[May 18 2021]
text by PABLO LEÓN DE LA BARRA
hair and make-up by MARIPILI SENDEROS
model SHEILY JIMÉNEZ
ACAPULCO HAS BEEN a continuous reference in my life, partly for personal reasons—I first saw the ocean from Acapulco, and it was first the place I swam in the sea—and partly for my research on a particular tropical modernism that flourished there. For a long time I’d heard about a house, called La Cañada, built by architect Enrique del Moral, which had belonged to actress Dolores del Rio, a Hollywood silent-film star in the 30s. It was supposed to be located in Mozimba, a neighbourhood north of the bay that was never quite developed. I’d been asking around about this house, and didn’t even know if it still existed.
Originally built in 1944 for the Yturbe family, an old, aristocratic Mexican family, who wanted to differentiate themselves from the vulgar nouveau-riche of the new political elite who had held power since the Revolution of the 1910-20s. La Cañada was outfitted with amazing furniture by Cuban modernist designer Clara Porset, and was one of the first examples of a local vernacular that combined traditional Acapulco architecture with modern styles. Instead of a flat concrete roof, like the Palm Springs international style, the house had a slanted roof covered with ceramic tiles. This vernacular modernism became with distinction and dignity, and represented a sober, dying synonymous class. It had stone floors, wooden beams and a special area for hammocks. The social areas were under one roof in an open-plan. Instead of window panes, wooden shutters framed the views and let in cross ventilation. La Cañada became an enclave of resistance to a new world order in which its owners no longer fit.
Meanwhile, for the new political class, Acapulco became the international showcase for the progressive modernization of Mexico. With the Support of President Miguel Aleman port development continued Southward with the construction of a boulevard the length of Acapulco’s bay (later named after Aleman) and a new airport in Revolcadero—although not northward toward Mozimba and Pie de la Cuesta. Acapulco’s old airport, in Pie de la Cuesta, became a military airport from which, it is said, after the 1968 revolts in Mexico City small planes departed with the bodies of soon-to-be “missing persons” whom they threw into the sea.
It is also said that President Aleman acquired vast properties of land, ensuring that he and his family would never suffer from future deprivations. The international jet set settled in the hills of las Brisas on the other end of the bay, while high-rise towers for tourism blossomed in the bay during the 60s and 70s.
According to popular myth Dolores del Rio lived in La Cañada during the 40s with her lover Orson Wells (who said she was the most exciting woman he’d ever met). But it was actually not until the 1970s that she retired there for a few years with her husband Lew Riley. Somewhat like the Salma Hayek of her times, Dolores had had a triumphant Hollywood career until the end of the silent movie era, when her accent made it difficult for her to continue working. She returned to Mexico in the 40s, where her career was relaunched by director Emilio “el Indio” Fernandez, with whom she made classics like Maria Candelaria, 1944, and Las Abandonadas, 1945. Perhaps because of its from the jet-setters of Acapulco in the 70s del Rio chose La Cañada to be her retirement Shangri-la, a place where time had stopped. But her paradise didn’t last long. An intimate friend, a rich location away heiress named Margarita, was kidnapped and murdered in the port, after which she sold the house and never returned. She died in April 1983 in Laguna Beach, California.
It wasn’t until, 2001, while lying on the nearby beach of Pie de la Cuesta (where some of the most amazing sunsets of Acapulco occur), that Vanesa Fernandez—editor of the Mexican magazine Celeste—remembered that her family had a house in Acapulco where she had once been as a child. Driving her jeep up the steep hills of Mozimba, Vanesa, with her husband Aldo and their daughter Maria, they managed to locate La Cañada. There they found Leonel, the old butler who had served Dolores del Rio, and had been in the house since Vanesa’s wealthy grandmother bought it 26 years ago, after del Rio’s departure. Many of Acapulcos houses haven’t been visited by their owners in years. Leonel had been sleeping in a hammock in the open living room for close to two decades, waiting for the return of the family. In 2003 Vanesa and Aldo restored the house to its original glory, a monument to a forgotten time.
When I told my father I was going to Acapulco to write a text about La Cañada he told me something I didn’t know: in 1971 he and my mother had been invited by the Yturbe’s to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. It was there my mother tasted a raw fish dish called ceviche for the first time, and where I was probably conceived.
Special thank you to Vanesa Fernandez, Aldo Chaparro, Jose Garcia Torres, Jennifer Johnson and Paola Iloria