Sunday, July 26, 2015

Colonia Cuauhtémoc: Where the First Decades of the 20th Century Marry the First Decades of the 21st

Colonia Cuauhtémoc, like its sister colonias designed toward the end of the Porfiriato period, Santa Maria la RiberaSan RafaelBenito Juárez, Roma and Condesa, embodies a set of contrasts between turn-of-the-19th to 20th century esthetics and values, and later 20th century culture and contemporary manifestations of 21st century, global postmodern life.

These contrasts are, pehaps, even greater in Cuauhtémoc because, like its virtual twin just to its south, Benito Juárez, its face to the city and the world is that grand avenue of Mexico City, Paseo de la Reforma, studded with monumental statues, and now, the rascacielos, skyscrapers of globalized Mexico.

Neoclassic Goddess of Victory, Nike,
or Angel of Independence
Erected in 1910 by Porfiro Díaz 
to commemorate 100th Anniversary 
of Mexican Independence
Art Deco
Fountain of Diana,
Roman Goddess of the Hunt

At the intersection of Paseo de la Reforma and Avenida Insurgentes rises another grand statue that seeks to embody a world and culture very different from Classical Greece and Rome. It harks back to the cataclysmic transformation of Mexico City from being the center of the Aztec Empire to the center of New Spain. It memorializes four Aztec tlatoanis (spokesmen) or chiefs of city-states around Lake Texcoco at the time of the Spanish Conquest.

Tlatloani Statue 
on Paseo de la Refoma
at Insurgentes.

One of these, Cuauhtémoc, was ruler of Tenochtitlán for a brief time (1520 to 1521) after the deaths of both Moctezuma II and his successor, Cuitlahuac, until Hernán Cortés completed the Spanish victory. The statue was commissoned by President Porfirio Díaz as part of his efforts to make Mexico City into a capital city comparable to those in Europe and erected in 1887. Colonia Cuauhtémoc, which lies immediately southwest of the statue, is, like the Delegación within which it sits, named after the Aztec ruler. 

Today, along the Reforma side of the colonia stand even grander monuments, the steel and glass towers of global capitalism, manifestations of the latest conquest of Mexico. Their upward thrust and universal functional sleekness dominate the former expressions of a desire to connect Mexican culture and values to either classical European ones or idealized indigenous ones.

Hong Kong, Singapore British Bank
Torre Mayor,
a play on name, Templo Mayor,
Great Temple of Aztec Tenochtitlán

On Cuautémoc's Reforma frontier is also a well-guarded, modern fortress representing what some Mexicans see as a symbol of the dominance of yet another Empire, the U.S. Embassy (no photos allowed "for security reasons").

United States Embassy
(picture snapped from far side of Reforma)

However, when you leave Reforma and amble into the streets within the colonia, you enter a world from another era or two, or at least significant remnants thereof.

A grand and gracious Neo-colonial mansion a couple blocks from the U.S. Embassy is perhaps most indicative of the contrast. It is the very civilized Embassy of the United Kingdom.

Embassy of the United Kingdom, in a Neo-classic mansion

The Embassy sits on Lerma Street. On the same street, a couple of blocks east, is another elegant turn-of-the-century mansion, built in 1908 by the architect, Manuel Estampa, for his own family.

With the onset of the Mexican Revolution to overthrow Díaz, the Estampa family left town and the house was occupied by various military forces. The family returned after the victory of Venustiano Carranza over populist rivals Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata in 1915. In 1919, they rented the house to Carranza, who, after promulgation of the Constitution of 1917, had become president for a term 1917 to 1920. 

In 1920 Carranza had to flee the house and Mexico City when Álvaro Obregón, his leading general in the Revolution, turned against him for not designating him as the preferred candidate for the presidency. On May 21, while on his way to the port of Veracruz, Carranza was killed in the mountains of the state of Puebla. The house is now a museum to the revolutionary leader and first president of post-revolutionary Mexico. 

