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The Tecate Depot & the Future of the Past in Baja California

If you go to Tecate, you will see a lot of activity around the depot, which lies hidden by a fourteen-foot concrete wall that separates it from the adjacent brewery. You can also read a sign placed on the main street that says that the building is undergoing "rehabilitation" by the state and federal government and is a cultural patrimony of Tecatenses. You will feel happy to realize that the building is no longer threatened with destruction or demolition and that the grassroots efforts from both sides of the border have paid off. However if you take a closer look or are an expert in restoration, you might feel a bit disappointed, discovering that a significant amount of original materials has been replaced. Original wood from the roof has been replaced and aluminum rain gutters have been added along the fascia, changing the original appearance of the building. Much of the interior plaster, made of sand, lime, and horse hair, has been removed and replaced by plaster made of cement, lime, and sand, which tends to crack and does not match the original texture. Many windows and doors have been replaced instead of restored and the bathrooms have been renovated with new tiles that lack historical basis and contrast with the rest of the interior finishes.

If you compare the north façade to an old photograph, you will realize that the concrete wall, together with additional bathrooms currently being built, have significantly changed the appearance of the historical setting, making this part of the building a service area. New features, including benches and lamps, could be added this month. After you realize all these changes, you will understand that rehabilitation has not the same meaning in this case as it would in the US Secretary of the Interior Standards or the Venice Charter, its equivelent in México. Then you will come to the conclusion, as I have done, that this is a renovation, rather than a restoration and that a great deal of integrity has been lost.

The explanation to the non-restoration approaches used in the Tecate depot lies in the obstacles that prevail in México, for moving from a centralized to a decentralized preservation system and the lack of restoration professionals in Baja California. Since 1995, when the state preservation law of Baja California was enacted, the preservation of historical twentieth century architecture envisioned a better future. This was the case for the Winery District in Ensenada where a group of citizens were able to convince the government to declare as a cultural district, the 14 buildings in the downtown center in 2001. In a similar way, the Tecate depot became eligible for a declaration as a cultural patrimony at the state level in the category of a district as part of a citizen's initiative in early 2002 coming from the Comité de Participación y Defensa Ciudadana, a grassroots from Tecate. Meanwhile the representative of the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia in Baja California, requested the declaration in the building category, in effect, competingwith the grassroots request. The problem started when the Instituto de Cultura de Baja California (ICBC), ignored the grassroots in an attempt to avoid the interference of citizens with a modernization project already underway.

After a year of negotiations, both the federal preservation institution (INAH) and its equivalent at the state level (ICBC), "discovered" that the building was under the custody of the federal government and could not be declared a state monument. The irony of this was that the federal government had been the one that had neglected the depot for almost ten years and never gave it recognition as a national patrimony. After their discovery, neither INAH nor ICBC attempted to promote a national or state declaration, nor challenged the legal ban to declare the depot cultural patrimony at the state level, leaving the building unprotected from alterations.

As a result of pressures from preservationists and from the organizations Gente de Tijuana, Fundación Ferrocarriles de Baja California, Comité de Participación y Defensa Ciudadana, and the Mexican Committee of ICOMOS; the INAH, ICBC and the Ministry of Human Settlements and Public Works (SAHOPE), expressed their obligation to preserve the building in a session of the State Council of Monuments on September 24th in Mexicali. However at the same time, demolitions of roof and wall materials had just started in Tecate, without notifying the Council of Monuments or any of the organizations involved.

The groups' response to these actions was a public campaign to denounce the lack of professional standards and the demolitions, and bring preservation professionals from SOHO, knowledgeable of the construction techniques and history of the depot, as advisors. The ICBC started listening to grassroots and stopped the demolition and tried to do restoration instead of renovation.

The state government has been having a hard time applying the state preservation law enacted in 1995, (Ley de Preservación del Patrimonio Cultural de Baja California) as the Bodegas the Santo Tomas Winery District and now the Tecate depot cases prove. In both, there have been grassroots efforts involved, demanding its correct application and fighting the centralized policies that make the processes of designation and protection bureaucratic and on occasions violates the principles of federal or state preservation laws. In both cases, citizens have insisted on their demands and organized to preserve their past.

On December 17th a session of the Council of Monuments in Tijuana, with representatives from Mexico City INAH, together with ICBC, Baja California INAH, and SAHOPE was promising. SAHOPE made a compromise to repair damages to the cultural values of the depot and stop the new additions. All those who were in that meeting, representing preservation groups from all over the state, felt that the future of our past might still be a reality as we conciliate the various interests, learn to negotiate, and educate more people about the benefits of historic preservation. The preservation movement in Baja California is moving slowly and will probably take many more years to reach maturity with the lack of restoration professionals and old vices from centralism still not eradicated. The richness of colonial and prehispanic architecture all over the country, have placed the north of Mexico in a disadvantageous situation for creating a consciousness on the regional past. However since Baja California is rich in human and cultural capital with migrants from all over the country and borders with the US, where preservation has a significant grassroots component, it can be predicted that the historic preservation movement will continue growing here as well as in the rest of northern Mexico.

After the Council's meeting, and a little bit more relaxed, preservationists discussed strategies to strengthen a state coalition of organizations created a year ago in order to work together in future preservation efforts.

2003 - Volume 34, Issue 1

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