HispanicVista Columnists

The Four Latino Mayors of Los Angeles

May 23, 2005
HISTORY
By John P. Schmal/HispanicVista.com
Since its founding by Mexican settlers in 1781, Los Angeles has played an important role in California politics. Even while the administration of the state was concentrated in the north, Los Angeles continued to hold sway over California’s political direction. 
For the first seven decades of its existence, Los Angeles was guided by Spanish and Mexican administrators. However, after the end of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), a series of Anglo-American and French Mayors were elected to office, starting with Stephen C. Foster, a Yale University graduate who had only arrived in Los Angeles in 1847 (as an interpreter for the Mormon Battalion).
However, since 1848 and the beginning of American control of Los Angeles, four Latinos have served as Mayor of Los Angeles. The first three mayors had the benefit of having served as administrators or council members of the City before the American occupation.
Antonio Francisco (Franco) Coronel
(May 3, 1853 – May 4, 1854)
In 1853, Antonio Francisco Coronel became Mayor of Los Angeles. Born on October 21, 1817 in Mexico City, Antonio had come to California with his parents in 1834. Antonio’s father, Jose Ygnacio Franco Coronel, had been born in Mexico City around 1795.
Ygnacio Coronel joined the Spanish army and very quickly rose to the rank of corporal of the cavalry (1814).  In 1802 he had been married to Maria Josefa Francisca Romero, a native of Toluca.  In 1837, Ygnacio brought his family to Los Angeles, where he started a new life as a civilian.  Before his death, Ygnacio taught school, ran a small store, served as secretary of the Ayuntamiento, and enjoyed agricultural pursuits.
Antonio Francisco (more commonly referred to as Antonio Franco) was 17 years old when he first came to California.  In 1838, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of Tribunals for the City of Los Angeles.  And in 1843, he became a Justice of the Peace in the City (the equivalent of Mayor at that time).
When the threat of war loomed, Antonio entered the military to serve his state. He served as a Captain and Sergeant-at-arms in the Mexican Artillery and took part in military operations against the United States in 1846-47 during the Mexican-American War.   Once the war had ended, however, Antonio started a career in the service of his new constituency and served as County Assessor in 1850-1851.
In California’s first census under American rule, 32-year-old Antonio F. Coronel was tallied in the large household of his parents, Ignacio and Francisca Coronel. His profession was listed as merchant and he owned real estate valued at $8,000.
In the years to come, Antonio Franco Coronel would become very active in Los Angeles politics. He served as a member of the Los Angeles Council for several years between 1854 and 1867 and as State Treasurer from 1867 to 1871.
On December 18, 1873, Antonio was married at the Los Angeles Plaza Church to Mariana Williamson, a native of San Antonio, Texas. Antonio was 55 years old and Mariana was 23 years old at the time of their marriage.  Mariana was the daughter of Nelson Williamson, a native of Maine, and of Gertrude Roman, a Mexicano Tejano woman from Los Brazos river area.  At the age of nine, Mrs. Coronel’s father had brought Mariana to California, where her fluency in both English and Spanish earned her respect among many of her neighbors.
Even after his retirement from politics, Antonio F. Coronel retired to his orange orchard to concentrate on agricultural pursuits, earning great respect from his fellow Angelinos until his death on April 17, 1894 at the age of 77.
Manuel Requena
Acting Mayor (September 22, 1856 – October 4, 1856)
The second Latino Mayor of Los Angeles during the American Era was Manuel Requena, who, as Los Angeles Council President, briefly took office as Acting Mayor. 
Manuel Requena was born around 1802 in the Yucatan, Mexico, and came to California by sea, after leaving the Mexican port of Guaymas (Sonora) in 1834. A trader by profession, Señor Requena sold his vessel on arriving in California and immediately became involved in Los Angeles politics. Not long after his arrival in his adopted homeland, Señor Requena was elected to serve as Alcalde of Mexican Los Angeles in 1836-1837 and 1844.
In California, Manuel Requena was married to Gertrudis Guirado. In 1850, after the American occupation, 50-year-old Manuel Requena was tallied in the Federal Census. A native of Mexico, Requena stated that he owned $14,500 of real estate.  Living with Manuel was his 32-year-old wife, Gertrudes, and their four sons: Mattias, Juan, Geronimo and Jose.
During the American Period, Manuel Requena wielded the most influence as a member of the Los Angeles Common Council, where he served several terms (1850-54, 1856, 1864-68). In the 1870 census, Manuel Requena was listed as a 68-year-old retired merchant, who owned $20,000 of real estate and $3,000 of personal estate. His wife, Gertrudes, was 40 years old by this time. One son was still living with them at that time. Well respected by his peers and neighbors, Mayor Requena died in 1876 at the age of 72.
Cristobal Aguilar
(May 10, 1866 – December 7, 1868,
December 9, 1870 – December 5, 1872)
The third Latino Mayor of Los Angeles was Cristobal Aguilar who served two separate terms as Mayor. Cristobal Aguilar was born in 1816 as the son of Jose Maria Aguilar and Maria Ygnacia Elizalde. The Aguilar family had played an important role in the California military and politics for several decades by the time that Cristobal came of age.
Cristobal Aguilar was married to Maria Dolores Yorba at San Gabriel Mission on October 31, 1848. Maria Dolores was a descendant of the famous Yorba family of Orange County. In the early years of the American Period, Cristobal Aguilar made a name for himself as one of the most visible members of the Los Angeles Common Council, serving several terms (1850, 1855-56, 1858-59, 1861-62).
Cristobal served as Mayor from 1866 to 1868. As Mayor, Aguilar signed an ordinance in 1866 to set aside five acres of land as "a Public Square or Plaza, for the use and benefit of the Citizens in common." This public square is now known as Pershing Square.
