HistoryThe blue colonial adobe near the plaza of San Ignacio was built by French pioneers Matilde Duclós and Plácido Lere late in the 1800's. Plácido was a French citizen who came to the Mexican Territory of Baja California, married in Mulegé and was left a widower with four children. Matilde was a widow with one child. She was a fine seamstress.
Young French people looking for opportunity would have heard about Mexico during the brief French occupation of 1864-67. And in 1885 the French company El Boleo began 69 years of mining in the mountains around Santa Rosalía in Baja California Sur, creating one of the world's largest supplies of copper. Matilde and Plácido came to San Ignacio and lived at first in the right wing of the mission. They built ranches in the Sierra de San Francisco. Rancho La Asención was titled in Matilde's name, and the title was signed by Porfirio Diaz who was President of Mexico from 1876 to 1906.
Together Matilde and Plácido reared 8 more children: Francisco, Juan Antonio, Germán, Ignacio, Rosario 'La Chala', Carmelita, Guadalupe and Carlos. Matilde continued her work as a seamstress and they saved their money, eventually buying the land in town on the lower slopes of the mesa where they built Casa Lereé. Matilde and Plácido and their friends would ride in from the ranch and tie their horses in the shade of the big mesquite tree in the garden. When they built the house, water in the irrigation ditch or acequia had been flowing across the hill below the mesquite tree for almost 150 years to fill the big octagonal pond or pila of the mission.
Matilde and Plácido built an adobe of two large rooms along Calle Madero, with a wide palm-roofed porch or corredor opening into the garden. Beside the home they built a tall square adobe barn. Plácido would ride into the barn on his horse through a tall door and out into the yard. Gradually, structures of the broad bricks or ladrillos were added on the Calle Madero side.
Casa Lereé became a guest house or casa de huéspedes when daughter Rosario 'La Chala' was caring for Matilde and Plácido in their old age. The large barn was divided by low partitions into sleeping areas for the guests. The adobe served for many years as the only rooming house in town, providing a welcome refuge for teachers and doctors who did not have homes here, and for travelers as well. At some point use of the name changed from Lere to Lereé.
Meals were served at a long table beside the acequia and everyone sat down at the same time to eat. There was much music, good talk, jokes and good food. Chickens and turkeys ran free and a low grape arbor offered welcome shade. A rank of outhouses stood under the mesquite tree. One was titled 'None Better', 'No Hay Mejor'.
Doña Chala never married. She was a wonderful hostess with a good sense of humor but preferred to stay within Casa Lereé. If she needed something she went to the little store with a door into the garden, now partly hidden by the rock wall in the parking area. When Plácido's daughter María 'Niní' became blind, she was cared for in Casa Lereé by her daughter Rebeca Lereé de Carrillo. In her turn, Doña Rebeca became the hostess of the house and the tradition of warm hospitality continued for many years.
In the 1990's the house was lovingly renovated by María Eugenia 'Maru' and Clifford Nickerson. They called it 'Casa Elvira' after Cliff's grandmother. When they moved back to their La Paz home it was my privilege to purchase the house. I come from the San Francisco Bay area but now I live here all year, with the help of my housekeeper Armida Rodriguez Quintero and my handyman and gardener Diego Arce Lucero. We are always ready to welcome visitors to this historic adobe, to see the photo archives, the bookstore of english and spanish books, talk about history, and appreciate the work of the artists of San Ignacio.
Juanita Ames, Casa Lereé, 2014