At the turn of the 20th century, the dreams of Mexico City’s upper classes came together to lay the foundations of one of the most promising neighborhoods of the time: Colonia Condesa. The settling took place on the land that used to belong to the Hacienda de la Condesa de Miravalle (Countess Miravalle’s Ranch), which was prosperous throughout the 19th century.
The Europeanized and avant-garde ideals that permeated the urban endeavors of the beginning of the 20th century derived in the outlining of Condesa, with its large tree-covered avenues, gardens and beautiful town houses and the influence of the most varied architectural trends: functionalism, art deco, Californian colonial and neocolonial styles.
It was precisely this modern environment that seduced the numerous characters that lived in this neighborhood and impressed it with their stories; among the names that appear on this list, some of the most outstanding include Alfonso Reyes, Cristina y José Emilio Pacheco, Juan José Gurrola, Margie Bermejo, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Claudio Obregón, Plácido Domingo, Brian Nissan, David Lach, Byron Gálvez, Dr. Ruth Lechuga and Tina Modotti.
Towards the end of the same century, La Condesa suffered what many consider was the beginning of its plasticization: the property boom and the establishing of numerous restaurants made this the trendy area par excellence, which resulted in the detriment of the neighborhood’s local lifestyle.
The neighborhood’s new dynamics, however, have not killed Condesa’s avant-garde personality, which invites us to wander its streets to admire the invaluable architectural testimonies that comprise it and additionally, it invites us to visit one of the many bars, cafés, boutiques or galleries that have been established in this renowned barrio.
For those who decide to take a stroll down Condesa’s tree-covered streets, we recommend the following list of buildings whose beauty must be admired:
Edificio Condesa: This building, erected in 1911, located on Mazatlán no.5 is one of the most emblematic ones in the neighborhood.
Russian Embassy: This beautiful eclectic mansion, built in 1912, is located in 204 Av. Maestro José Vasconcelos.
Plutarco Elías Calles–Fernando Torreblanca Archive Trust fund: Across the street from Parque España, at no. 104 of Guadalajara Street, stands this castle-shaped mansion erected in 1928.
Parroquia de Santa Rosa de Lima: This building, located on Alfonso Reyes, at the corner of Tamaulipas, dates back to 1943 and is known as the most beautiful parish in Condesa.
Capilla Alfonsina: On Benjamin Hill no. 122, stands what was once the home of writer Alfonso Reyes. Nowadays, this space is a literary studies center and still contains the larch archive of books that the writer acquired throughout his life.
Santa Fe is one of those “new, new, new” areas in the west of Mexico City. So new that lots of Mexico City residents have never been there, and many of them will never go. But Santa Fe is, like all of Mexico City, loaded with history and curious facts that make it always worth looking into a little deeper.
During the long colonial period, the area was devoted to grazing animals and mining the relatively poor soil. The regions was divided into the towns of Santa Fe, Santa Lucia, San Mateo and San Pedro Tlaltenango Cuajimalpa. The villages were intersected by the Royal Road, New Spain’s first toll road that ran all the way to Toluca (and still does). Today it’s still known as the Vasco de Quiroga highway and the toll booth is still located in the nearby Contadero neighborhood.
Named in honor of the first bishop of Michoacan’s “Hospital of Santa Fe,” Vasco de Quiroga was that famous friar who taught different skills to the various peoples of Michoacan. He also started numerous hospitals that provided not only for the sick but for pilgrims and travelers.
Upon arriving in New Spain, Vasco de Quiroga took a look at the sorrowful state of things and got to work. Sent as a sort of a judge of the “Second Audiencia of Mexico,” which ruled from 1530 – 1534, he ended up founding both the Hospital and the Pueblo Santa Fe with his own money. Vasco de Quiroga’s believed primarily that charity would be the only way he could really make a difference. His attempt to redeem the fallen landscape led him to undertake no less than the founding of Thomas More’s Utopia, right here on Earth.
Within a few years, the hospital was itself called Pueblo Santa Fe, literally the “people of Santa Fe.” And after 1532, the project essentially took on a life of its own and began to expand to other congregations and to form similar hospitals and social charity projects wherever it went. Quiroga maintained control over nearly all of them and enforced a set of rules he’d written down himself.
Some of the rules still carry Quiroga’s idea of exactly how this was to translate into a Utopia on Earth. According to notes in the collection of the Institute of Historical Research of the University of Michoacan, “Parents should ensure the marriages of their children with daughters from other families in the same Pueblo-Hospital. Failing that the daughters of the poor from the same neighborhood could also be married.” Men were considered marriageable at fourteen, and women at twelve. In the extended family, all members were required to obey the eldest grandfather. Wives were to obey husbands, and children were to serve and obey parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Any need for servants from outside the family was to be avoided.
Santa Fe is said to be the remnant of that famous Utopian village. The ostentatious city of today grew up from the ashes of that early attempt at a perfect society. And though many Chilangos will still find it hard to believe, something of that hope and vision is likely still evident in the towers and underpasses that stand there today.