Curse of the Felizes
Curse of the Felizes
Does this man look cursed to
you? Antonio F. Coronel is
pictured here as a
prosperous old don with a
doting young wife, Dona
Mariana Williamson Coronel.
Photo: UCLA Department
of Special Collections
Note: This article originally appeared in the Glendale News-Press on Oct. 31, 1993.
Halloween prompts a lot of talk about ghosts and curses. Most of the weird and creepy stories told are about places safely distant. But you may not know that there is a curse on Griffith Park, or so the story goes.
Draw the blinds, dim the lights, gather the kids.
Let me tell you about the Curse of the Felizes.
Rancho Los Feliz was 8,000 acres of the prettiest and richest land in all California. It had fertile pastures, dramatic hillsides and mighty oaks.
It all belonged to the Felizes, descendants of Jose Vicente Feliz, military escort to the first 44 Spanish subjects to settle Los Angeles.
The curse dates from the day in 1863 that the reigning Feliz, Don Antonio, died of smallpox.
It was also the day the Felizes lost their beloved rancho.
A Dying Don Leaves a Lasting Legend
Don Antonio, a bachelor, lived with his sister and housekeeper, Soledad, and his niece, Petranilla. As smallpox gripped Don Antonio, 19-year-old Petranilla was sent away to protect her from the deadly and contageous disease. Soledad stayed.
On his deathbed, Don Antonio was visited by an influential aquaintance, Don Antonio Coronel, and a lawyer, Don Innocante.
The two visitors drew up a will. Innocante read it aloud. One version of the story says Feliz pronounced the will "all right." Another version claims a stick was fastened to the back of the dying man's head, forcing him to nod his ascent.
Coronel was willed the rancho. Soledad got some furniture. Petranilla got nothing.
A judge upheld the will's legality.
Soledad, apparently a docile soul, accepted her token inheritence. But Petranilla, who returned to find Coronel in control of the place she called home, would not accept her fate quietly.
Coronel used his persuasive powers (he was a successful local politician) to gracefully explain his sudden windfall. But Petranilla would not be placated.
The Curse Is Unleashed
According to Major Horace Bell, a turn-of-the-century teller of tales about Southern California, this is when Petranilla unleashed the Feliz curse:
Your falsity shall be your ruin! The substance of the Feliz family shall be your curse! The lawyer that assisted you in your infamy, and the judge, shall fall beneath the same curse! The one shall die an untimely death, the other in blood and violence! You, senor, shall know misery in your age and although you die rich, your substance shall go to vile persons! A blight shall fall upon the face of this terrestial paradise, the cattle shall no longer fatten but sicken on its pastures, the fields shall not longer respond to the toil of the tiller, the grand oaks shall wither and die! The wrath of heaven and the vengence of hell shall fall upon this place.
According to Bell's account, Coronel, "for reasons best known to himself," soon ceded the entire peoperty to his lawyer.
The lawyer was shot and killed while celebrating the sale of the land's water rights.
A Troubled RanchThe rancho was sold to Leon "Lucky" Baldwin. Baldwin, according to Bell, spared no expense to make it the most profitable and luxurious rancho in all of California. But Baldwin was not so lucky with this property. According to Bell,
The cattle sickened and died in the fields. The dairy business was a disasterous failure. Fire destroyed the ripening grain and . . . grasshoppers devoured the green crops. The vineyard was strickened with a strange blight and perished.
Baldwin sold the rancho to pay off its mortgage.
The buyer was Griffith J. Griffith. Misfortune continued to pile up. A huge storm in March 1884 brought lightning down upon the oaks. Waves of water cascaded down the hills onto the flatland. Ranch hands claimed they saw the ghost of Antonio Feliz riding the waves, later reappearing to dance the El Jarabe over the ruin that had been wrought.
Griffith ordered the dead oaks cut and sold for lumber. Workers claimed a spirit calling itself Antonio Feliz sometimes appeared at a promintory in the park known as Bee Rock. Ostriches, which were being raised on the rancho, inexplicably stampeded at night.
Griffith, the story goes, would only visit the property at midday. He eventually donated the land to the city as a park.
Perhaps that placated Antonio Feliz' restless soul. He apparently hasn't been seen around the park in this century. His last, and perhaps most memorable appearance was in 1898. It was the night that the city fathers gathered at the old Feliz adobe to celebrate the city's acceptance of the former rancho as a park.
Bell wrote that at midnight a gaunt figure with a fleshless face appeared at the head of the oaken banquet table and announced: "Senores, I am Antonio Feliz, come to invite you to dine with me in hell. In your great honor I have brought an escort of sub-demons."
Engaging Folklore, Dubious History
For decades afterward, whenever anything went wrong in the park, someone, usually a journalist, would bring up the curse. As with all such tales, the curse underwent occasional revision. For example, Ed Curl, Sierra Club hike leader and founder of the Griffith Park Quarterly, added his own twist, placing Petranilla atop Bee Rock rather than her uncle.
Some local historians have little use for the curse. W.W. Robinson, an influential local historian who published numerous works from the 1930s to the 1960s, dismissed the curse as "the creation of Los Angeles' most-eminent myth-maker, Horace Bell."
Dr. Tom Andrews, Executive Director of the Historical Society of Southern California, said that sometimes historians have a hard time accepting folklore since "history struggles to be an exact science."
Folklore like the Curse of the Felizes isn't really history, Andrews said, but it isn't something that should be merely discarded, either. "Folklore is that gray area between black and white," he said. "It is an area that a historian pays some attention to because it sheds some light on the culture of the time."
As folklore, stories like the curse contain a particular kind of truth, said Steve Taylor, associate professor of English at Glendale Community College.
"Myths express values," he said. Taylor instructes his students to look at the values inherent in particular myths. If those values still have relevance, the myth lives on.
Writer's note: This article, one of an occasional series, is part of the Griffith Park History Project, an attempt to chronicle the park's long and remarkable life.
What memories do you have of Griffith Park? Suggestions? Questions? Criticisms?
Please call me at Glendale College 240-1000, Ext. 5352 (I have voice mail, so you can leave a message at any time.)
Write to me, Mike Eberts, Griffith Park History Project, Glendale Community College, 1500 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale, CA 91208.
E-mail me at MEberts@glendale.cc.ca.us
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