potential as a tourist destination.

When he and his Mexican partner, Abelardo L. "Rod" Rodriguez, became fully involved with their hotel projects, the Parr family began spending more time in the area and eventually established a second home here.

For Parr's four boys (one died five years ago), this was tantamount to growing up in the Wild West.

"When I got here there were less than 120 inhabitants," Mark Parr says. "We used to set our watches by the tuna-packing plant. We knew it was Sunday when the whistle didn't blow. They'd blow the whistle at 7 and 12 and 1 and 4. We never needed to use a watch."

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