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El Capitolio de Puerto Rico (Where Gumbo Was, #117)


Puerto Rico's Capitol building is not quite iconic—although its decor includes artwork of iconic themes and events in Puerto Rican history that will probably come clear now that you know where it is...and Jonathan L did. It sits on a bluff overlooking Old San Juan and the Atlantic.




The building's own history offers an interesting sidelight on Puerto Rican history. The first plan for a Capitol was put forward in 1907, to demonstrate some degree of civilian rule. Less than ten years before, Puerto Rico had been a Spanish colony, and was now a U.S. colony mostly under control of the War Department.


The first native Resident Commissioner, Luis Munoz Rivera, called for a building to house the new Executive Council, House of Delegates and Supreme Court. He started it off with an architectural competition to design what was meant to be a $3 million project, simple, conservative, and appropriate to its setting. The more-than-20-year process of actually getting it built shows how tangled a thing can be.





 Interim capitol: while waiting, the legislature met in this Spanish-era building


Over 134 designs were submitted, from the U.S., Cuba, Canada, France, Spain, and yes, Puerto Rico. After the commissioners had sifted through them, with the aid of three New York architects, they came up with three finalists—two from New York and one from Boston. Finally, Frank Perkins of New York was selected, and commissioned to draw up blueprints. Here's the Perkins design:

0 But the story wasn't over. Munoz Rivera didn't like it, and preferred the plan submitted by Carlos de Valle Zeno, a Puerto Rican engineer, who had been disqualified for including a slogan in the design, which was forbidden. Please don't ask ME why! Anyway, Munoz Rivera and local public opinion favored the local guy's Renaissance styling. So Perkins blueprints were eventually put aside and then auctioned off. Del Valle Zeno's plan ( better image!)


When the project came up again in 1920, the Puerto Rico Department of the Interior decided the Perkins plan was "inappropriate," and had yet another plan drawn up by three architects, using the Renaissance sty;e, and construction was finally started in 1921, with only the first level complete, and yet another committee of architects made a new design.



That design, using elements from Perkins' plan, including the central structure and dome that were modeled on Columbia University's Low Library (above) was completed in time for the Puerto Rico legislature to meet in it on February 14, 1929. In the 1950s wings were added to provide more office space and a garage. 



 Senate chamber









 Original of Puerto Rico constitution is displayed in the cases at center of floor, above.


Below, across the street, bronze Presidents view the Capitol. Our guide asked us to identify them and explain why some were missing. Answer below last picture.






 Only those who visited Puerto Rico are included!



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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