Mazatlan History in English: Information covering pre-Columbian times to the present including |
historical facts, photographs, video, artwork and information about the history of Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico
UPDATED MARCH 7, 2014 | CONTACT
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History of Mazatlán, Sinaloa
A history of Mazatlan from pre-Colonial times to the 21st century!
Pre-Columbian | 1500s | 1600s and 1700s | 1800s | 1900s | Mazatlan Today
Mazatlán before the Spanish
The name Mazatlan means Place of the Deer in Nahuatl, the language used in our region of Mexico before the Spanish conquest.
Before the Spanish conquered Mexico, the area around Mazatlan was inhabited by a number of different indigenous peoples native to western coastal Mexico including the Acaxee, Cáhita, Pacaxee, Tahue, Totorame and Xixime.
Historians believe that these tribes -- with the likely exception of the Cáhita -- were peaceful, and sustained themselves through hunting, fishing and agriculture.
The Totorames are believed to have lived in fixed locations -- including the area occupied by Modern Mazatlan -- feeding themselves primarily through fishing and agriculture, as well as collecting and trading salt with inland peoples.
Skilled craftsmen, the Totorames made decorative objects with pearls, shells and feathers, and were skilled potters.
History knows virtually nothing about Totorame spiritual practices, or political / societal organization.
Sadly -- and unlike their inland neighbors the Toltecs and Aztecs -- the Totorames left no pyramids, large scale earthworks or buildings. Totorame civilization largely vanished when the Spanish arrived with their brutality and, more importantly, their diseases, for which the indigenous people of Sinaloa had no immunity.
In tangible ways the history and spirit of Totorame culture survives.
Exquisite Totorame pottery adorned with elaborate designs indicative of an evolved and sophisticated pre-Columbian American culture can be seen at Mazatlan's Museo Arqueologico, the archeology museum located in the Centro Historico.
These artistic expressions of the Totorame soul speak directly to contemporary viewers and are reminders that the history of Mazatlan did not begin with the arrival of the Spanish.
1500s Mazatlán History
The Spanish invasion of the Americas in the 16th Century -- though foretold by vaious cultural myths -- was a massive shock to pre-Columbian cultures throughout both north-central and South America.
This was no more so than in Mexico, which was the tip-of-the-spear of the attempted Spanish colonization of several parts of the Western Hemisphere.
After Cortéz rapidly conquered the Aztecs at present-day Mexico City in 1521, his Conquistadors met little resistance as they began their outward expansion from south-central Mexico and began subjugating more of the indigenous peoples of present-day Mexico.
In 1531, just 10 years after the conquest of Mexico City, a renegade commander, Nuno Beltran de Guzman had reached the Pacific coast of Mexico with substantial forces and marched through Sinaloa with a private army, destroying and pillaging indigenous communities along the coast -- and inland when possible.
But history reveals that more destructive than the military behavior of Beltran de Guzman and his Conquistadors was the simple fact that they carried European diseases for which local populations had no immunity.
Indigenous Sinaloan communities were decimated by disease: it is estimated that over just two years -- 1535-1536 -- Totorame and Cahue populations fell by an astounding 90%. Sinaloa was left substantially depopulated -- a vacuum that Spanish warriors and later migrants were only to happy to try to fill.
History records that as payment to his mercenary army Beltran de Guzman divided the conquered lands among his men, awarding land as payment for military service. These land grants are the basis of the founding of numerous cities we know today, such as Culiacan, Guadalajara, and Tepic, and are the beginning of Colonial Spanish History in Western Mexico.
Beltran de Guzman's marches through Pacific Mexico were followed by those of second-wave Spanish Conquistador Francisco Ibarra, who in 1565 -- instantly following the discovery of gold and silver in the Sierra Madre foothills surrounding Mazatlan -- founded the town of Copala, at the start little more than a support base for early mining operations in Sinaloa.
17th and 18th Century Mazatlán History
"Mazatlan" was first mentioned in 1602 in military communications to the Spanish government.
But it wasn't present-day Mazatlan. The communication referenced a small village, San Juan Bautista de Mazatlan (now Villa Union), 30 miles southeast of The Pearl of The Pacific.
Our city in the early 1600s was little more than a magnificent often-empty natural harbor which English and French pirates used intermittently as a hiding place from which to attack the treasure-laden galleons that sailed Mexico's western coast.
The modern history of Mazatlan really begins the early 1600s: in response to pirate activity the Spanish colonial government established a small garrison in present-day Mazatlan.
Thus began a multi-generational struggle between Spanish colonial naval forces and pirates that lasted through the 1600s -- and the 1700s as well.
But 1700s Mazatlan history wasn't just about pirates, it was about what they coveted: the ever-increasing tonnage of gold and silver shipments coming from nearby mines in the Sierra Madre mountains like at Concordia and Copala, and the deep-digging at flatter mining locations like El Rosario.
The massive tonnage of treasure produced by these and other Sinaloa Sierra Madre mining towns all flowed through Mazatlan, and through its' port.
This commerce fed local wealth, and the 1700s in Mazatlan saw other signs of advancement: The Pearl of The Pacific got its first church and first proper jail.
