In our continuing series featuring the unique homes and neighborhoods of Mérida, Yucatán, we are proud to present Centenario neighborhood. Our host is Keith Heitke, a senior sales agent for Mexico International Real Estate.
Each video episode on our website features a different residential neighborhood of this interesting and beautiful city, focusing on a home which exemplifies the best of that neighborhood. While we’ll give you lots of great footage and design ideas, we hope it only whets your appetite to see more, and of course nothing beats experiencing these amazing homes in person. Yucatan Today operates a series of House & Garden tours every Wednesday from November through March as a fundraising project for three different non-profit organizations.
If you would like to savor the details about the neighborhood of Centenario, and the house itself, scroll down for a written summary. And if you would like to post a comment, you can do so at the end of the article.
Now, let’s have a look!
Parque Centenario (Centennial Park neighborhood)
Today we’re going to visit a home located in the neighborhood that has as its centerpiece the famous Parque Centenario in Mérida’s Centro Historico.
This beautiful Porfiriato-era ceremonial entrance ushers visitors into Parque Centenario – Mérida’s charming and popular zoo.
Mérida families, rich and poor, come to enjoy this quaint park. A miniature train thrills children on spins around the property, taking them past giraffes, monkeys, hippos and other exotic fauna. Or stop in for a cold snow cone at the igloo-shaped refreshment stand.
This dramatic entrance was built in 1910 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Mexico’s independence from Spain. It’s an architectural style of the early 20th century known in Mexico as “Porfiriato”, named after the illustrious Mexican president, Porfirio Díaz. As the president who brought railroads and improved education to Mexico, Diaz also had the idea to re-make much of Mexico in a European – especially French – image, with broad boulevards and grandiose architecture, trumpeting Mexico’s wealth and importance to the world. The zoo within the park was constructed as part of his administration’s nationwide building scheme, and this ceremonial entrance is a beautiful example of the monumental architecture of that period. There are many other Porfiriato remnants in this area, too. An early Mérida hospital was built in 1906, which now serves as a school for the performing arts. But most important, it is the grandiose architecture of private homes that define this neighborhood.
Calle 59 was not blessed with an illustrious family name or place name like some other main thoroughfares in Mérida, but nonetheless it is lined from east to west, well beyond the main square in both directions, with spectacular Belle Epoque mansions. Like many neighborhoods of Merida’s Centro Histórico, the homes here were all built for wealthy residents. In the intervening decades after the collapse of the sisal industry, many fell into disrepair and often abandonment. Today there are hardware and paint stores, even funeral homes, operating out of the shells of former mansions – all sharing the street with restored five-star hotels and super-luxurious private homes.
Just a few blocks from Parque Centenario is the home I want to show you today. Unlike the Spanish Colonial buildings from the earlier era, most of the homes along Calle 59 are all grandly set back from the wide street, some of the first Mérida city homes to actually have front yards.
Entrada (entrance way)
Built in 1905 during the Porfiriato period as a home for a prominent Mérida family, over the years the home had been divided into three separate properties. The current owner purchased all of them, plus one more, and proceeded to re-imagine them as a single grand home once again.
Today there is no hint of the fact that the house had been chopped up and subdivided. Unlike the way it would have originally been divided with walls separating the many rooms, now there is a perfect flow from room to room, forming an enfilade with long vistas throughout the home.
Since so much of the house was in ruins, the new owner was free to use his favorite architectural style, Paladian. It was by no means an arbitrary decision, since all of the other mansions along Calle 59 feature eclectic European architectural styles, including French, Italian, Baroque, and most often, Beaux Arts.
Sala (Living room)
Just look at the scale of this place. It’s dramatic, to say the least. The ceilings are 18 feet high, which is very typical of homes in the historic district. Besides lending a grand scale to the house, tall ceilings helped keep rooms cool in a tropical environment. There are so many beautiful architectural details it is difficult to take it all in! There are fluted leaf-topped, paladian columns, intricately designed polished floors, high ceilings, hand-wrought ironwork, and as the most unique gesture of the home, stained-glass windows made by the owner himself in a lavish on-site studio building.
Taller de Vidrieras (Stained Glass Studio)
Because of the owner’s great interest in, and talent for fabricating intricate stained glass windows, he was thrilled to have the opportunity to purchase a separate house on the side street and proceed to seamlessly fuse it to his formal garden. This additional house allows the owner to have room after room for cataloging, fabricating, sorting, and storing all the specialized materials and implements needed for his unique artistic craft. All rooms have natural light through windows or skylights, and there is good air flow, along with a view to a separate section of the formal garden and fountains. A street entrance allows deliveries of materials and equipment, and the whole house-turned-work-studio is invisible from the main, more formal house. Even here, custom designed stencil work…also designed by the owner… graces every single wall.
The result of all of this work can be seen in every room of the house, through the addition of original stained glass windows, hand fabricated by the owner.
Mosaico de Pasta (Colored cement floor tiles)
Because the house had been neglected for so long, only some of the original pasta tile floors were salvageable. Several of the rooms still have their original pasta tile floors, but in all the major rooms the owner had free reign to create his own custom designs and colors, patronizing the talents of a downtown pasta tile maker’s studio. Many of these tiles are based on the existing original floors of other grand mansions in the city.
Comedor (Dining room)
The dining room of this house has its original pasta tile floors. But the real drama comes from the owner’s amazing collection of antique furniture, which we’ll see throughout the house. It is the perfect compliment to the architecture.
Unique stencil work is painted directly onto the walls here, as it is in all rooms. This dining room can, and has, easily accommodated intimate dinner parties, and large celebrations alike.
The huge tall and long rooms throughout the house help set off these large, chunky, ornately carved furniture pieces that come from all over the world. Just like the original owners would have done, the new owner simply selected pieces that “spoke” to him, and brought them together eclectically in each room. Heavily carved and decorated furniture could easily overwhelm a smaller scaled room, but here they are right at home.
Loggia (Roofed indoor/outdoor patio)
The loggia runs almost the entire width of the house. It’s an amazing room that bridges the indoors with the outdoors, high formality with tropical ease. Even here, in what could be considered a slightly less formal portion of the house, the furniture is all one-of-a-kind, with artwork seemingly made for the space. This long gallery is reminiscent of rooms in a Spanish royal palace, all looking onto the formal yet tropical garden beyond. Here too, pasta tile floors make perfect sense, with their beautiful and intricate design, but super-durable, hard as stone finish. Soaring hand-wrought iron and glass doors all open to warm, tropical weather year round.
All of the guest rooms in this home feature the high ceilings and fine details of the rest of the house, including custom stencil work, and all look out onto a quiet inner courtyard with a goldfish-filled fountain and high walls. Even more tropical foliage completes the tranquil effect.
The house had no useable bathrooms remaining. In fact, the kitchen, the baths, and indeed all of the plumbing and electricity had to be added throughout the house and garden. Because the home was built prior to indoor plumbing, there was no historical precedent, leaving the owner free to imagine light and airy, yet serviceable and elegant en-suite bathrooms throughout the house.
Jardín y Terraza (Garden and Terrace)
The gardens and terraces of homes in Centro Histórico are where owners spend much of their time nowadays.
But in the past, owners of means would have spent as little time as possible outdoors. Mérida was an extremely conservative and formal city for residents of homes such as this one. There was no sunbathing, of course, and only servants would have tended to gardens and flowers. Children certainly would have been allowed to play outdoors, but it was not a place for a young lady or gentleman to spend time.
Today, the high walls of the garden, the splashing of multiple fountains, the various levels and benches make this an elegant oasis in the heart of the city. Hard edged formality is completely softened by the lush tropical foliage of Royal Palm trees, Fan Palms, fruit trees, and succulents.
It would be difficult to imagine a more charming spot to relax and enjoy, and once again, you would never know this was all here, behind the formal facades and high walls, on the streets of Mérida’s Centro Histórico.
Click here to see the rest of the videos in Keith’s series.
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