Venustiano Carranza,
portrait in entrance hall of Carranza House Museum

The mansion, itself, is very typical of the Porfiriato era—Neo-classic with Art Nouveau touches.

Note the very French decor.
Portrait is of Carranza wearing presidential sash.

The streets of the colonia are a lesson in geography. They are all named after rivers. The short streets running north from Reforma carry the names of great rivers of the world: Amazonia, Rhin, Tigris, Danubio, Po, Nilo, Ganges, Sena, Niagra, Misisipi. The longer streets running east to west length are named after rivers of Mexico: Lerma (west-central to the Pacific), Pánuco (Valley of Mexico to Gulf of Mexico), Nazas (north-central), Balsas (south-central to Pacific) and Grijalva (southeast to Gulf of Mexico).  

Walking these streets from the Carranza House west toward the Chapultepec Woods, you encounter the architectural mixture seen in other Porfiriato colonias, but fewer Second Empire French and Neo-classical mansions.

Apartment building in French Second Empire style with Neo-classic elements

English-style brick Neo-classic, ivy included.

Restored French Second Empire

What you do encounter are many California Colonial-style houses built in the post-revolutionary period of the 1920's and 1930's.

California Colonial is the Mexican adoption and adaptation of what in the United States was called Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, which became popular in Florida and California in the first decades of the 20th century. It was based on the Spanish Colonial architecture of Latin America. The 1915 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego gave the style national exposure. It enjoyed its greatest popularity between 1915 and 1931 and returned to its roots in Mexico as California Colonial.

California colonial 
Moorish Revival, with azulejos, blue tiles,
also popular in the U.S. and Europe at 
turn of the 19th-20th centuries

California colonial

In the midst of the relative simplicity of California Colonial, this would better be described as Neo Baroque-colonial.
It is an elaborate reproduction of Moorish-influenced Spanish colonial architecture.

This California colonial has had a modern apartment building annexed behind.

Very modern restoration of California Colonial,
with apartment tower added
With these restorations and adaptations of Neo-classic, French and California Colonial architecture, alongside the construction of glass box apartment buildings, Colonia Cuauhtémoc seems to have found a dynamic, vital—if perhaps, conflicted—way to marry its early 20th century past with the very postmodern early 21st century.

"Cosmopolitan, Dynamic, Contemporary:
Your Space in the Middle of One of the
Most Vibrant Cites of the World"
On-site sign for new apartment building

Colonia Cuauhtémoc is a triangle, bounded on
the northeast by James Sullivan Street

the northwest by Circuito Interior
the southeast by Paseo de la Reforma
Ave. Insurgentes touches its northeast corner.
Colonia San Rafael is to its north
Colonia Benito Juarez is to its south.
Chapultepec Woods is to the west.
CLICK to enlarge

Delegación Cuauhtémoc
The "Porfirian" colonias line the west side of Delegación Cuauhtémoc
From north to south they are:
Santa Maria la Ribera (violet)
San Rafael (medium pink)
Cuauhtémoc, (medium blue triangle)

South of Paseo de la Reforma
Benito Juárez (horizontal triangle of three adjacent pink sections)
Roma Norte (light blue) (Doctores, to the east, is a separate colonia)
Roma Sur (darker blue)

And to the southwest (lower left):
Condesa (medium pink)
Condesa Hípódromo (dark pink)
Hípódromo (pale pink)

Centro, and its five sub-divisions (Historico, north, east, south, west)
 is to the right center (almost white)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Colonia Benito Juárez: Where History Lives in the Shadows

The historic character of Colonia Benito Juárez is overshadowed by the physical and social energy of two attention-grabbing, more recent developments. Along its northern boundary, the post-modern, glass-faced skyscrapers of the Paseo de la Refoma loom over the mostly two-story buildings of its core. And taking over its mid-section, centered around Calle Génova, is the popular "Zona Rosa", the "Pink Zone", with its mix of up-scale and fast-food restaurants, bars, tourist-oriented shops, hostels and hotels, and the predominately young crowd that frequents them. 

