A visit to a friend in Mexico City led us to discover its collection of Art Deco treasures
Last week Stew and I visited a friend in Mexico City who’s just starting the renovation of a 1929 Art Deco building, in the Roma Sur neighborhood, a project that’s both exciting and intimidating.
Restoration or renovation of an old building, or some other potentially beautiful object, strikes me as a really creative, almost godlike undertaking. You set out to revive—or as close to it as your energy, time and funds will permit—something that’s been neglected or derelict.
After visiting with my friend, who asked me not to use his name or the exact address of his property, we walked back to the hotel in the nearby Condesa neighborhood and discovered that this sliver of Mexico City is home to approximately 300 Art Deco buildings of all sizes and conditions.
Along some areas, such as Avenida Amsterdam, Art Deco buildings are clustered one next to another like paintings in a museum. Some are fussily restored, others in need of attention but still in use.
It’s surprising that so many of these buildings, most of which went up during a construction frenzy during the Roaring Twenties, are still standing after several earthquakes since then. The most recent, in 2017, was particularly strong in the Condesa area, and rendered several far more modern structures uninhabitable.
Stew and I have long been fascinated by Art Deco architecture and design perhaps because it’s so accessible to amateur architecture fans like us. There are no obscure twists and turns in design to leave us scratching our heads. The lines and artistry are obvious.
The Art Deco style, which originated in France before World War I, is literally straightforward, its intersecting lines and angles a sharp departure from the preceding Art Nouveau style of the late nineteenth century, with its curvaceous, “feminine” design.
The geometric lines of Art Deco show up particularly in the ironwork of doors and windows, and in the case of taller buildings, in equally geometric setbacks. Think of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings in New York; the Civic Opera House and the Board of Trade building in Chicago; and the dozens of colorful houses and small hotels in the South Beach area of Miami.
In Mexico City there are other Art Deco buildings outside of the Condesa/Roma neighborhoods, notably the split-personality Palacio de Bellas Artes, with its florid Art Nouveau exterior and the opulent but completely different Art Deco interior that includes huge works by famous Mexican muralists.
The dissonant design is the result of a nearly 20-year pause in construction, between 1913 and 1932 caused by design and engineering problems, and the funding shortfalls that often bedevil public projects in Mexico. The auditorium has a 24-ton, “curtain” that is a series of panels made of a million pieces of stained glass—the only one of its kind in the world—and was designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Stew and I have never been inside the auditorium; that’s on our list for the next visit to Mexico City.
Our friend’s project, which he has just begun, no doubt will be challenging. So far he has redone the wiring, and started plumbing work. It’s a good building with lots of details that need to be brought back to life, and other areas that might be replaced, such as some bathroom fixtures and kitchen cabinets. We are eager to see how it proceeds—even if its from a distance.
Below is an assortment of photos I took in the Condesa and Roma neighborhoods.
6 thoughts on “Mexico City’s Roaring Twenties”
Lucky you, getting to see his new house, and hear his plans! I’m following closely – I have such a good feeling about this! If I’m fortunate, perhaps one day I’ll be invited to visit. Great photos, and I hope you all had a wonderful time in Mexico!
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Lovely photos! Making them black and white is surprisingly effective.
Well, we need to chalk up surviving yet one more earthquake. As you know, yesterday a 7.7 on the Richter scale hit, several hundred kilometers from here. (Thank God it was so far away!) While we felt it quite strongly here, it was of the “smooth and rolling” type, so a little easier on structures than the more abrupt variety. So far, there’s no reported damage of note here in CDMX. My apartment and house are fine, though the latter suffered about a half-hour power outage. And here we were without cell service for about 15 minutes or so. Fortunately the internet kept working.
As for your friend’s house (hehe), it’s progressing very slowly. Renewing something old is a way tougher task than starting with a clean sheet. Still, the rewards of living in a vintage house will all be worth it.
Cheers. It was nice to see you both.
Roma Sur, CDMX
Where we are still astonished that three major earthquakes all have happened on the same day over the last 40-ish years or so.
Al & Stew…great gathering of Art Deco Bldgings. Good show. Fred
The Art Deco architecture in CDMX reminds me of Miami Beach! Both are lovely………….I have given up trying to get onto WordPress so hope you are getting these comments. I’m in “moving hell” right now! Hopefully all this will be over by mid October and I willbe in the new place………hopefully. Barbara San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
415 124-9450 Mx Cell 713 589-2721 Vonage
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing” Helen Keller
Your comments are coming in loud and clear. Good luck in your new place.
Al, Don’t think I ever responded to these fabulous photo. Art Deco is one of my favorite architectural style. Sorta hard to believe it came out in the 20’s. They are so interesting you might think they were photos of today’s styles. Fred