The Colgate Scene
January 1999
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Point Lobos' historian

by James Leach
[IMAGE] In discovering the history of Point Lobos on California's central coast, Kurt Loesch '48 has rediscovered himself.

     One of the most active volunteers in the California State Parks system, Loesch is assembling and recording a history for all of us, and most especially for the descendants of the Native American, Japanese, Chinese, Hispanic and Azorian people who populated the breathtakingly beautiful point that landscape artist Francis McComas called "the greatest meeting of land and water in the world."

     Loesch and his wife Betty retired to Carmel in 1984, following his successful career as a manu-facturer's representative centered in Menlo Park, 100 miles to the north. Still vital, Loesch was looking for someplace to focus his energies. He encountered the green-jacketed docents who volunteer to guide visitors through the Point Lobos Preserve, just south of Carmel. He signed on and soon learned that no one had ever recorded the history of what he now describes as "one of the nation's first industrial parks."

     His work in the preserve and direct contact with descendants of its earlier inhabitants revealed to Loesch an interest in history that until then he denied. "I hated history," said the Colgate English major.

     "I'm not a tree hugger or an environmentalist," he said, "but I decided I could learn to like this." A strong emphasis on the natural history of the preserve -- its plants, whales, sea mammals and geology -- appealed to Loesch. But what closed the deal was connecting the faces of the descendants to the names and stories of their ancestors. In the process of reconstructing their stories, he said: "I've become part of their families."

     The earliest inhabitants of the region were the Ohlones, Native (or as Loesch says, "indigenous") Americans who foraged the land for a subsistence living. When Father Junipero Serra founded the San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo mission in 1770, the Ohlones likely joined his vaqueros in tending the herds of mission cattle that grazed on what the Spaniards named Punta de los lobos Marinos, for Point of the Sea Wolves.

     Marcelino Escobar, a descendent of both Spanish and French nobility, was a soldier assigned to protect the Carmel mission and later Monterey Bay in the early 1800s. For his service he was awarded a land grant that included Point Lobos.

     Loesch researched Escobar's history, in the process developing contacts with many of his relatives. When the Point Lobos Association dedicated Escobar Rocks at a gathering of the family in 1995, it was largely as a result of Loesch's research that some 250 descendants returned.

     Point Lobos changed hands several times in the mid to late 1800s, and was the site of diverse commercial ventures. Chinese harvested abalone there in the 1850s; Azorian whalers rowed into the cove, harpooned whales, and rendered their blubber into lamp oil in the 1860s and '70s; prospectors searched for gold while less precious but more available minerals such as coal, sand and granite were mined and quarried and shipped off to Monterey and San Francisco.

     It was the granite that attracted Joseph S. Emery to Point Lobos in 1854, and he bought 8000 acres for $500. That fact was unknown to Emery's grandson until 18 months ago when he came face-to-face with his family history in a display in the Whalers Cabin, a museum that Loesch has created on the shores of Whalers Cove on Point Lobos.

     The cabin, built of pine and redwood by Chinese fishermen in the 1850s, was itself an archaeological treasure. A plexiglas panel in the floor reveals some of the artifacts left by the Chinese, Japanese and Portuguese who inhabited it over the years -- visible alongside those artifacts are the whale vertebrae that support the cabin's floor joists.

[IMAGE]      A. M. Allan purchased Point Lobos from the Carmelo Land and Coal Company in 1898, averting a plan that ultimately would have subdivided the Point. Thirty-five years later Allan would sell the land to the State of California for $631,000, forever preserving it as a natural resource, but in the interim the land continued to support farming, mines and quarries, and a thriving abalone business that emerged from a partnership of Allan and Japanese marine biologist Gennosuke Kodani.

     Allan's grandchildren continue to reside in the area around Carmel and Point Lobos. Loesch is the frequently-consulted expert on their genealogy; without a hint of pride he says: "I know more about their history than they do."

     As Loesch scouted for artifacts for the cabin, he consulted with Kodani's son Seizo, who donated many of the items in the abalone exhibit. Loesch also heard from Kadani's granddaughters Marilyn and Eugenie many of the stories that had been passed down through the generations. Troubled by the fact that there was nothing in the Point Lobos nomenclature to recognize the Japanese influence, he worked to have the place of the ancestral Kodani home dedicated (in 1994) as Kodani Village. It is visible across the cove from the Whalers Cabin.

     When Point Lobos dedicated Loesch's exhibit of whaling artifacts in a small building adjacent to the Whalers Cabin, Loesch invited the whalers' descendants. One family of seven brought four generations. "The museum has given the community a direct tie -- Chinese, Japanese, Azorians," said Loesch. "It's like their holy grail, this opportunity to see photographs and artifacts from their grandparents on the wall. Most satisfying to me is giving something back to the people who descended from the early settlers."

     Loesch hasn't stopped at the Whalers Cabin and exhibit. His research has developed a list now 46 titles long of films that include footage shot on Point Lobos. Beginning with Valley of the Moon in 1914 and including such classics as Treasure Island, Erich von Stronheim's Foolish Wives, A Summer Place, The Graduate, and The Sandpiper, the compilation of that list led Loesch to conversations with Joan Fontaine, the star of his own favorite: Rebecca. With a local television station he produced a half-hour documentary with clips from many of the films.

     The next product of his work will be a 400-page book, a 13-year collaboration with Cabrillo College historian Sandy Lydon. Loesch provided the research, Lydon the writing. "There's so much, he's in his fourth rewrite," said Loesch. The book is due in 1999.

     For all his work Kurt Loesch has been widely recognized: as the Docent of the Year among 20,000 volunteers in California's state parks, with resolutions in the state senate and assembly, with an Award of Merit from the California Historical Societies. But it is clear as he describes Point Lobos' past that his real satisfaction comes from having captured a permanent history of this wonderful place to share with us all.

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