Tucked away at the foot of Three Peaks, a rock outcropping on the northern border of 116 acres along Woodford-Tehachapi Road, northeast of Highway 58, the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument is one of the Tehachapi area’s hidden gems.
Although the visitors’ center is temporarily closed, officials are working to reopen soon as they work through established CDC parameters and guidelines associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the interim, the memorial garden is open to the public. There is no charge to explore the landscaped grounds, which include Chavez's gravesite and fountain honoring him and the memory of martyrs of the farmworker movement.
The monument is a site of exceptional historical significance at the national level for its association with Chavez and the United Farm Workers of America. During its time at La Paz, from 1970 to 1984, the farmworker movement transitioned into a modern labor union, bringing many improvements in farmworkers' lives across the nation.
President Barack Obama signed a presidential proclamation on Oct. 8, 2012, creating the monument at Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz, the national headquarters of the United Farm Workers of America and the home of Cesar Chavez from 1971 to 1993.
The former tuberculosis sanitarium was built in 1929 in a mountain clearing in Keene, west of Tehachapi. The same sanitarium, in the 1970s, was transformed into a center of hope for the nation’s struggling farmworkers. Today, it is managed collaboratively by the National Park Service and the National Chavez Center.
With his farmworkers union headquarters located in Delano in the 1960s, Chavez wanted to move his family, union officials and volunteers out of the increasingly volatile crossfire of his organization’s struggle with powerful growers.
His search for a more secure location led him to Keene and the then-shuttered sanitarium. With county officials unlikely to agree to sell the property to Chavez, movie producer Edward Lewis, a wealthy union supporter, bought the complex in 1971 and quickly turned it over to the nonprofit National Farm Workers Service Center, which has since merged with the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation.
The compound became Chavez’s refuge, as well as the hub of union organizing and training for decades. Chavez, who died in his sleep in 1993 while in Arizona organizing farmworkers, was brought back to La Paz for burial.
The future of La Paz, as well as the movement Chavez created, became the focus of intense discussion by members of Chavez’s extended family and supporters. The result was the creation of a master plan for La Paz, which included the creation of a retreat and conference center that opened in 2010.
In an interview preceding the center’s grand opening, Paul Chavez recalled that his father’s goal was to provide a place for individuals and groups to gather to work for social justice and civil rights, to learn the skills to organize and do “extraordinary things.”
Funding for the retreat and conference center was partially provided by a $2.5 million grant from the California Cultural and Heritage Endowment of the California Library. An earlier state grant and contributions helped pay for the 2004 construction of a visitors’ center at the entrance to what is now the Cesar E. Chavez National Memorial. The visitors’ center features Chavez’s office, library and courtyard, as well as the memorial gardens, where Chavez is buried.