By the end of the 1700s the pirates were gone, but Mazatlan -- despite of over 200 years of foreign presence and its new church and jail -- was little more than a far-flung colonial outpost and harbor mostly inhabited by a remnant of indigenous peoples whose occupation was primarily subsistence fishing.
But eradicating the pirate threat allowed The Pearl of The Pacific to enter the new century strong, and begin to fulfill its' historical destiny as Mexico's premier west coast port -- and one of the finest natural deep water ports in the world.
The 19th Century
With the pirate threat eliminated, the first decades of the 1800s in Mazatlan brought steadily increasing ship traffic and frequent arrival of passengers that hailed from very distant places.
Mazatlan had become one of the three most important ports on the Pacific coast of the Americas, the others being San Francisco and Valparaiso in Chile, with many ships arriving from Europe and the Middle East.
Much of this traffic -- an estimated sixty ships per year were arriving by the early 1800s -- was related to supplying mining operations in Sinaloa towns near Mazatlan, as well as bringing tools and materials that were used to continue to develop the city.
These long sea voyages were very dangerous: ships had to sail around Cape Horn or cross the Pacific to reach Mazatlan.
Mexico became independent from Spain in 1821 after an eleven year struggle, and growth in Mazatlan accelerated rapidly.
The commercial success of the port attracted the attention of of a wide range of European entrepreneurs -- primarily Germans, French and Spaniards -- who founded businesses that made them fortunes manufacturing cigarettes, cigars, matches, soaps, beer, carriages, candles and footwear.
But the attractions of the Port of Mazatlan extended far beyond Europe and fired the imaginations of businessmen as far away as Asia.
In 1829 a banker from the Philippines, Juan Nepomuceno Machado, arrived on a ship that had made the trans-Pacific voyage. He rapidly founded an import / export firm that traded with with vessels coming to our port from far-flung places such as his home country the Phillipines and other countries in Asia; Chile and Peru in South America; Europe -- especially Germany -- and the United States.
By 1836 Mazatlan had a population of between 4000 and 5000 non-indians, and thriving commercial relations with distant economies and peoples including, notably, Germany.
In 1837 Don Juan Machado -- investing both in the citys' and his own economic future -- caused the Plaza Machado (Plazuela Machado) to be built.
Once referred to as Paseo de las Naranjas (Orange Tree Walk) because of the orange trees that surrounded the space, the plaza quickly became a focal point for the community, and a place where Mazatlecos of all social classes gathered. Historically it served -- and continues to serve today -- as an icon of Mazatlan's cultural wealth.
Don Juan Machado's generosity and vision built upon an important civic infrastructure improvement that had been made in 1832.
The area that the plaza occupies -- and much of what we now consider the Centro Historico -- was once a marshy estuary fed by the ocean. But in 1832 a sea wall was constructed along Olas Altas beach which dried the area and made it possible to construct larger buildings.
In the mid-1800s the trade connections between Mazatlan and Germany enabled a tide of German immigration to The Pearl of The Pacific, with large numbers of immigrants arriving from Germany with skills and capital that she was waiting for, and who would shape Mazatlan history to this day.
These new citizens helped develop Mazatlan into a thriving commercial seaport and as a port-of-entry for men and equipment destined for the gold and silver mines of Sinaloa that were making nearby towns like Concordia, Copala, and Cosala some of the most prosperous communities not only in Sinaloa, but in all the Americas.
The industry of these German immigrants and their children is not just a footnote in history: it is felt in many ways in The Pearl of The Pacific, from our delicious German-derived beer, Pacifico, to street and plaza names and -- of course -- Banda music, which is closely related to polka.
During the Mexican-American War (1846-48) -- supposedly to avoid the shelling of Mazatlan according to contemporary history -- the Mexican Army abandoned it, and the United States Army occupied the city. The American occupation of Mazatlan was short-lived, and caused relatively little disruption.
The amenities of a major city began to be more common in mid 1800s Mazatlan.
By 1850 Mazatlan had a hotel with a restaurant on the premises. Owned by a Chinese immigrant, Luen-Sing, it was variously referred to as the Hotel Luen-Sing or -- in a more Mexican construction -- Canton La Fonda. Whatever the name, this hotel was just the first a several that were constructed in the following decade, along with several other restaurants.
The Mazatlan Times was an English language weekly that was first published by American A. D. Jones in 1863. The publisher claimed that his newspaper was the only weekly English language publication not only in Mazatlan and Sinaloa, but anywhere in Mexico.
Icehouse Hill (Cerro Neveria) -- the promontory on your left as you travel from the Golden Zone toward Olas Altas Beach -- got its name at this time when tunnels that honeycomb the hill were used for storage of precious ice imported from San Francisco.
Mazatlan served as the capital of Sinaloa from 1859 to 1873, and -- in spite of the economic and political ascendancy of Culiacan in the 20th century -- many consider it to be the true cultural and spiritual capital of Sinaloa State.
But despite being the capital, mid-1800s Mazatlan history witnessed turbulent times, and the city was once again abandoned to foreign occupiers.
During France's Second Empire, under Napoleon III, an attempt was made to establish a protectorate in Mexico, which would have effectively made Mexico a French colony. This French attempt to colonize Mexico lasted from 1861 to 1867.
