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)

No comments:

Post a Comment