A Long, Rich Life and a Tasty Claim to Fame

She was an extraordinary woman with stubborn faith who survived a major earthquake and carved out a niche as the mother of California's soft drink industry.

Eulalia Perez de Guillen contradicted the myth that the extreme hardships of the Old West guaranteed a short life. When she died in 1878, she was 110 years old.

Some 60 years before, when she oversaw the San Gabriel Mission for the Franciscan friars, Eulalia concocted a tasty beverage from the lemons growing in the area.

Demand was so great that she began bottling the beverage, and the friars sold it. Soon they were shipping bottled lemonade to Spain. It became one of Los Angeles' first exports, and an enterprise that helped fill the mission's coffers.

Although she labored ceaselessly, it was her stubborn faith in the growing Christian community that sustained the twice-married dona mayor as she struggled to quench thirsts and help turn this hard little corner of the world into another Eden.


Born in Mexico in 1768, Eulalia was 15 when she married Miguel Antonio Guillen, a young soldier. Eventually, he was transferred north. They packed up their bags and three children and headed for Mission San Juan Capistrano.

They survived a massive earthquake that shook the Great Stone Church at the mission during Mass on Dec. 8, 1812.

The roof caved in and the adobe walls collapsed. The mission bells tumbled from the tower, killing 40 people.

Eulalia, who was pregnant at the time, squeezed out of the leveled church. A few days later, she gave birth to a healthy daughter, one of her many children.

After she pleaded with her husband for years, he finally asked for a transfer, and they moved to San Gabriel around 1821. His health was poor and he soon died.

After winning a cooking contest, she was hired by the San Gabriel friars as a cook. But her duties expanded, and soon she was the manager of the mission.

Along with her daughters, she supervised cooking, sewing, nursing, soap and candle making, the winery and the olive oil presses.

Eulalia also watched over the Indian women working at the mission, and tried to keep the soldiers away from them. When her efforts didn't succeed, she delivered the babies.

It was during this time that Eulalia began brewing the lemonade that made her famous.


Eulalia was an unrelenting force behind the mission, acting as if she were a five-star general, despite her soft voice and gentle manner.

She also was a counselor who helped steer young people through the intrigues and scandals that occurred behind the pious mission facade.

For example, in the late 1820s, a beautiful, stubborn, adventurous girl, Josefa Carrillo, flirted with Bostonian Henry Delano Fitch, a sea captain.

He asked her to marry him, but her father refused to permit it. Fitch became a Catholic, but her father still opposed the match because Fitch was a foreigner.

Undaunted, the couple eloped and were married in Chile. Upon their return, they were arrested and placed in custody at the mission. Eulalia listened intently to Josefa's tearful story while the bride was imprisoned in Eulalia's room.

The padres ordered the couple to attend high Mass for three feast days while holding lighted candles and recite the rosary together for 30 consecutive days. In addition, Fitch was ordered to give a 50-pound bell to the plaza church.

In 1834, when Mexico took over the missions and secularized them, Eulalia was out of a job.

As compensation for her 14 years of service, the padres deeded her 15,400 acres of what is now Pasadena. But the friars feared that their gift wouldn't hold up in court, so they arranged a marriage between Eulalia and a younger man, Juan Marine, a domineering soldier.

He petitioned the governor for the land and was granted it.

Although Marine won the land, he lost the woman. Unwilling to live with her husband's tyrannical ways, she walked out and moved into a small adobe. It was at the southwest corner of Mission Drive and Santa Anita Street, near the mission.

Marine didn't stock the property with livestock or make improvements required by the land grant. After he died, his son sold it for a mere six horses and 10 head of cattle.

Thirty years later, the longevity of 100-year-old Eulalia was advertised around the world as due to the "healthful climate and orderly living of the far western prairies."

Capitalizing on her mother's fame as a "California curiosity," one of Eulalia's daughters accepted a $5,000 offer to put her mother on exhibit at Woodward Gardens in San Francisco for six weeks in 1876, followed by a brief stint at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.

Bags packed and eager to travel, Eulalia was stopped by another daughter. The dispute ended up in court, with a judge issuing an order preventing her from leaving Los Angeles.

Two years later, before her death on June 8, 1878, Eulalia was no longer able to stand. She got around by crawling. But she crawled proudly, refusing to let others carry her burden.

She is buried at the San Gabriel Mission.

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