This is the first in a series of stories about notable women from San Benito County history. The women were honored recently by the San Benito County Women's Fund at their "Legacy of Women" event held at the Paicines Ranch. They were recognized for their beneficial contributions to our county.
The Plaza Hall where "Mariquita" (Mary) Zanetta Breen Anzar spent her youth still stands and Mission San Juan Bautista dominates the view from her bedroom window. Mariquita Anzar’s parents owned the Plaza Hotel, the Livery Stables and later the Plaza Hall which are now all part of the San Juan Bautista State Historic Park.
Mariquita, meaning little Mary, grew up pitching in at the Plaza Hotel. In the early years, the family lived in the same building as the business but later moved nearby to the large yellow building known now as the “Plaza Hall."
In a 1936 Los Angeles Times article used in the book, East of the Gabilans, Mariquita was quoted saying, ”It speedily became the best-liked stopping place between Los Angeles and San Francisco. San Juan was some place in those days. We were virtually slaves to the horn. At any hour of the day or night, a toot-a-toot-toot reverberating across the San Benito Valley apprised us that a stage was plunging toward us on El Camino Real. The old Bixby coaches were drawn by six horses. Then what a hustle and bustle there would be!”
Angelo Zanetta, Mariquita’s father, had come to San Juan Bautista from Italy by way of New Orleans. Her mother, Maria, was from the French Basque country. In East of the Gabilans, Pierce describes the Plaza Hotel as a busy and sometimes raucous place in the later part of the 19th Century. Pierce writes that the business had a big following because of Angelo’s Italian cooking, but according to great grand-daughter Mary Anzar, Maria was equally known for her hearty Basque cooking.
Young Mariquita Zanetta married William Breen, whose family survived the tragic and famous Donner Party trip over the Sierras during the winter 1846. William was the youngest Breen child and was born after the family arrived in San Juan Bautista. He died from an illness in their first year of marriage when Mariquita was pregnant with her first child, Mamie.
As was customary at the time, Mariquita wore a black wedding gown when she later married P.E.G., or “Lupe” Anzar in 1877. She and Lupe went on to have 11 more children. “With 12 children, she knew how to keep things in line pretty quick,” says her granddaughter, Mary Dolores Anzar in a recent interview.
Lupe and Mariquita moved onto the Anzar family ranch, once known as the Rancho Las Aromitas y Agua Caliente. When it was originally gifted to the Anzar family, the land grant stretched from Watsonville all the way west beyond where Highway 101 is today.
Mariquita and Lupe Anzar were married for 50 years. They celebrated their anniversary in a little green bungalow still on 1st Street in San Juan Bautista.
Granddaughter Mary Anzar is a petite 67-year-old who works in the San Juan Bautista Mission Gift Shop. She never had the opportunity to meet her grandmother, though Mariquita lived to 89 years old. Mary’s father, Reginald Anzar, was Mariquita’s 10th child and youngest son. Mary is an only child and her father shared many family stories with her.
She says that Mariquita was a proud and active charter member of the Native Daughters of the Golden West. Mary’s father told her he would sit and wait for his mother to come out of the meetings, which could run a little long.
Mary says her grandmother was “a pretty strong woman” who “kind of ruled the family." But she was also smart like a fox. According to Mary, her mother was more of a “women’s libber” and liked to do things herself. One day, Mariquita advised her, “It’s not wise to know too much.” She then explained to her daughter-in-law that if she had a problem there was no need to rush into trying to fix it. “My grandmother told her, 'You wait around a little and the boys will take care of it,'" Mary said.
One of her father’s stories characterized his mother well. Mariquita was slim and barely over five feet tall. One day she was driving a buggy in the hills surrounding San Juan Bautista when she saw someone lying in the sun on some flat rocks. The white horse that bandito Tuburcio Vasquez was known to ride was standing nearby. Vasquez was a well-known criminal at the time and frequently appeared in the newspapers. Mariquita knew it was Vasquez.
“She had quite a stare,” says Mary, “and when he looked up at her, she just stared at him. After a few seconds, he bowed his head and she just kept going.” Vasquez was known to be quite a ladies' man, but apparently not with Mariquita.
“Daddy told me she could say things without saying anything. She had a big look,” Mary says.
The last family member to live on the Mission Plaza was Mary's Aunt Victoria. After 1950, the Plaza became part of the California State Park system and the family possessions and furniture remain for public viewing in the Plaza Hall, the Livery Stables and the Plaza Hotel.
Mary Anzar was one of the 250 guests to enjoy the “Legacy of Women” event held at the Paicines Ranch Oct. 15. She says she didn’t know what to expect but was delighted to see her grandmother’s photos and a short biography among those posted on the barn walls.
Mary was born in Hollister in the old Hazel Hawkins Hospital on Monterey Street in Hollister and worked in the San Juan Bakery for 25 years. Like her grandmother, she is a Native Daughters member, though not as active. Mary lives in the home she grew up in, which sits on part of the original family land grant.
For the past 18 years, she has been behind the desk several days a week at the Mission Gift Shop answering questions and pointing tourists toward the restrooms. Of course, the hoards of tourists, both foreign and domestic, are unaware of how qualified she is to answer their questions.
The Mission Plaza has been a focal point for her family for at least four generations. On any given week, Mary will usually catch both the Saturday and Sunday masses at the Mission, where she was baptized. “All the Anzars were,” she says.
“My grandparents were known to be good people and I have only heard positive things said about them all these years,” says Mary. Being the last family member to still live in the county, she has become the keeper of her family’s history. “People just send things to me,” she says. She shared much of her personal collection for this story.
Among her possessions is her grandfather Lupe Anzar’s financial ledger. She says that when she went through it, she was amused by some of the financial exchanges recorded. There was no doubt that her grandparents had helped many friends and neighbors through difficult times. “They were generous and helpful to people,” Mary says. “I am more proud of that than any land they owned.”
The Legacy of Women event held in October was for the benefit of the San Benito County Women's Fund. The Women’s Fund is a project of the Community Foundation for San Benito County. The fund was started three years ago and in 2015, its board granted $50,000 toward curbing domestic violence, providing more educational opportunities and resolving issues for undocumented women. As explained on the Women's Fund website, "According to the San Benito County Sheriff’s Department, the number one problem in San Benito County to date is domestic violence—with gang violence being second. Additionally, our county has had an unfortunate rise in the number of teenage girls becoming involved in gang life — often by force or without alternative choices." To learn more about the San Benito County Women's Fund contact Stephanie Hicks at [email protected] or call her at (831) 630-1924.
Research provided for the event was done thanks to Sharlene Van Rooy of the San Benito County Historical Society and Redbeard Communications Marketing and Advertising.
The Legacy of Women will be an on-going series on BenitoLink. The stories are written and owned by Leslie David.