El incendio en la calle 18/The fire on 18th street.

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This is a building I had/have an unnatural affection for. This photo is from a couple of years ago, it had since been vacated (and the restaurant inside, named for the street it is on, moved, strangely, across the street to the street Farnor Velasco). What you see below is what I woke up to this morning. I was sad in a way I didn’t expect. Tears-on-my-eyelashes (and viewfinder) sad. I’m going out later to see what’s left, but the last I saw, they were hacking at the statue on the right’s head with an axe, and it was hanging by something (rebar, maybe?). Ugh.

Watch the slideshow by clicking on the arrow.

Esto es un edificio por lo cual tengo/tenía una atracción desmedida. La foto de arriba es desde hace un par de años. El restaurante llamado 18 se trasladó, raramente a una ubicación cerca, en la calle Farnor Velasco. Lo que se ve abajo, es lo que vi al amanecer. Sentí una tristeza inesperada. La tristeza de pestañas mojadas, y el visor de la cámara también. Salgo en un rato para ver que queda, pero lo último que vi, los bomberos pegaban la estatua del lado derecho con hacha, y este cabezaba, colgado por algo (chuzo quizás?). Chsssss.

Las fotos avanzan apretando la flecha.

Mas info (y unas fotos mas grandes) en el gran sitio Plataforma Urbana. More info (in Spanish) on the awesome site Plataforma Urbana.

Architectural preservation or misuse? in Santiago, Chile

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When good architecture goes bad in Santiago, can it ever go back?
Sometimes, kind of.

Rescatable.

Rescuable.

That means not all is lost. If you say something is rescatable, it means there’s still a chance.

I talk a lot of crap about the mad architecture disrespect that is rampant in Santiago. There are misappropriations, mistreatments, bad paint jobs, hideous re-uses and falling-down cornices galore. I could fill this page with photos of these. I could send you a picture every day for a year, and never repeat them. My neighborhood (República) has many awesomely garish examples. Here is one, which is historical at this point. Rooney’s a local grub joint (which I never had the pleasure to grub at), which has now been replaced by Lomitón, a red and black fast food chain that sells some manner of meat sandwich.

But check out the building it’s in, and tell me that’s not a crime before architecture to put that in that. You know?

So when I first moved to Santiago, all those many, many years ago, and I would walk downtown, I’d see those bizarre juxtapositions, and empty facades, and oddly falling apart stunning buildings and think, well, why don’t they do something about it? Have they no respect for architecture? History? Beauty? Preservation?

For example, check out this beauty:

For most of the time I’ve lived in Chile, this facade, which everyone refers to as the “ex-El Mercurio Building” (el ex-edificio de el Mercurio), has been standing there, getting wet, drying out, getting wet, drying out. And finally, covered in construction planks and green gauzy fabric. And I thought, whatever they do, please let it be better than what it was before. Though of course I secretly enjoyed the photogenicness of seeing inside the building’s skin, and even the murals that cropped up nearby.

And then one day I was walking down the street and saw this. Not only is it the ex El Mercurio building (1902-1984), but it turns out it’s also the ex-Larraín Zañartu Palace, a French-inspired construction from the 19th century. And now, Espacio M. Essentially, a downtown mall, which they refer to as a slow mall (whatever that is) How does it look? Judge for yourself:

On the one hand, horrible monument to consumerism with the largest downtown Starbucks. On the other hand, a tea store! some Peruvian goodies! and free public bathrooms. They tried to charge, but apparently that flies in the face of some law, and someone was paying attention. I’m not entirely thrilled with the glass cube that sticks out of it, but Espacio M (for El Mercurio) preserved the facade, has exposed brick on the inside, and handy placards explaining the history of the building. When I was first there, it also had garbage bins under the drips coming through the roof, but I believe that’s been solved, and now there are shoe-shine stalls where the trash cans were.

Santiago’s got a way to go before we reclaim all the pretty, but considering the possibilities, I’m giving this architecture repurposing a tentative thumbs’ up. I just hope they don’t turn them all into malls. We’re fairly swimming in them at the moment (most recent mall post here).

If you want to know more about urban development in Santiago, check out Plataforma Urbana (in Spanish). And definitely watch this space for more finger pointing and tongue-wagging re: architecture, conservation, bad paint jobs, and always, urban photography.

Espacio M, ex edificio El Mercurio, ex palacio Larraín Zañartu palace, Compañía 1230.

San Diego, a part of Santiago not fit for tourists (first in a series)

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For reasons I’ll divulge sometime, but not now, I’ve recently been thinking a lot about places tourists don’t go, but should, in Santiago. Should in the sense that they’d see a part of Santiago that’s not packaged and presented and polished and de-graffitied and super close the metro. They’d see a little piece of my Santiago.

One of the places my travels take me, both because there are two kind of decent bike paths there, and because it’s where my favorite wrench (bike mechanic) works, is San Diego. Recently, on a facebook group I belong to, people were poo-pooing, harumphing, and otherwise discrediting the bike mechanics on San Diego, and the whole street itself.

It’s ugly, it’s unkempt. It has what is probably the most unpleasant drinking establishment I’ve ever had the pleasure of entering (Las Tejas), and it’s Santiago’s own.

The truth is, as a traveler, you likely have no need for bike parts, nor kitchen supplies, and I don’t know what the heck you’d be doing down San Diego, other than getting an eyeful of what Santiago really looks like, and maybe stalking me. People will try to disabuse you of the idea of going, proclaiming it unsafe, dirty, unpleasant. Call me a glass-half-full kind of person. I can find beauty even in what’s ugly.

Let’s take a walk, shall we?

This ferris wheel, which festively floats among buildings and over a nice coil of razor wire, is the side view of Juegos Diana, an old school arcade, dark and loud (bing bing bing!) and open to the air. If you ask Santiaguinos if they ever went as children, they’ll tell you yes (but it used to be elsewhere) and sink into a reverie about how special and giant it seemed to them. Love that, though I do question the charm of the ferris wheel in its current location.

A typically, uninteresting apartment building along San Diego, this one has a view (see reflection) of “progress.”

Another piece of “progress,” which makes me ill.

Pretty, old apartment building that reminds me of a construction toy I had when I was a child called crystal climbers. People are out on the balconies because there’s a protest happening about a half a block away. Insert sprint here.

Technically, San Diego is a single street (the continuation of Bandera, on the south side of the Alameda, but to me it’s kind of the whole (unnamed neighborhood) from San Diego down to about Lord Cochrane, or maybe even the Pan American highway, which coincidentally, I have to cross to get to my apartment. Technically I’m not stalking COAS, the artist responsible for this guy, but every time I see one of his pieces (which is often, in Santiago and in other cities/towns), I try to take a picture. I kind of love them. I once had a fleeting email interchange with COAS, which I might go into, sometime.

One of the things I love about San Diego, is the extent to which it has resisted change. Like this hand-painted sign on metal, that I have passed a million times, and every time I do, it makes me smile. It is so simple, and in the face of modernity, probably considered pobre (poor).

It’s most of these things that make San Diego not fit for tourists, or so many Santiaguinos, oriundos and newbies alike will have you believe.

For my dollar (480 pesos at today’s rates, ugh), they don’t know jack.

And they don’t know San Diego, either.