Variously referred to as the Maximilian Affair, the War French Intervention and the Franco-Mexican War, it was triggered by Mexican President Benito Juarez's suspension of interest payments to foreign creditors in 1861, which angered Britain, France and Spain, holders of most of Mexico's debt.
Napoleon III chose as his avatar Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph, a member of the Austrian royalty who had been approached in 1859 by representatives of members of the Mexican aristocracy and Catholic church who wanted to re-establish a monarchy in Mexico.
Maximilin I as he had proclaimed himself landed in Veracruz in May 1864, was initially received by enthusiastic crowds, and began extending his military reach inland -- and westward.
Historians generally agree that Emperor Napoleon III of France decided to act for a matrix of reasons -- some geo-political, some religeous -- but probably none more compelling than the fact that he wanted the silver that was being mined in Northwest Mexico. It is estimated that 4-5 million dollars of silver passed through the port at this time, a fantastically large sum in the 1860's.
As the capital of Sinaloa State and portal to the silver mines of Sinaloa State, Mazatlan made a tempting target.
Almost twenty years after the American occupation of Mazatlan the French siege of the port began on 28 March 1864 when the French flagship La Cordeliere appeared off the coast along with other French warships loaded with artillery and troops.
The French fired from offshore and attempted a beach landing, but were repulsed by strong shore-based artillery fire and infantry that met them at the water's edge. There were dead and wounded on both sides.
The battle -- which now included the British war sloop Charybdis fighting alongside the French -- continued inconclusively on the 31st with substantial artillery exchanges that killed and wounded more combatants, including Mexican civilians.
What followed was a more than seven month naval blockade of the port of Mazatlan the hardships of which caused substantial dissent between Republican and Imperial factions within the population. The city of Mazatlan formally surrendered on November 13, 1864, and was occupied by French forces.
On November 13, 1866, two years to the day after French occupation, General Ramon Corona expelled Maximilian's French Imperial Army from Mazatlan, and colonial rule in The Pearl of The Pacific was ended -- as was the entire French colonial adventure in Mexico the following year when Maximilian I was captured and executed.
In describing the French adventure American president Andrew Johnson invoked the Monroe Doctrine which said that efforts by European governments to interfere in the Americas would be viewed by the United States as acts of aggression requiring United States intervention.
But just two years later, in June of 1868, history clearly records that Britain intervened in Mazatlan -- without United States reaction.
The HMS Chanticleer, a Camelion class sloop armed with 17 canon under the command of Captain William H. Bridges, blockaded the Mazatlan port and threatened to shell the city.
History records that the captain apparently resented local customs authorities having seized a small amount of gold from the paymaster of his ship.
Many reminders of the two years of French colonial rule in Mazatlan can be found in the history and architecture of many buildings in the Centro Historico.
Despite the trauma of occupation, late 1800s Mazatlan history saw stability and increasing prosperity.
During the California Gold Rush of the late 1800s prospectors from the United States sailed from east coast ports to Mexican ports in the Gulf of Mexico, notably Veracruz.
The aspiring miners then traveled overland across Mexico to Mazatlan -- a journey that could take months -- where they would embark for San Francisco and the supposedly limitless fields of gold in California.
History clearly records that most, of course, failed to realize their golden California dream, but every miner that passed through Mazatlan supported our economy, and the growing strength of the municipality.
In 1879 Mazatlan's unique and majestic lighthouse -- El Faro -- first cast its glorious light westward over the Pacific ocean.
To this day the tallest lighthouse in the Americas, El Faro's original oil lamp was fabricated in Paris and was focused with mirrors and a Fresnel lens. Since the light did not move it was often mistaken for a star.
In 1905 the original El Faro lighthouse lamp was replaced by a revolving lamp. Today El Faros' 1000 watt bulb can be seen for 30 nautical miles and is still serving as an important navigational tool even in the era of GPS!
In 1883 Angela Peralta, a Mexican opera diva, died of yellow fever in The Pearl of The Pacific shortly after her arrival in the port. History -- based on local legend -- has it she sang one last aria from the balcony of the Hotel Iturbide, overlooking Plaza Machado.
Her memory is held dear by Mazatlecos to this day, and the restored Teatro Ángela Peralta immediately beside the Plaza Machado keeps the history of her fatal visit and her memory alive -- as well as providing modern-day Mazatlan with a truly world-class performance venue.
Late 1800s and early 1900s Mazatlan history saw increasing prosperity in the port, and many advanced civic amenities like electrification, street lights, city water systems and modern large-scale markets usually associated with larger or European cities began to emerge.
Ferrocarril Urbano de Mazatlan built one of Mexico's first horse-drawn street railways in 1876, and had nearly 4 miles of urban railway track by 1905. The system was even making an early move toward mechanization with small steam locomotives replacing some of its mules in 1908. Unfortunately, the system was shut down in 1913, a victim of the Mexican Revolution.
But even occasional false-starts like Ferrocarril Urbano de Mazatlan do not overshadow the enormously rapid pace of development in Mazatlan in the late 1800s including city water and electricity, the construction of Mercado Pino Suarez -- a state-of-the-art massive ironwork market -- and, of course, Carnival...
