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)

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