If you stroll through Old Town (Col. Emiliano Zapata) and head east from the Malecon and walk towards the mountains, after two or three blocks, you’ll come to the street named Calle Ignacio L. Vallarta. Ignacio’s names that were given to him when he was baptized in 1830 just roll off the tongue; they are
José Luis Miguel Ignacio Vallarta Ogazón. Why the city street-namers would put Ignacio before Luis or why this lovely city is not named Puerto Ogazon is unclear but, as I have written here before, “Never ask why in Mexico”. The truth is that Puerto Vallarta and Calle Ignacio L. Vallarta are named after the same person.
Before the street bearing the name Vallarta, there was a village by the sea called Las Penas, meaning “the Rocks”. However, in 1918, a hundred years ago, when the town was incorporated, the name was changed to Puerto Vallarta to honour José Luis Miguel Ignacio Vallarta Ogazón who was and is worth celebrating.
He was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, in 1830 to an undistinguished family. His father was a miner in the silver mines close to Guadalajara and there were many children in the family. Ignacio was very bright and attended the Catholic Seminary in the city and then went on to the Jalisco State Academy of Sciences and later to the University of Guadalajara where he studied political economics and law, graduating with a law degree in 1854 at the age of twenty-four.
He must have been a good political campaigner because two years later he was elected deputy to the National Congress and took an active role in writing the Mexican Constitution of 1857. He participated in the debates about trial by jury and the death penalty, both of which he argued against. In 1861 President Benito Juarez suspended bond interest payments that were due to France, Britain and Spain and that caused a problem or two. The French wanted their debts paid and invaded the country in 1862.
In April of 1862, while the country was in upheaval, Vallarta let love rule logic and married Francisca Lyon, in Guadalajara. They had seven children: Isabel, Luis, Ignacio, Alejandro, Elena, Julia, and María. By 1864 things were heating up in Mexico City, especially for Juarez’s supporters like Vallarta, so he and his family were forced to leave town in a hurry. He went first to Mazatlán, then Baja California, and later moved to San Francisco, California but returned to his family and home in Guadalajara in 1865. He left again to join Benito Juárez and his troops in their struggles against the French and, in 1867 at Santiago de Querétaro, they triumphed over the French troops, captured the Emperor Maximilian and had him shot by firing squad.
Vallarta continued to practice law and work as a deputy in the National Congress until, in 1871, he was elected governor of Jalisco. During his administration he founded the School of Agriculture, made primary education mandatory, established the state prison system and started the official newspaper of Jalisco, which is still published today. In April of 1875, near the end of his term as Governor, the state legislature awarded Vallarta the title of Distinguished Citizen in honour of his work.
In 1877 Porfirio Diaz became President of Mexico and a year later Vallarta was elected as the President of the Supreme Court of Mexico, a position that he held for five years. On his retirement from that position he went back to his law practice in Mexico City and continued working in his profession until he died, at the age of sixty-three, in 1893.
Although the man was distinguished, the street is not so much. It starts at its north end by linking with the main bus route, Morelos, then crosses the Rio Cuale before passing Intercam Bank on the right and a couple of coconut stands on the left. Bravos and Adobe Restaurant are just off the street at the next corner, followed by the Roxy Rock House. Aloha Crepas. Hospital Vetenario del Sol and Torres Realty gets you to Basilio Badillo and then the street named for this famous Mexican peters out a few blocks to the south.
We should be proud that Puerto Vallarta, which many of us call home, is named after such a distinguished patriot and statesman.