Then, in the 1870 census, 56-year-old Cristoval Aguilar was tallied in the Federal Census as a resident of Los Angeles Township. When asked for his occupation, Mr. Aguilar told the census taker that he was “Ex-Mayor of Los Angeles.” He proudly pointed out that he was a native of California and noted that he owned $1,600 of real estate and $200 of personal estate. 
Cristobal’s wife, Dolores, was 38 at the time of the census and was also a native of California.  Living with them were four children: Librada (19 years old), Jose M. (17), Matias (12), Guadalupe (10) and Rosa (7). It also appears that Cristobal’s 68-year-old mother Maria lived with them.
Cristobal Aguilar was also elected Mayor from 1871 to 1872. When Aguilar became Mayor, there were less than 6,000 residents in the City.  When the city council proposed selling off the city's water rights to bring in additional revenue, Aguilar vetoed the proposal. If Aguilar had not used his power of veto, Los Angeles would have lost control of its water rights, leading to serious problems at a later date.
When Aguilar was elected in 1870, the Latino voter registration was about 22%. When he ran for reelection, however, he was defeated by an Anglo opponent, who made an issue of his poor English. In the years following his term as Mayor, he also served as Deputy Zanjero. Aguilar was a great believer in education and made certain that all of his children received a good education. Living in quiet retirement during his later years, Cristobal Aguilar died suddenly on April 13, 1886 at his residence on Water Street. 
Antonio Villaraigosa (2005 -      )
In his second run for Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa defeated the incumbent Mayor, James Hahn on May 17, 2005. With this accomplishment, City Councilperson Villaraigosa became the first Hispanic Mayor of Los Angeles since Cristobal Aguilar left office on December 5, 1872.
Antonio Villaraigosa was born on January 23, 1953 in East Los Angeles as Antonio Ramon Villar in Los Angeles, the son of an immigrant father by the same name and Natalia Acosta Delgado.
Antonio’s grandfather had moved to Los Angeles from Mexico sometime around 1903. He built a successful produce business, which allowed him to put his two daughters in private school and buy a nice home on the Eastside.  But the Depression affected this family as it did other families.  Antonio’s grandfather lost his wife and his daughters soon ended up in foster care.
According to the 1930 Federal Census, a 42-year-old Peter Acosta was tallied as a Merchant working in a Wholesale Market, living in the 9th Ward of Los Angeles.  His wife, Rebecca, was 30 years old, and his daughter Natalia was not yet two years old. The census states that Peter had come to the United States in 1906 and that Rebecca had arrived in 1916.
Eventually, Antonio Villaraigosa's mother, Natalia Delgado, was separated from her sister and moved from one foster home to another.  Eventually, she married Antonio Villar, a butcher and taxi driver from Mexico City.
Antonio Ramon Villar, Junior, was the oldest son of Antonio Senior and Natalia. However, when Antonio was still in kindergarten, his parents were divorced. Although he grew up in a poor household, he became dedicated to improving his lot in life and became a labor lawyer. Villaraigosa has stated that his favorite role model was his mother, Natalia Delgado, “a woman of indomitable spirit who never stopped believing in me.”
Unfortunately, Natalia Acosta Delgado died on February 5, 1991. Three years later, in 1994, Antonio Villaraigosa was elected as the representative of the 45th District to the California Assembly. He took on positions of leadership and became Assembly Majority Floor Leader in 1997. In 1998, Villaraigosa was elected to serve as Speaker of the Assembly, succeeding Cruz Bustamante.
Antonio was married to Corina Raigosa in 1987.  After this marriage, Antonio and Corina combined their surnames, taking on the single surname Villaraigosa.
Assemblyperson Villaraigosa ran for Mayor of Los Angeles in 2001 but was defeated by a margin of 8% by his fellow Democrat, James Hahn, in the run-off election.  In 2003, he defeated incumbent Councilman Nick Pacheco to win a seat on the Los Angeles City Council, representing the 14th District.
Having won election held on May 17, 2005, Mayor Villaraigosa’s story is just beginning.
Copyright © 2005 by John P. Schmal. All Rights under applicable law are hereby reserved.
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Sources:
Huber Howe Bancroft, “Register of Pioneer Inhabitants of California, 1542 to 1848” (Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1964).
J. M. Guinn, “Historical and Biographical Record of Southern California” (Chicago: Chapman Publishing Company, 1902).
Rosanna Mah, “Antonio Villariagosa (from LA Independent). Online:
http://www.antonio2005.com/news?id=0039
Marie E. Northrop, “Spanish-Mexican Families of Early California, 1769-1850.” Two volumes (Burbank, California: Southern California Genealogical Society, 1984).
William A. Spalding, “History and Reminiscences of Los Angeles city and County, California” (Los Angeles: J. r. Finnell & Sons Publishing Company)
 
John Schmal was born and raised in Los Angeles, California.  He attended Loyola-Marymount University in Los Angeles and St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, where he studied Geography, History and Earth Sciences and received two BA degrees.  Mr. Schmal has been a life-long history buff and is also a skilled genealogist. His genealogical specialties including tracing lineages in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Southwestern U.S.A.  He is the coauthor of "Mexican-American Genealogical Research: Following the Paper Trail to Mexico" (Heritage Books, 2002).  He has also coauthored three other books on Mexican-American themes, all of them published by Heritage Books in Maryland. He is an Associate Editor of www.somosprimos.com and a board member of the Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research (SHHAR). Presently, in addition to writing weekly columns for HispanicVista.com (www.hispanicvista.com),  he is writing a book on the indigenous peoples of Mexico and on the ports of entry along the Mexican-US border.  Mr. Schmal has a passionate love of Mexican history and has been writing short histories of each state, which are being compiled at the following link:
http://www.houstonculture.org/mexico/states.html