Puerto’s history, behind closed doors
Why is so much of this town’s heritage either being destroyed or simply ignored and left to fall into decay?
Other towns, La Laguna and La Orotava, as prime examples, are able to combine the two, old and new, quite happily, whereas successive councils in Puerto, the current one included, have not faltered in their desire to pave the town over. Add to that a love of stainless steel, and now glass, if plans for San Telmo are anything to go by.
What do I mean by heritage? Well for the purpose of this article, it refers to some of the town’s lovely old buildings. Of course the advent of the package holiday must shoulder some of the responsibility, as must the planners and architects of the day, whose imagination in the quest to supply rooms to fill the demand only stretched as far as ‘the concrete tower’. The Bel Air building, a former hotel, must rank as one of the worst eyesores in the town, certainly the biggest.
I have three buildings in mind with which I will strive to make my point; the Taoro building, the Ventoso Mansion and Casa Iriarte, although there are many more. All three are listed by the tourist offices as places of interest in the town but none are regularly open to the public.
Let’s take them in order. What is one of the town’s most prestigious and most prominent buildings, the Taoro opened its doors as a Grand hotel, the then equivalent of today’s five star, in December 1890. Not only was it the first in the Canary Islands but also the first of its kind in all of Spain and in its heyday, the years preceding the First World War, it was patronised by most of the prominent European royal families.
Three wars within 30 years and various changes of ownership saw to its effectually demise and somewhere along the line it came into the Island’s government ownership, the kiss of death in my opinion, but at least it kept the building intact, well almost.
In 1979, part of the building became home to the casino, the rest was effectively mothballed, as it has remained so to the present day. The casino moved to its current location at Lago Martiánez in 2007 when the lights went out in the Taoro building for the last time. Some office space is still used but the building is predominantly empty.
The surrounding gardens are still maintained and you could at one time walk around them. However in recent years even that access has been denied and the area has become gated. There is talk of the casino returning to the building but the move relies on private investment and for a building which is beginning to show the signs of years of neglect such investment will need to be significant. This iconic building is, I am sure, a millstone around the neck of the government but it is one that needs to be preserved.
Ventoso Mansion, in the centre of the town, you can’t miss it, the one with the watchtower, was built in the early 18th century by a wealthy merchant. The tower is not there to warn of invaders but to give early notice of ships arriving bringing with them the chance of trade.
The building has a chequered past, has been owned by a succession of merchants, has served as the town hall, a military barracks, was intended to be the home of the municipal library and has more recently been used as a school. Some work on the building and tower was carried out in 1997, thanks to EEC funding, but little has been done since. Part of it is open to the public once or twice a year, when it house exhibitions. The rest of the year it remains under lock and key. It is a beautiful building, one which sadly so few get to see, it is such a wasted opportunity.
Just across the road, smaller, less impressive, but still equally important, is Casa Iriarte. Home of a well known family of the same name and very typical of the architecture of the time, it was built in the late 1700’s. Two brothers born in the house found fame for their literature and political viewpoints, so much so that a street was named after them and the municipal library after one of them, Tomás who was renowned for writing fables.
Part of the building has been used as a material and haberdashery shop until very recently and as for the remainder, in the not too dim and distant past, but for the life of me I can’t remember how long ago it was, you could enter and view the galleried internal patio and enjoy the eclectic collection of household items and bric-a-brac that were assembled there. The building is now in desperate need of a bit of TLC, regardless of who owns it. It is very much part of the town’s heritage. It is not good enough to just put a plaque on the wall simply to acknowledge the fact.
I am not an historian, nor do have any wish to be, so I apologise if some on my dates and facts are incorrect, they are as accurate as Google can provide, besides, I use them only to reinforce my point and to qualify the importance of the town’s heritage.
This town can get it right sometimes, take the Customs House as an example, the oldest public building in the town, beautifully restored and maintained. Put to good use as well, or at least part of it. Home of the tourist information centre, which is fair enough, but personally I would dispense with the shops and in the space create a museum depicting the history of the town, something which is sadly lacking. They should take notice of the local fishing community, their exhibition, located nearby, containing photos and models, which depict the history of fishing in the town, is exactly what is needed.
The three buildings that I have mentioned are not the only ones, there are many more, I chose them because the local tourist sites list them as places of interest. So I guess my message is, to qualify as a places of interest, it would be helpful if you could actual visit them.