Threat to Agua Caliente
By María Castillo de Curry
On July 11th, Tijuana celebrated the 112 anniversary of its founding. As part of the activities proposed for this event, the municipal government remodeled the Minaret Tower in the Old Agua Caliente Tourist Center, designed by California architect Wayne McAllister in 1928. However, the Department of Public Works in Tijuana, which was responsible for the work done to this structure, was not aware of the recommendations for eligible cultural resources made in the Baja California Preservation Law, and performed the interventions with no preservation standards or any expert supervision in place. As a result, the Minaret had just a face-lift with no historical basis, losing with this the opportunity of a scientific interpretation of this monument.
Agua Caliente was a sprawling casino hotel inaugurated in 1928 that soon became the favored retreat for Hollywood stars looking to escape prohibition. The center had a fifty-four room hotel, the casino, restaurant and a dog racetrack. In the restaurant was the famous Andaluz Patio where Rita Cancino, Rita Hayworth, los De Marco, Jimmie Durante, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and many others, performed or started their careers. There was also a swimming pool with a section of bathrooms with showers, as well as bathtubs, Turkish and Russian baths, and sunbaths. The success of the Center made it necessary to add 33 bungalows, many of which still remain and are inhabited by ex-teachers of the Educational Center Lázaro Cárdenas, most of them refugees from the Spanish Civil War who arrived in Tijuana in 1939.
The Old Minaret Tower, which was used as a chimney for the Casino, has been deteriorating through time and a lack of maintenance since 1937 when the Casino was closed. Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated the buildings from their American owners in order to establish an Educational Center housing two junior high schools, a high school and an elementary school. Since the federal government has never given recognition to the remains of the Casino as an artistic monument the area and the structures are no longer in use and have been left unattended. In response to many requests of the director of the Lázaro Cárdenas high school, where the Minaret is located, repairs were made to reinforce the structure and improve its appearance. The Tijuana municipal government provided 1.5 million pesos for the work, which included the addition of a metal structure inside the tower, new paint, the replacement of the original iron crown with a replica, clay tile work on the floor around the tower, and a protective chain supported by small columns.
The Commission of Preservation in Tijuana together with organized citizens tried to stop the work when they realized preservation standards were not being applied nor were there qualified preservationists to supervise. An order to stop them was enacted by the Instituto de Cultura de Baja, California, the state institution in charge of the protection of twentieth century architecture. However, the pressure of the coming celebration in which the end of the "restoration" works of this monument had been announced, forced the municipal government to finish the interventions.
The situation led to several protests at first, and then to negotiations between preservationists, municipal, and the high school authorities in order to find a solution to mitigate or repair the damages caused to this monument. The municipal government, the Commission of Preservation in Tijuana and the high school authorities have the same interest in preserving this monument and have agreed to work together in the future. SOHO members were instrumental in providing technical and historical advice to their fellow preservationists in Tijuana through the Internet in response to my request for help. I want to thank Vonn Marie May, David Marshall, Kathleen Kelley-Markham and David Richardson for their rapid response and input. Ricardo Fitch, Hilda Sánchez, Hugo Mancebo del Castillo and Damariz Santos in Tijuana were the main players in the battle to save this monument from alteration. Their efforts have made possible a brighter future for the remains of Agua Caliente.
Meanwhile, SOHO, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, the Tijuana Cultural Center and Los Angeles Conservancy are looking toward bringing an exhibit of Wayne McAllister, the guru of California Googie style, to Tijuana for the celebration of the 113 anniversary of the city in July 2002.
Please contact SOHO for more information.
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