Oldies but goodies

June 19, 2008


The historic center of Mazatlán has many beautiful homes. Some have been restored to modern standards with new plumbing and updated electrical and some have been maintained by their original families.

There is a historic commission that oversees the district and there has been a pretty successful effort to make Centro an appealing place with a program for placing utilities underground and installing curb cuts for wheelchairs and lighting in the sidewalks. I love living here.

There are a lot of buildings here in Centro that would be wonderful homes if people with energy and money were to take on the challenge. The vigas (roof beams) on many have fallen in – but these old concrete and brick buildings will stand for a long time even without any protection from the weather.

Many people lament that (I have read this about other cities with historic cores, too) too many gringos move in to take on challenges like this and “force out” the locals. I don’t believe that this is exactly true, since all of the ruins I am talking about are unoccupied or barely occupied.

Real estate prices are being driven up, but taxes are still low so there isn’t the same effect like there is when gentrification happens up North.

Here in Centro in Mazatlán, I feel that gringos have upset the balance a bit…or maybe we do at first. For example, it took Paul and me a while to figure out that our block has kind of a pet crazy guy. He taps a coin on our gate and grins vacantly at us. We figured out to give him a peso or two. But it did take us a while and I imagine people wondered if we would ever “get it.” I know it’s a little frustrating for our neighbors to try to communicate with us. But overall I don’t think there are bad feelings towards gringos here.

I just thought for a minute and in our immediate vicinity there aren’t more than two gringo households on any block, and many blocks none.

Many of these houses will probably never be brought back to life since they are probably owned by families where a whole bunch of siblings owned a piece many years ago and through deaths, etc. the project of even tracking the heirs all down to see if they did want to sell would be a daunting one. So they sit, old and beautiful, but they sit.

I have been collecting pictures of ruins on my Flickr page, here.

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More about Nancy

I'm Nancy, a US expat living in San Antonio Tlayacapan, Jalisco after 11 years in Mazatlán, México.

    1. Por cierto, there are many ruins in Old Town, and walking by, peering through the shutters or the cracks in the doors, you try to imagine what they looked like when they were built. Somebody’s dream house, now just a pile of debris with walls around it. Or boarded-up buildings where somebody obviously still lives. I agree, it would be opening a real can of worms to try to buy one of them, not to speak of the years it would take to rehabilitate it.

    1. Nancy — I have often thought about buying one of the older homes and rebuilding it. Your blog and Jonna’s posts have kept that notion alive. The problem with the dream is that it is 180 degrees off from the rest of my retirement plans. I really do not need a plot of land of my own — I want to wander.

    1. It’s really a two sided coin if you ask me. I love to look at old architecture and imagine what it once looked like in it’s prime, but then again, I’d love to see them all fixed up and brought back to life too. Actually I’d like to bring one back to life, but I doubt I’d ever have the money to take on such a huge project.

    1. Many of the pictures of old buildings in Mazatlán centro look much like the ones in Mérida centro. I love the colonial style that was used in tropical areas, thick walls, high ceilings, always a plan for breezes and air flow.

      For me, renovating one of these beauties was a dream come true. I think that it is as much an adventure that I love as a way of creating a home I’ll love. So, the journey is as good as the destination.

      The same controvery exists in Mérida, only gringos would spend the money to renovate one of these old beauties. Modern Meridanos would not even consider living in the centro if they can afford to move out. They want modern, glass and marble, and high tech. The houses that gringos are renovating would have been left to crumble or they would have continued dividing them for low cost housing.

      We who were raised by and large in 1950’s track houses want the old houses with history and a story to tell. To a middle class or above Mexican, they are the houses their grandparents lived in and not convenient or high tech or in neighborhoods where their friends and good schools are.

      Still, there is resentment in some quarters. I think of it as the same problems encountered in large cities in the US where gentrification has happened. It eliminates some low cost housing and it changes the feel and culture of the neighborhood. The difference here in Mérida is that most if not all of our neighbors are not poor but are working middle class who inherited their homes and who are happy to own a place to live. They can get upset by rising prices but they also see the possibilities of a return on their inherited house that could benefit their families. Mainly, the number of gringos and renovated houses is still so small that there is less effect on the neighborhood. When that number increases, then resentment could be increase as well. At least, that is what happened in the Castro of SF and in other neighborhoods there like Noe Valley.

      There is such a large supply of these beautiful old homes in cities like Mérida, Puebla, Querétaro and other colonial cities that I think it unlikely that we will ever overpower the locals in most places. San Miguel de Allende is the city that has the most gentrification or gringoization and even there, the gringos are largely outnumbered by the locals. If foreigners don’t group up in small areas, then the problem will probably never get very serious. Let’s hope.

      Oh, about renovation. The cost is not what you would expect coming from the north. Remember that the main costs will be materials, not labor. So much of what an old house needs is labor that the cost of renovation can be quite reasonable.

    1. What a nice conversation!

      Paul and I feel lucky that the bones of our old home had already been updated…because I don’t think I have the patience for a long renovation. But it would also have been nice to really know this place in its “before” state, which would make knowing it “now” even sweeter.

      I don’t have a good handle on what it would cost to renovate an old house like this and I will try to get some numbers from people who’ve done it. Maybe square foot costs so it doesn’t get too personal.

      In the US my ex and I renovated a 1907 craftsman in Seattle and I loved finding its beauty under all the layers of paint. But these houses just seem so more stately and mature…in Maz our house is from around 1898 so it’s not much older than the craftsman in Seattle, but it sure does seem like it.


    1. Our house is a turn of the last century home too. We were lucky in that it had been maintained so mostly what we did was upgrade the electrics and plumbing and remove previous improvements (it had been made into 3 very small apartments). We also added a covered terraza, we have probably spent as much on fixing as we did on buying the original building but we still spent much less than we would have in California but probably not as much as we would have in the midwest.

    1. I visited your photos and loved them. Like Jonna, my first thoughts were of Merida and how similiar the architecture.

      Lately I’ve been thumbing through Merida real estate ads online and thinking how much I would love to redo one of those old structures, but it will probably never be more than a dream.

    1. Without thoughts of restoration or what’s to be done?, I thoroughly enjoyed your photos of the wonderful old buildings in their state of elegant decay. Thanks for the view!

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