The Inauguration of the City Water System Late 1800s Historical Milestone
Nothing is more important to the development of a city than a reliable source of potable water and, for residents in the mid and latter 1800s, potable water supply in Mazatlan was often a problem.
The simplest explaination is really Urban Planning 101 -- rapid population growth had far outstripped supply.
Mazatlan is not really blessed with easy-to-access sources of fresh water.
Traditionally, early settlers in Mazatlan harvested rain water -- which is fairly plentiful with over 30 inches annual rainfall -- and kept it in cisterns for the long periods of the year where there is little or no rain. By the 1860's there were supposedly over 125 private cisterns with a combined capacity of over 50,000 liters.
It simply wasn't enough and, as the population of Mazatlan grew, water hauling -- bringing water from local lagoons and water holes -- became another (highly innefficient) part of the water supply mix.
At least the rain water was probably pretty clean, even after being stored in a cistern.
The hauled water, on the other hand, was almost universally from brackish sources, smelly and often unhealthy. The delivery mechanism was donkeys with five liter clay jugs being led through neighborhoods.
There were two aborted plans in the 1800s designed to improve the water supply in Mazatlan. The first, in 1863, involved a piped water network -- and went nowhere. The second, in 1881, involved an interesting scheme that would have placed water facilities on Stone Island. That plan went nowhere as well.
In 1887 - 1888 a solution arrived in the form of an enterprise jointly owned by some of the wealthiest merchants in Mazatlan. Compañía Abastecedora de Agua de Mazatlán was formed with the purpose of becoming the monopoly privately owned water supplier to the city, and this group had done its homework -- including getting import permits for the rather large list of materials that needed to be imported, largely from the United States.
With an aquifer identified, some logistical and financial support from the city and a potentially extremely lucrative contract signed they began digging. While the job didn't get done in the twenty month projected, on May 4, 1890 Mazatlan had city water.
Electricity Comes to Mazatlan Late 1800s Historical Milestone
It is easy for modern people to forget that many of the things we take for granted -- like grid electricity -- are really rather recent inventions.
1881 marks the year that streetlights and city electrical grids were born -- in Surrey, England -- but most humans, even urban humans, lived entirely without electricity in the late 1800s and even in the 1900s.
Mazatlan was an early adopter of urban electrical streetlights and electrical grids -- the first such system was switched on in 1896.
The financial origins of that system may seem ironic to a modern reader -- quite unlike today, in late 1800s Mazatlan electricity was far less expensive that the natural gas that fueled gas street lamps!
For those who like continuity, it is comforting to know that Jesús Escovar, the owner of Compañía de Gas Hidrogeno -- the company that had supplied the gas lamps since the mid 1868 -- got the contract for electrification.
Some of the earliest areas to get the new electric street lights were Plaza Machado, Plazuela Hidalgo and stretches of the Malecon. Wires from this newborn grid were rapidly run to wealthy families homes -- which many considered a blessing because gas and oil lamps and candles were substantial fire hazards.
Almost immediately -- and not unlike other cities of the time -- a second private Mazatlan electrical company was founded and the competition was fierce for several years, including acts of sabotage and vandalism by both company workers and hired muscle.
The competition was ended when the companies merged in 1906 under the ownership of Arthur de Cima León -- a very prominent entrepreneur who owned the ice company, the telephone company, the trolly company and was the founder of the upstart electrical company.
Electricity was successfully provided in Mazatlan by this private electrical company until 1937 when the electrical grid of Mexico was nationalized and became the Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE) we know and love today.
Construction of a Modern Central Market Late 1800s Historical Milestone
History records the rapid growth of the population of Mazatlan in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and a big city needs a big grocery store!
Mercado Pino Suarez was the solution.
Prior to the construction of the magnificent market you see today there were a number of largely open-air markets, notably in Plaza Zaragoza and Plaza de La Republica.
In the 1890s it was decided that, for both aesthetic and sanitary reasons, Mazatlan needed a modern central market, and the location between Benito Juarez and Aquiles Serdan was chosen.
The history of Mexico from the 1880s through the first decade of the 20th century is often referred to as the "Porfirian Era" after Porfiro Diaz, a soldier who was President of Mexico three times -- in total nearly three decades -- including the period from 1884 until his overthrow in 1911.
Porfiro Diaz was very enamored of many things French -- he chose France when he was exiled and died there in 1915 -- and the design of the Mercado Pino Suarez is heavily influenced by the late 19th century French ironwork aesthetic that was used in the Eiffel Tower and other important public structures in France during that period.
The structure was cast and assembled by Loubet y Compañía -- the largest foundry in Sinaloa -- and rapidly became known as the "Iron Palace" by locals, despite being officially named Mercado Romero Rubio.
There are numerous remarkable statistics about the amount of iron that went into the Pino Suarez Market (estimated to be over 300,000 pounds) but simply consider this: each of the twenty-nine single-casting columns that the roof rests on are over thirty feet tall!
In 1915 the market was re-named Mercado José María Pino Suárez in honor of the Vice President of Mexico who was killed in 1913 during the darkest days of the Mexican Revolution.
