Learn About “Hotel Mariachi” at a Book Signing at the Mariachi Festival This Weekend

Boyle Hotel. Photo: Workman Collection
Boyle Hotel. Photo: Workman Collection

If you’ve been to Mariachi Plaza, then you’ve seen the beautiful Boyle Hotel, or Hotel Mariachi, as it is known to many, that sits on the corner of 1st and Boyle.

It was built in 1889 by a Croatian immigrant named George Gerscovich (who changed his name to Cummings) who came to California during the Gold Rush of 1849. After earning his way selling groceries to miners, he and his wife built the hotel just in time for the Panic of 1893 — a collapse in railroad financing and a series of bank failures that led to the worst economic depression the US had ever experienced at that time — and the hotel was lost to the bank that held the mortgage by the end of 1894.

More recently, it served as a low-rent home for mariachis. Although the mariachis represented a proud tradition in the area and called the building home for more than 50 years, their living quarters were in a state of decline for much of that period.

By the time the building was bought by the East L.A. Community Corporation (ELACC) in 2006, the men were living in crowded and unhealthy conditions, namely: four to six men to a room, lead paint, rodent and pest infestations, poorly constructed communal kitchens and bathrooms, missing or broken doors and windows, and out-dated or inoperative safety systems.

Even though ELACC’s goal was to protect tenants from being pushed out by rising rents in the burgeoning arts district, their plans to transform the building into 51 affordable housing units were met with skepticism by some.

Not known for being preservationists, some feared ELACC would raze the historic building. Others feared that the mariachis would not come back once they had been relocated to make way for restoration to begin in 2010. The latter concern seemed to be justified when many did not return when it reopened last fall, and those that did were asked to pay up to $400 higher in rent than they had been originally been quoted, thanks to an inadvertent miscalculation by ELACC staff.

That said, the plaza and space in front of the hotel thankfully continue to be a prime gathering location for mariachi groups. They can be found there on many afternoons and evenings, relaxing after a gig or waiting to be hired for the next one.

You are invited to stop by and ogle (or even hire) them during the Mariachi Festival this weekend, when Libros Schmibros will host a free book signing for Hotel Mariachi, Urban Space & Cultural Heritage in Los Angeles. The book, by Catherine L. Kurland (a descendant of Gerscovich/Cummings) and ethnomusicologist Enrique Lamadrid, explores the history of mariachi music, poetry, and fiestas, their relationship to the history of Los Angeles, and the role of space and place in mariachi culture and community. The essays are supplemented with nearly one hundred photos documenting all aspects of mariachi life (mostly pre-renovation of the hotel) by Miguel Gandert.

The signing will be held Sunday, November 24th, on the plaza during the festival, between noon and 3 p.m. For more details, see here. For more information about the 23rd Annual Mariachi Festival, which will run from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., please click here.

A woman sings boleros at a festival on Mariachi Plaza. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
A singer croons boleros at a festival on Mariachi Plaza. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog