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Preservation Action in Baja

Bodegas de Santo Tomás
Cultural Patrimony of Baja California

By María Castillo-Curry

On August 21, 2001, Alejandro Gonzales Alcocer, governor of Baja California, signed a Decree of Declaration, to list the architectural district "Bodegas de Santo Tomás" in Ensenada, Baja California; as a state cultural patrimony.

This is the first time that a conservation area, has been officially recognized under a 1995 state law (Ley de Preservación del Patrimonio Cultural) making this a historic date to note for the preservation movement of northern Mexico. 14 buildings located within two blocks of downtown Ensenada City form the district. They represent a significant period in the industrial and urban history of Baja California. The oldest building (1913) is also the largest adobe constructed in the state, and retains its wood barrels and machinery that were also saved from destruction.

The declaration of the old winery district started as a unique grassroots effort a year and a half ago by a group of Ensenadens who were organized in order to stop the slated demolition, in order to build a superstore for the Baja California Calimax chain.

As preservation is still a very centralized function run by the federal government in Mexico, the whole process of community involvement and the use of this law for the first time in Baja, caught the attention of many, including preservationists from Mexico City and central Mexico. One of these supporters is Martha Edna Castillo-Sarabia, an Ensenada native, who also serves as an advisor in the SS Catalina preservation Association and is the president of the Committee for the Preservation of Bodegas de Santo Tomás, with this background of saving the bodegos district she was able to travel to Cuernavaca, Morelos in central Mexico; to advise preservationist there who are battling against the destruction of an old hotel complex known as Casino de la Selva located in Cuernavaca Morelos, from developers who want to build a Costco store.

In April, I had the opportunity to meet with the group of Ensenadenses who were looking for support on technical, legal and academic advise for the organizing against the destruction of the Bodegas de Santo Tomás winery district. The group known by then as Amigos de Bodegas formally adopted the name Comité pro Conservación Bodegas de Santo Tomás. Along with myself, The Mexican Chapter of the International Council of Monuments and Sites through Ernesto Beceril Miró in Mexico City, The office of Ensenada deputy Sergio Loperena Nuñez, The association of architects, Colegio de Arquitectos Professionals de Ensenada provided the architectural studies through architect Bruno Geffroy. Vice president of the National Trust, Peter Brink also helped with advice on similar superstore versus cultural resources battles in the US. In this way the process to preserve the history of Ensenada became an international grassroots effort.

The declaration of the Bodegas district is important for the preservation movement in the California's and the border onmany levels, as it opens the possibility of declaring the Tecate depot as a conservation area too and inspires grassroots in Tecate, Mexico and in San Diego to continue their efforts to save remains of regional history. SOHO and the San Diego Railroad Museum, share similar interests as the Committee of Citizen Participationand Defense (Comite de Participacion y Defensa Ciudadana in Tecate), the Foundation of the Baja California Railroads (Fundación de los Ferrocarriles de Baja California) for the preservation of the depots along the San Diego and Arizona and the Tijuana and Tecate Railroads. The work of these groups has reached the Council of Monuments in Baja California, which is the advisory group of the Institute of Culture in Baja California. They have started a process for nominating the Tecate station as a district.

The declaration had four important ingredients to its success. A new state preservation law that can help protect 20th century monuments, very good organization of the Ensenada community, an important political moment in Mexico where decentralization and grassroots efforts are being more readily accepted; and the high quality of advise from preservationists in Mexico and the US who look at the past of both nations as a common history and to preservation as a common goal.

2001 - Volume 32, Issue 4

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