Now home to over 250 tenants and employing nearly 1000, the Mercado Pino Suarez is a vibrant part of the Mazatlan shopping scene even in the era of supermarkets and big-box malls. LEARN MORE
The Birth of Carnaval in Mazatlan Late 1800s Historical Milestone
The very end of the 1800s -- 1898 to be exact -- marks when Mazatlan officially embraced the Mardi Gras tradition of Carnival, and there has been no turning back from this massive annual public party!
Though Carnaval was noted in Mazatlan as early as 1848 -- it was mentioned in the Mazatlan newspaper La Lechuza -- it wasn’t until 50 years later than the event took its present form as a seven-day multi-event blow-out complete with parades, floats, social events and an official King and Queen.
History notes that the early Mazatlan Carnivals -- pre 1898 -- were informal and often somewhat vulgar, with women throwing flour and hollow eggshells (cascarones) filled with glitter, and men responding by tossing ashes and dyes at the women.
But in 1898 civic leaders headed by Dr. Martiniano Carvajal and a committee with an international flavor -- it supposedly included an Irishman, a German, a Spaniard and an Italian -- organized a parade made up of carriages and bicycles "to eradicate the immoral flour and replace it with the pure and more restrained confetti."
The modern Mazatlan Carnival may not involve tossing flour, but it is hardly restrained. Mardi Gras in Mazatlan is one of the biggest and best bashes anywhere in the Americas that sees thousands of costumed revellers thronging the Malecon and beaches.
Download 2014 Mazatlan Carnaval Events Schedule
Each evening the Malecon at Olas Altas Beach becomes the perfect stage for this singing and dancing Bacchanalia, with outdoor concerts, sound and light shows and beer for everyone!
1900s Mazatlan History | 20th Century Mazatlán
20th Century Mazatlan history begins with a period of prosperity, and the founding of Cerveceria del Pacifico is another example of Mazatlan's early 20th century growth.
In March of 1900 Jorge Claussen, German Evers, and Emilio Philipi created a partnership that became the Cerveceria del Pacifico brewery in Mazatlan. Their first product was Cerveza Pacifico Clara, a pilsner-style beer.
The beer became instantly popular in The Pearl of The Pacific, then Sinaloa State, and rapidly throughout Mexico.
Now known world wide as one of the finest Pilsners, Pacifico's brand is intimately associated with Mazatlan Mexico. Cerveceria del Pacifico -- now a part of Grupo Modelo -- remains a huge and interesting part of our business scene, and tours of the Pacifico Brewery and their museum can be arranged by telephoning 669 982 7900, extention 1642.
Video of the Pacifico Brewery in Mazatlan
1900s Mazatlan history also saw the emergence of Tambora music in The Pearl of The Pacific. Based upon traditional German drums imported by German migrants to Mazatlan, a tambora resembles a bass drum, and is mainly used today in Banda Sinaloense and Pasito Duranguense bands.
The Tambora is played with a felt mallet. With its double headed membranophone, large diameter, and fixed cymbal, the Tambora is highly distinctive and unique to Mexican music. Tambora music, the traditional oompah band music of northern Mexico, is heard throughout The Pearl of The Pacific, especially at Carnaval and other holidays.
Video of early 20th Century Mazatlan
But despite local economic successes, 20th century history brought turbulent times to Mazatlan -- and all of Mexico. The Mexican revolution stands as the watershed moment in Mexican history, and the true birth pain of the modern Mexican state.
The end of the Porfirio Diaz's rule in 1911 marked the beginning of the revolution that created modern Mexico.
The Mexican revolution was bloody and prolonged -- lasting over six years -- and The Pearl of The Pacific did not escape the widespread destruction that visited all of Mexico.
Mexico -- pre-occupied with its revolution -- was neutral in WWI, but the progress of military technology did not spare our port.
In the early years of WWI Mazatlan became the second city in the world -- after Tripoli, Libya -- to suffer aerial bombardment, but the incident was unrelated to the broader war, and entirely about the the progress of the Mexican revolution.
History records that General Álvaro Obregón -- who later became President of Mexico -- was intent on taking The Pearl of The Pacific as he marched his army south toward Mexico, and ordered a bi-plane to drop a leather wrapped bomb made of dynamite and nails on Cerro de la Neveria (Icebox Hill) adjacent to downtown Mazatlan. The crude bomb landed off target, killing two and wounding several others.
After order was restored at the end of the Mexican Revolution, 1920s Mazatlan experienced a decade of quiet prosperity and growth.
But the Great Depression put and end to that.
No economy anywhere in the world -- especially an economy as dependent on world economic health as is that of a port -- entirely escaped the ravages of the Great Depression.
But despite the massive global economic shock of the Great Depression, Mazatlan continued to grow, its importance as Mexicos' largest Pacific coast port and economic center of Sinaloa State continuing to underpin its economy.
WWII Mazatlán History | Mexico in World War Two
Very few people would include Mexico in a list of Allies in World War II. Although both Germany and Japan made overtures to Mexico and did purchase some oil in 1939 from the newly nationalized oil company -- now Pemex -- by 1940 it was obvious that Mexico's interests lay with the United States and the Allies.
1940-41 witnessed elections in both the United States and Mexico, with Franklin Roosevelt being re-elected to a third term in the United States, and Avila Camacho elected to the Mexican presidency.
