Continuing with the Sawtelle & Sepulveda series, this time we profile the life of a sixth generation Culver City resident who was born and raised on the old Rancho La Ballona.
Fred Machado found my 2004 red Volkswagen Beetle absolutely hilarious.
"What kind of car is that?" he asked after bursting into a carefree laugh, staring past the lace curtains of his living room into the tree-lined street.
His face filled with excitement, he recounted the story of how he and his best friend George Sweeny once souped up two Volkswagens to take racing, eventually ripping the bumpers clean off thanks to one very treacherous course.
"My wife was hanging onto the handrails the whole time," he recalled with a smile. "She said 'Never again!'"
For nearly four hours on a Thursday afternoon, Fred Machado shared his world with me. At 87 years old and a sixth generation Culver City resident, few people can offer insight into past, present and future like he can.
"I've had an interesting life," he said humbly. "I can't complain."
Seated in his wood-paneled living room, family portraits mingled with the framed covers of World War I-era sheet music. "World War I was my thing," Fred said as he gazed at the original sheet music of such pieces as "I'm Sorry I Made You Cry" and "Over There."
Fred's personal stories stretch out like a chronology of the land itself. After all, his story doesn't just begin with his birth in 1923. Fred's story began centuries before.
"I have copies of all these documents on the family, done by hand, naturally, in Spanish," he said, surveying the vast collection of family artifacts he's amassed over the years. "I have this one on linen. It gave a description of my great, great, great grandfather. He was discharged from the army in 1799. I have a copy of his discharge."
José Manuel Machado, a Sinaloa-born soldier, came up from Mexico with his new bride–a very pregnant María de la Luz Valenzuela—in 1781. It was José Manuel's sons that ended up staking their claim at Rancho La Ballona and it was there, just over a century later, that Fred was born.
"What was life like on the ranch? As children, [there was] the big barn and, of course, all the houses. We had our own water tank because there was no electricity or nothing like that. And, of course, we used kerosene lamps when I was a young kid. But as children, it was just play and have fun. Never wore any shoes, playing cowboys and Indians in the barn."
After serving in the Pacific and in Korea, Fred seemed overcome with an adventurous spirit, rebuilding World War I-era biplanes (again with his rascally friend, George), learning to fly out of the Culver City airport, and eventually flying his beloved planes as far as Wisconsin, open cockpit and all.
"In the airplanes, I actually crashed twice!" he laughed. "One of them was a doozy. I tore the wings off of it and everything."
Still, Fred's enthusiasm for exploring the world didn't end there.
"[George and I] rode to Baja together on our motorcycles," he said. "Now that was a really interesting thing. In 1970, we rode from Ensenada to La Paz. That's 1,032 miles and it was across the desert. It took nine days. We slept in the barns. We ate in the ranches. You know, it would cost us $0.25. And they'd let you sleep in the barn with the dogs! It was a fantastic adventure."
"I just loved it," he went on. "Parts of it felt like being back in 1870. It was just a whole other world, but it still felt like home."
"The most interesting things about me are the historical background of my family, flying, motorcycles, and probably in that order," Fred said.
Unofficially dubbed the historian of the Machado family, Fred's house, though kept meticulously clean, is virtually a treasure trove of artifacts, old photos, and cherished memories.
Still, it was his unassuming charm that made my afternoon with him unexpectedly fascinating.
"You've traveled so much, Fred, and you've seen so much of the world," I said to him. "Why is it that you always came back to Culver City?"
"Why? Oh, because this is my home. This is where my family is."