Mexicana Airlines’ Mischievous Mazatlan

Renowned Aviation and Travel Journalist Richard Carroll is presenting this great story from memories of Mexicana Airlines. The events which took place at the famous Belmar Hotel, the hotel where the Mexicana pilots stayed in Mazatlan on layovers, are true.

Historic Mazatlan, a proud working city and intriguing port destination is Mexico’s shining megastar with love to share. The Mazatlecos with great passion take immense pride in the only Historic District on Mexico’s West Coast, one of the world’s longest malecons or boardwalks, creative chefs, and the unique Mazatlecos’ version of a cab, which is the festive open-air Pulmonias comparable to a golf cart but with pizzazz and style.

Mexicana Airlines landing in Mexico City. Mexico City Airport presents a challenging environment for pilots during the landing phase. Watch Mexicana Boeing 727 pilots in action here. Video: YouTube.
A classic Mexicana Airlines Boeing 727. Photo: By RuthAS

However unequaled in Mazatlan’s aviation history were the skillful and mirthful Mexicana pilots.

Mexicana Airlines in Mazatlan

Mexico’s Mexicana Airlines, North America’s oldest commercial air carrier, circa 1921 (ceased operation 2010) first touched down in Mazatlan in 1935 in a 10-passenger Lockheed Electra, landing on a narrow patch of packed sand in a marsh, seat belts and white knuckles evident.

Mexicana Airlines Lockheed Electra 1930s. Photo: Mexicana Airlines archives.

“The Mexicana pilots were like astronauts in those days, bigger than life and flying by their wits,”

recalls retired Chato Patron, a Mexicana employee who moved to Mazatlan in 1936.

“If they got lost the pilots would drop down and follow the railroad tracks to a small sandy landing strip. Often we waved flags signaling if it was okay to land always aware of wandering animals and bad guys.”

A welcome sign at the Mazatlan Aeropuerto International General Rafael Buelna (MZT), a great improvement from the narrow 1935 packed sand airstrip located in a marsh.

Python’s Belmar Hotel Style

The Hotel Belmar internationally recognized in its day opened in 1922. It hosted countless celebrities and political icons during the 1930s and beyond. It was Mazatlan’s first oceanfront hotel and now in need of some tender loving care.

“Flying was new and we would take prospective Mazatlan travelers to the bar in the Belmar Hotel and give them a few tequilas so they wouldn’t cancel.”

Much of the Belmar Hotel’s original artwork remains. During its heydays, the Belmar was rated as one of the finest hotels in North America, complete with a large ballroom, fine dining, and four pythons that were usually found in the lobby.

The famed Belmar, opened in 1922, was Mazatlan’s first ocean view hotel featuring hand-painted tiles from Spain and Mexico, a restaurant distinguished throughout northwest Mexico, and dancing in the elegant ballroom.

An original Hotel Belmar sign dating to 1922. The hotel was noted for hosting the skillful Mexicana Airline pilots.

Built by Louis Bradbury, a wealthy Californian who was married to Simona Martinez a gorgeous Mazatleca, the Belmar was the five-star beauty of the day.

Artwork in the old Hotel Belmar dates to 1922. The Belmar was once a destination for the rich and famous, including John Wayne, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Mae West, John Barrymore, and the Mexicana Airlines pilots and staff.

A Mexicana Airlines Mazatlan Python Tradition

The hotel hosted the adventurous Mexicana pilots and Hollywood celebrities such as Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Mae West, John Barrymore, Ava Gardner and John Wayne, room 48 his favorite booking.

 “In the early days,”

smiled Patron,

“it was convenient to have python snakes as pets in your home. They’re good ratters and also take care of the mice. The Belmar had four pythons which were often seen snoozing in the lobby where guests and the pilots would have to gingerly step over them when checking in. A spirited Mazatlan Mexicana pilot tradition was to slip into the room and drape seven-foot Maria across the bed of new pilots and flight attendants while they were sleeping. The screams were heard on the malecon.”

Mazatlan’s five mile long malecon is one of the world’s largest filled with artwork and great views of the city and the Pacific Ocean.
Many of the celebrities of the 30s and 40s were flying to Mazatlan to fish for big game. A huge upgrade from the day is the El Cid Marina Hotel hosting daily fishing excursions.

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Featured Image: Mexicana Airlines, Wikipedia. Mazatlan photos by professional photographer Halina Kubalski.

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Published by

Richard Carroll

Richard Carroll, an internationally recognized journalist has covered all seven continents and has been honored with eight international writing awards.