History records the bitter disputes surrounding the Camacho election, with the right-wing Spanish fascist connected candidate Juan Andreu Almazan going so far as to have supporters in the United States obtain weapons intended for use in an armed rebellion. Roosevelts' early and strong support for Camacho -- along with his use of the F.B.I and United States military intelligence to assist the Mexican Army in the struggle against the pro-Almazan forces -- cemented ties between the two leaders, and paved the way for greater cooperation as WWII unfolded.
The breaking point came in May, 1942, when the Mexican oil tanker Potrero del Llano was torpedoed by the German submarine U-564 off Miami, killing 14 members of its' crew.
Just days later -- and after the attack on a second ship, the Faja de Oro, which was torpedoed and sunk while on a voyage from Philadelphia to Tampico by the German submarine U-106 -- Mexico declared war on Germany and the Axis powers.
The denial of Mexico -- and Mazatlan -- as a safe harbor for Nazi submarines was of historical importance to the Allies war efforts.
Mexico also helped the Allies in other ways. Mexican oil helped fuel United States war industries, and other Mexican raw materials were vital to the United States warfighting efforts in WWII. With many millions of American men in the United States armed forces and thousands of American women working in factories, Mexican labor -- mostly in the form of agricultural workers -- was central to sustaining and increasing agricultural production in the United States during WWII.
The war years also brought a true natural disaster of historical proportions to Mazatlan.
The historic 1943 Mazatlan hurricane was a powerful tropical cyclone that struck the Pacific coast of Mexico in October 1943. The hurricane made landfall just south of the Centro Historico on October 9 and had sustained winds of over 130 mph. At least a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, the 1943 Mazatlan hurricane was the strongest hurricane in The Pearl of The Pacific's recorded history.
It is one of only two truly major hurricanes to strike in the entire recorded history of Mazatlan, the other being the equally devastating Hurricane Olivia in 1975.
The 1943 Mazatlan hurricane destroyed two small towns outside The Pearl of The Pacific, and also severely damaged Mazatlan's port. Though the storm was reported as striking without warning, most residents of Mazatlan were able to reach the safety of higher ground.
History records that the hurricane destroyed about half of the buildings in Mazatlan, and near the ocean the combination of strong waves, high winds, and rainfall left many hotels and houses heavily damaged, as well as destroying much public infrastructure.
The storm severely damaged Mazatlan's water system, leaving many areas without potable water or sewage systems. The 1943 hurricane severely impacted transportation and communication infrastructures, with the airport sustaining damage to numerous buildings including the radio tower.
For at least eighteen hours the only communication between Mazatlan and the rest of Mexico -- and the world -- was through a battery powered radio in an airliner that had been forced down at the airport.
Post-WWII Mazatlán Boom
Post-WWII Mazatlan became a favorite deep sea sport fishing destination for Hollywood notables such as John Wayne, John Huston, and Gary Cooper.
Partly as a result of the media exposure that came along with these these famous visitors, hotels along Olas Altas Beach and the Malecon did well during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, supported by sport fishing tourism, as well as many other tourists both from both outside and inside Mexico who had discovered Mazatlan's charms.
This solid growth of tourism funded many civic improvements, notably significant work on Mazatlan's magnificent Malecon. These Malecon improvements included the complete paving of both the street and promenade, and re-enforcement of the sea wall. The mid-20th Century Mazatlan history also saw the extension of city services -- water and electricty -- further into previously unserved neighborhoods.
Two of our classic hotels -- the Posada Freeman and the La Siesta -- date from this period.
The Freeman was constructed in 1946 and the La Siesta in 1954 -- and both remain some of the best choices a tourist can make when choosing lodging in Mazatlan!
The steady growth of tourism in the 1950s fueled continued infrastructure improvements and brought visitors from increasingly far-flung places, many of whom chose to purchase real estate and become part or full-time residents.
Video of Mazatlan in 1962
The 21st Century Mazatlán Renaissance
Located on Mexico's Pacific coast -- just across from the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula -- Mazatlan is today the second largest city in the state of Sinaloa.
The Pearl of The Pacific has a population of over 400,000 -- over 500,000 including inhabitants of the surrounding municipality which has a land area of nearly 1200 square miles and includes outlying communities such as Villa Union, La Noria, El Quelite, El Habal and many other small Sinaloan towns and villages.
At just 23° north, Mazatlan is the same latitude as Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands, and is favored with over 300 days over 80f per year. Our Pearl Of The Pacific is known world wide to deep sea sport fishermen, who refer to Mazatlan as the Billfish Capital of the World.
Zoomable slippy map of Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico, from Google Maps
Nestled on the western edge of the Sierra Madre mountains on a spectacular peninsula that extends into the Pacific Ocean, Mazatlan is one of the Mexico's premier resort destinations. Mazatlan is served by an international airport -- General Rafael Buelna Internacional -- with daily flights to many countries including the United States and Canada and annual traffic of over 750,000 passengers.
Video time-lapse of Carnival on the Malecon in 2012! Very Cool!
Although Mazatlan is one of Mexico's most popular vacation destinations, it has another identity as the largest commercial port in Mexico, with a bustling economy independent of tourism; expatriate real estate investment; or American and Canadian retirees.