Reforma skyscrapers
loom over Colonia Benito Juárez

Génova Street, a pedestrian walkway
lined with fast-food restaurants, cuts across the middle of the colonia
The clipped shrubs spell out "Zona Rosa".

But if you walk the streets to the east and west of Genova, along Londres, Hamburgo and Liverpool, and the small cross-streets such as Praga, and look past the distractions of commercial uses, you will discover another early twentieth century, European-style neighborhood that originated during the Porfiriato, the thirty-year reign of Porfirio Díaz, and continued to flourish after the Mexican Revolution.

The neighborhood that was to become Colonia Juárez was conceived in the 1870s when Rafael Martinez de la Torre, lawyer, politician and defender of Emperor Maximilian, sought to develop an area west of the Centro Histórico known as the Hacienda de la Teja. It had been divided by Emperor Maximilian in the 1860's when he had the Paseo de la Reforma built to connect his chosen residence, the Castle of Chapultepec, with the Centro Histórico. While its subdivison into two colonias was planned in 1876, due to the death of Martinez de la Torre, this did not move forward. In 1882, Salvador Malo acquired the rights.

Hacienda land growing agave plants to produce pulque, beer.
Chapultepec Castle stands on hill to rear
Photo taken about 1875
found on La Ciudad de México en el tiempo
The City of Mexico Through Time

However, it was not until 1898 that the colonia was officially opened, but only a few homes were built. In 1904 its development was taken over by the Mexico City Improvement Company, later called The Chapultepec Land Company, owned by U.S. businessmen who originally called it Colonia Americana. However, on the birthday anniversary of Benito Juárez, March 21, 1906, the city government decided to officially name it Colonia Juárez.

Neo-classic and Neo-colonial, side by side

Quintessential French Second Empire mansion

French Second Empire

California colonial of the 1920's and 30's

Neo-classic mansion

More modern, possibly 1930's version of Neo-classic
Second French Empire, now a bank

...towers above
the Neo-classic 

And in between the classic and the post-modern, some late twentieth century modern:


Somehow, much in the character of Mexico City, todo convive, it all lives together.

Colonia Benito Juárez is pie-shaped,
Bounded on the north by Paseo de la Reforma
on the east by Bucarelli
on the south by Chapultepec Ave.
and on the west by Chapultepec Woods.
Insurgentes Ave. cuts across it.

CLICK to enlarge

Delegación Cuauhtémoc
The "Porfirian" colonias line the west side of Delegación Cuauhtémoc
From north to south they are:
Santa Maria la Ribera (violet)
San Rafael (medium pink)
Cuauhtémoc, (medium blue triangle)

South of Paseo de la Reforma
Benito Juárez (horizontal triangle of three adjacent pink sections)
Roma Norte (light blue) (Doctores, to the east, is a separate colonia)
Roma Sur (darker blue)

And to the southwest (lower left):
Condesa (medium pink)
Condesa Hípódromo (dark pink)
Hípódromo (pale pink)

Centro, and its five sub-divisions (Historico, north, east, south, west)
 is to the right center (almost white)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Colonia San Rafael: Decay, Renewal and Restoration

The buildings and neighborhoods of a city are the physical manifestations of the historical, social and economic realites of a society or nation. Hence, they reflect its ongoing cycles of growth, decline and renewal; creation, destruction and reconstruction; living, dying and rebirth.

In Mexico City this universal fluctuation between vitality and decay is more evident and more precariously balanced than, perhaps, it is in other places. We have seen this dynamic manifested in the Centro Histórico, where today's shopowners and street vendors hustle to make a living amidst the faded grandeur of Spanish colonial palaces, and we touched on it in México Agridulce, Bittersweet Mexico.

