City mansion saved from the brink of ruin by ministry

Trash litters the courtyard of Casa Jiménez, but this time there is a reason. For years the area was a local trash dump, but now the debris comes from inside and is part of the renovation project.

When someone thinks of Costa Rica, old buildings may not be the first idea that comes to mind. But workers at the Centro de Patrimonio of the Ministerio de Cultura believe the national heritage, much of it stored in historical landmarks, can play just as important a role as beaches, volcanoes, and cloud forests in bringing in tourists.

Currently the center is involved in a 100 million colons ($196,000) project to restore two neighboring, historic structures near Parque Morazán in downtown San Jose. Although the primary goal of the project may not be to promote tourism, that result may go hand in hand.

The center’s head of restoration and conservation, Adrian Vindas, said at the very least tourism is an added bonus. He pointed to México and Europe as prime examples of places where citizens preserve their architectural heritage and, in turn, draw visitors.

“Clearly there exists an important connection between tourism and the preservation of national history,” Vindas said. “Tourists are very interested in historical architecture, especially when its works express part of the culture of a country, its influences and values.”

Photo supplied by the culture ministry shows the home in its prior glory.

For those reasons Vindas said he believes the two structures in downtown San José, Casa Jiménez de la Guardia and Edificio Maroy, are worth rehabilitating. The Casa Jiménez de la Guardia is one of the few standing examples in San José of architecture done in the style of art nouveau. And, once belonging to the prominent Jiménez de la Guardia family, it stands as an important landmark in the collective memory of the city.

The site is on Calle 5 just a half block north of Avenida Primera. It is on a street that receives a lot of tourist foot traffic due to the nearby park, Holiday Inn and other locations for accommodations.

Although the ownership of the property is still being decided in court, Vindas said ultimately the buildings may be used for cultural purposes in a joint project between the ministry and Banco Popular.

He said the project should be completed within two months and will include a total overhaul of the inside and outside, including the ornate ironwork. The job requires carpentry and fresh coats of paint. And the buildings are in need of it too. The walls are lined with graffiti and the outside structures stand in disrepair.

Workman prepared an opening for a window. A.M. Costa Rica/Andrew Rulseh Kasper

Workmen last week had the roof off the entire structure and were installing new galvanized corrugated sheets.

One of the workers helping to rehabilitate the house said his is a specialized type of work, attempting to preserve, and at the same time renovate, something that old. He said it comes with its unique challenges compared to other types of construction. The structure is believed to be more than 100 years old.

Gerardo Cartin, who works at a parking lot across the street said he is tired of watching the building deteriorate. The front courtyard has been a trash dump and homeless refuge for years.

“It’s a beautiful building,” he said. “But the restoration will make it better.”

This entry was posted in Costa Rica News. Bookmark the permalink.