Mazatlan is the largest port between Long Beach and the Panama Canal, and is home to Latin America's biggest fleet of commercial shrimp vessels -- over 800 boats. The staggering tonnage of shrimp are processed in The Pearl of The Pacific each year makes Mazatlan the shrimp capital of Mexico -- and the world.
Because of a history of hundreds of years of focus on industry and commerce, Mazatlan came late to the discovery that its beaches represented an asset, and became a Mexican resort destination almost as an afterthought.
Tourism -- in any larger scale form -- only came to Mazatlan in the mid-1950s when an American named Ulysses S. George built a hotel a few miles north of town, just beyond Playa Camaron. The owners of the Hotel Playa Mazatlan started publicizing their resort and more and more tourists began to arrive. Most of the tourist facilities, the hotels and restaurants, grew up around the original development -- now in the heart of the Golden Zone - Zona Dorada -- and to the north of it, now extending through Nuevo Mazatlan.
An important city long before it became a resort, Mazatlan is less touristy than any simillar market along Mexico's coasts. Places like Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, Acapulco and Cancun were largely created as resort developments, and there is a single-dimensional character to those communities that is a pale shadow of the rich complexity and sophistication of modern day Mazatlan Mexico with its long and richly complex history.
As the 21st Century begins, Mazatlan's Centro Historico has been rediscovered, spuring a renaissance of restoration, real estate investment, and entrepreneurial efforts.
The grand homes and landmark Centro Historico commercial buildings that had fallen into disrepair or ruin have been restored to their historic glory and now house young families, retirees, and unique boutique Mazatlan businesses such as restaurants, cafés and art galleries.
Our city has nearly 500 buildings that have been designated as national historic landmarks. Walking through Mazatlan -- especially the Centro Historico -- one can't help but notice the distinct style (classical elements with climate-related adaptations, such as more robust drain spouts) with which the majority of these Mazatlan Centro Historico buildings were constructed.
The list of architects, builders and craftsmen who created the buildings of the Centro Historico is a history of the rich tapestry of immigrants to The Pearl of The Pacific.
These international influences include German, Spanish, Italian and of course Mexican artisans -- but the similarities in architectural solutions are striking, and representative of the birth of a genuine Mazatlan Classical Tropical Style that continues to please both residents and visitors.
Download a self-guided Centro Historico Walking Tour map!
Modern Mazatlan has recognized the value of the its' history.
The renaissance of Mazatlan's Centro Historico was recognized by the Mexican national government in 2003, when the Centro Historico was designated a National Heritage District -- a designation that assures that the underlying historical qualities of these unique cultural resources will be respected even as re-development accelerates.
And -- if history is any guide -- there is every reason to believe that Mazatlan will continue to grow long into the future.
In late 2013 Mazatlan realized a goal that had only been a dream for nearly 400 years -- an efficient road connecting Mazatlan with Durango and points northeast.
The massive construction project that re-built Mexico Federal Highway 40 is a watershed in Mazatlan history, and clearly destined to bring tourists, commerce and economic opportunity to Mazatlan for generations to come.
History of Mexican Federal Highway 40 and the new
Highway 40D, pathway to Durango and beyond!
Mexican Federal Highway 40 -- often referred to as the Inter-oceanic Highway (Carretera Interoceanica) -- spans the middle of northern Mexico, and connects the Gulf of Mexico with the Pacific coast.
Federal Highway 40 begins at Reynosa, Tamaulipas State -- just south of McAllen, located at the southern tip of Texas near Brownsville -- and ends in Villa Union, Sinaloa, just southeast of Mazatlan. At that point it connects to Mexican Federal Highway 15, the highway running northwest to southeast along the Pacific coast of Mexico.
Federal Highway 40 connects the largest cities in north-central Mexico including Monterrey, Saltillo, Torreón and Durango as it winds its way southwest to its intersection with Highway 15 and the Port of Mazatlan.
The general idea that Mexico needed an East - West roadway in the Northern part of the country existed since Colonial times. Mexican Federal Highway 40 was constructed in the 1940s, and fulfilled that dream.
A wonder of roadway engineering for the time, the old Mexico Highway 40 provided two paved lanes that stitched together existing roads with new sections -- many segments of which required substantial road-engineering skills to construct.
Federal Highway 40 created a continuous paved path across north - central Mexico, and the segment connecting Sinaloa State with Durango State was the first reliable and widely used road between Mazatlan and Durango.
For the first time in Mexican history, travel between the Gulf Coast and the Pacific was possible for normal people in timeframes less than those measured in weeks!
But the history of ground transport was moving quickly in the mid-20th Century, and booming late 50's and early 60's North America needed more than 1940s roads could provide. Two lanes -- especially ones with lots of curves! -- didn't begin to address the needs of increasingly auto and truck-dependent economies.
This problem was particularly acute between Durango and Mazatlan.
Beyond being only two lanes wide at best, Federal Highway 40 between Mazatlan and Durango was an over 180 mile long labyrinth of switchback turns, very low average speeds -- in sections as low as 15 miles per hour -- and effective impassability for many types of larger commercial vehicles.
