The nine-member California Historic Resources Commission voted on May 19 to nominate the National Chavez Center, where Cesar Chavez lived and led the farm worker movement during his last 22 years at La Paz in Keene, Calif., for placement on the National Historic Registry. The nomination by state commissioners, all gubernatorial appointees, during their quarterly meeting at Santa Monica City Hall is being transmitted to the National Park Service, which together with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will make the final decision.
The California commission cited the “unquestionable” national historical importance of Chavez’s 187-acre complex in the Tehachapi Mountains between Bakersfield and Mojave where the farm labor and civil rights leader is also buried. On Feb. 21, Secretary Salazar and National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis joined 800 farm worker veterans and supporters in dedicating the movement’s “Forty Acres” complex outside Delano as a National Historical Landmark.
“Forty Acres and other historical sites in the town of Delano were where the first half of the story of Cesar Chavez and the farm worker civil rights movement took place,” says Paul F. Chavez, president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation, which owns and manages both the Forty Acres and the Chavez center in Keene. By nominating the Keene sites, the state historic commission recognizes them as “where the second half of the story of my father and the farm worker movement occurred.”
Making it on the National Historic Registry affords a certain level of protection, Paul Chavez points out. The Keene facilities, often called La Paz, were where Cesar Chavez planned strategies, mapped out organizing, boycott and political campaigns, trained farm worker leaders and held large community celebrations and gatherings from 1971 until his death in 1993.
Keene is also one of a number of historical sites in California and Arizona associated with Cesar Chavez that Congress instructed the National Park Service to study in order to evaluate a range of options for preservation and public visitation, and examine ways to use these sites to help tell important aspects of farm labor history. The study will consider appropriate roles for the park service to preserve these sites and tell these stories.
Today, the National Chavez Center includes a 7,000 square foot Visitor Center featuring Chavez’s carefully preserved office and library, multi-media room and exhibit spaces; beautifully landscaped memorial gardens surrounding his gravesite; and the recently opened Villa La Paz, a 17,000 sq. ft. conference and retreat center where new generations of leaders will gather in the renovated historic Mission-style structure where Chavez met, strategized and planned during most of the last quarter-century of his life.