For some fifty years (1821-1875) after the War for Independence, which itself dragged on for eleven years (1810-1821), the potential leaders of the new nation were embroiled in political power struggles, battling foreign invaders or one another in civil wars. El desorden cost lives and livelihood, preventing much population growth and economic development. Hence, there was little building in Mexico City; it remained confined to the original Spanish colonial core.

However, the economic stability of the Porfiriato—the thirty-some-year dictatorial reign of Porfirio Díaz from 1876 to 1911, with its opening to foreign businesses and the growth of domestic business—triggered pressures to expand the boundaries of the city and provide new residential neighborhoods for the nouveau riche outside the original city boundaries of the Spanish colonial Centro Histórico. 

Thus, colonias such as Santa María la Ribera, San Rafael, Roma and Condesa were built as planned subdivisions of hacienda farmlands on the drained bed of Lake Texcoco between the Centro Histórico and the Lake's western shore, in what is now Delegación Cuauhtémoc. The area east of the Centro Histórico remained wetlands and remnants of the lake. Since Aztec time, it had been the site of canals and landings for canoes and boats supplying the city; hence, it was an early commercial center. The later expansion into the eastern lake bed was likewise commercial.

The original large homes built in the new colonias were in French Second Empire, Spanish neo-colonial and neo-classical styles popular in the latter part of the 19th century. By imitating the life-style and fashions of their Western European counterparts, they represented the wealth of the new business class, the bourgeoisie.

San Rafael, immediately south of Santa María la Ribera, perhaps best portrays the cycles of growth, decay and rebirth that have characterized Mexico City through the 20th century into the 21st. Its roots lie in Aztec and Spanish colonial times. Part of the area was a small island of fishermen, across which the Aztecs built a causeway from Tenochtitlán to Lake Texcoco's western shore and the city-states of Tlalcopan (now Tacuba) and Azcapotzalco. The Spanish, of course, made their mark by building a church, which still stands.

Church of San Cosme and Damián
Click on any photo to enlarge it,
A gallery of all the photos will appear below it.

The Euopean style homes built at the end of the Porfiriato and those built—curiously, in the same styles—after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917), are now in various states of disrepair and repair, ranging from abandonment to total restoration into upscale private homes and condominiums.

Block of abandoned Second French Empire style buildings

Neo-colonial style former hospital
being converted into condominiums

Restored Second French Empire style apartment building

"Privadas": Townhouse style apartment buildings
 restored into condominiums

These late 19th and early 20th century buildings are surrounded by others ranging across the 20th century to the 21st, from Art Deco to post-modern glass boxes.

Abandoned 1930's Art Deco movie theater


Early 20th Century school building, across the street from..... corporate headquarters of major newspaper and magazine publisher

1930's California colonial apartments ... to postmodern glass box.

1980's modern apartments

Restored turn of the 19th-20th century apartments.

Renewal and restoration are both revitalizing, but which is your preference? I know mine.

Colonia San Rafael is a planned square,
bounded on the north by Ribera San Cosme (the route of the Aztec causeway),
on the west by the Circuito Interior (Inner Ring Highway),
on the south by James Sullivan Street, with a small greensward, 
on the east by Insurgentes Ave. 
Paseo de la Reforma touches its southeast corner.

Delegación Cuauhtémoc
The "Porfirian" colonias line the west side of Delegación Cuauhtémoc
From north to south they are:
Santa Maria la Ribera (violet)
San Rafael (medium pink)
Cuauhtémoc, (medium blue triangle)

South of Paseo de la Reforma
Benito Juárez (horizontal triangle of three adjacent pink sections)
Roma Norte (light blue) (Doctores, to the east, is a separate colonia)
Roma Sur (darker blue)

And to the southwest (lower left):
Condesa (medium pink)
Condesa Hípódromo (dark pink)
Hípódromo (pale pink)

Centro, and its five sub-divisions (Historico, north, east, south, west)
 is to the right center (almost white)