If this sounds primitive, remember that historically things were not that much different in the United States -- the interstate road system in the USA was only a plan when announced in 1956 as a response to the same capacity issues, with many communities waiting decades to be connected to the emerging interstate highway system.
The re-building of Mexican Highway 40 has similarly taken decades, but true restricted access multi-lane segments were completed long ago between Durango, Monterrey and Reynosa -- Mexican restricted access highways that enabled the more efficient northbound flow of products and people.
However, the dream had always been to link the Gulf Coast to the Pacific and thereby enable efficient trans-continental traffic that would benefit the economies of all of the communities along its route.
The Sierra Madre Occidental mountains that separate Durango from Mazatlan posed unique challenges, and our segment of the highway was the last major part of the route to be re-built.
Not only are the Sierra Madre some of the higher mountains in Mexico, but they are very steep, creating topography that is unusually jagged and that requires tremendous bridge-building and tunneling skills to even begin to plan for an effecient restricted access roadway design that traverses a direct route.
In addition to the general engineering challenges posed by this spectacularly rugged landscape, the Baluarte River -- the border between Durango and Sinaloa States -- slices a deep gorge through the middle of any efficient proposed route, and any direct Mazatlan - Durango highway would require unprecedented engineering solutions to span it.
The new Mexican Federal Highway 40D -- a 4-lane restricted access toll road -- has met these challenges along the highway from Mazatlan to Durango with an astounding 115 bridges, eight of which are over 900 feet high, and 63 tunnels!
No feat of engineering along the new Mazatlan - Durango highway surpasses that of the Baluarte Bridge. With a vertical clearance of nearly 1,300 feet from the riverbed, this over 3,600 foot long suspension bridge is the highest in the world, and one of the longest as well.
The cost of the Baluarte Bridge alone -- estimated at over 150 million dollars over a four year construction schedule -- is indicative of the scale of the entire 40D construction project, which totaled over 2.2 billion dollars.
With planning and construction work spanning nearly two decades and three Mexican presidencies, the re-engineering of the Mazatlan - Durango highway is arguably the single largest public works project ever completed in Mexico.
Helicopter video of the Baluarte Bridge on the Mazatlan - Durango Mexican Federal Highway 40D
The plan for re-building the Mazatlan - Durango corridor was born nearly two decades ago in the Mexico City offices of the Secretary of Communications and Transportation (SCT), the agency which is responsible for Federal highways throughout Mexico.
The sheer materials requirements were enormous -- the new sections and upgrades to existing roadbed required 130,000 tons of steel and enough concrete to build 20 Olympic stadiums. The logistic challenges of transporting this amount of material in such rugged terrain was as daunting as the size of the loads themselves.
The human logistics of the project at times resembled the feats of ancient Egyptian pyramid building: at one point there were 1,200 workers living in a temporary construction community built in the shadow of the emerging Baluarte Bridge.
The outcome of these efforts completely transforms the topography of travel between Mazatlan to Durango and points east -- the mileage has been reduced from over 180 miles to 140 miles, and the expected drive time anywhere from 6-8 hours (or more...) to well under 3 hours.
Mazatlan actually receives double benefit from the opening of the new Mazatlan - Durango highway.
Not only has it become better connected to markets in the Durango / Torreon / Saltillo / Monterey / Reynosa - Brownsville corridor but -- because 40D intersects with other Federal highways at Durango -- it is now linked to the Durango / Zacatecas / San Luis Potosi / Tampico corridor, and the Port of Tampico on the Gulf Coast.
Pre-Columbian | 1500s | 1600s and 1700s | 1800s | 1900s | Modern Mazatlan
History of Mazatlan Mexico: From pre-Columbian times through the 1500s, 1600s, 1700s, 1800s and 1900s to the present, including info about modern Mazatlan
Beaches | Sport Fishing Trips | Golf Courses | Bike Rental, Repair, Sales | Fitness & Yoga | Watersports | Bars & Cantinas | Coffee Shops | Juice Bars | Street Food
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DAY TRIP El Quelite | La Noria | Meseta de Cacaxtla & Barras de Piaxtla (Ecotourism & Adventure Tours) | Las Labradas Petroglyphs Archeology | San Ignacio | Lake El Salto | Cosala | Durango | Hwy 40D
Concordia | Copala | El Rosario | Playa Caimanero | Teacapan (Eco Tourism & Bird Watching) | Stone Island | Deer Island & Goat Islands (Eco-tours & Adventure Travel) | Bird Island (Birding and Ecotours)
RESTAURANT Seafood | Mexican | International | Steaks, Ribs, BBQ | Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Asian | Pizza | Burgers, Hot Dogs, Wings | Ice Cream | Rural Sinaloa Restaurants | Street Food | Vegetarian
SIGHTSEEING Tours | Centro Historico | Plazuela Machado Plaza | Angela Peralta Theater | Fine Art Museum | Archeology Museum | Museo Casa Machado | Pino Suarez Central Market
Mazatlan Basilica de La Inmaculada Concepcion | Malecon & Carnival | Cliff Divers | Aquarium | El Faro Lighthouse | | Central City Park | Nature Preserve | Mazatlan Venados Pro Baseball
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