Excursions in Limón
On September 25th, 1502, Christopher Columbus took his fourth and final voyage to the Caribbean coast. Even though he didn´t disembark for health reasons, he had knowledge of the characteristics of the region and came in contact with some indigenous inhabitants. After this event, for more than two centuries, Carián (Limón) remained virtually unknown since the ports of Suerre (1576), Matina (1637), and then Moín (1839), were the only enables ports along the Caribbean coast.
When independence came along, the first governors were concerned about establishing a port along the Caribbean coast that could be used for trading commerce with Europe. However, this possibility was not very viable given the difficulties in opening a route to the coast due to the harsh climate and thick vegetation.
On November 9th, 1865, the then governor José María Madriz declared Limón as the first port city along the Atlantic coast. In 1870, Limón received the title of region and according to the designs of engineer Francisco Kurtze, the clearing began and the perimeters of the city established. Five years later (1871), the main town was moved from Moín to Limón by constructing port facilities. In 1871, in order to facilitate coffee exportation, governor Tomás Guardia tried to have a railway built that connected the Central Valley to the Port of Limón, but the project failed.
The project was reinitiated again 1884 by means of a contract with Soto-Keith and finally on December 7th, 1890, the first railway was inaugurated, which was owned by Northern Railway Co. The construction of the railway was made possible by two key events. The first was in December 1872 when the first boat arrived from Kingston Jamaica carrying with it workers from Jamaica in order to work on the railway. Afterwards, these workers remained in the area permanently. The second important event was the rise of banana plantations and the establishment of the Untied Fruit Co. (1899).
On July 25th, 1892, Limón increased in rank to that of a canton. In 1903, the first lighting system was installed. In 1907, the city developed its first sewer system and in 1912 a pipe system was introduced to transport potable water. Limón and the province as a whole developed into a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual area in the XX century with Africans, Chinese, Indigenous, and Mestizos that came from the central valley.
With respect to architecture, the style known as Victorian Caribbean spread and was used in large commercial construction projects as well as in the residential realm. The design paid special attention to the harsh conditions of the region with respect to protection from the rain and the sun. Therefore the region developed its own unique architecture that was very different from the interior of the country. Traditional housing was made from wood and the floors rested on pillars.
They also had porches, hallways, attics, and woven reed mats for ventilation. The roofs were made galvanized iron sheets with a steep pitch, and prominent overhangs for protection from the rain and the sun. Today, in the town of Jamaica Town, which is largely inhabited by Afro-Caribbeans, many of these homes, some 80 to 100 years old, still remain and are painted with a traditional bluish-green color. During the first half of the XX century, in the city of Limón, the Spanish contractor and builder César Rivaflecha Zavala, the engineers Guillermo Gargollo and Rogelio Pardo Jochs, as well as the architects José María Barrantes Monge and Rafael García all played an important role in important construction projects.
In 1999, a boardwalk was planned that runs from Vargas Park to the City Market measuring more than 1,000 feet long.
1- Vargas Park
Located on 1st and 2nd Avenue, 1st Street
In 1895, the United Fruit Co. donated the necessary land to build a park in the city of Limón. The governor of the province Balvanero Vargas, in his desire to bring together a beautiful project, made every possible effort and was in charge of two different boats captains that arrived to the port and brought with them tropical trees from Cuba and Jamaica (laurels from India, palm trees and croton plants). For the design of the park, he hired the Frenchman Andrés Bonife, who came from Martinique Island. With an area of 55,000 sq. feet, he chose a classic design inspired by the drawings of Versalles. The result was a tropical green area where lush vegetation grew in an ideal micro-climate.
In 1905, it was inaugurated as Vargas Park, in homage to Balvanero Vargas. Toward the end of the XIX century, a Victorian-style metal kiosk was installed with an octagonal floor (similar to the kiosk in Morazán Park), but in 1911, it was replaced by another one made of re-enforced concrete and in neoclassic style. The structure still has the octagonal floor as well as columns in the corner and four staircases. It is decorated with plant and animal sculptures in Art Noveau style. The designer was Cesár Rivaflecha. It was declared a Historical and Architectural landmark on June 26th, 1995.
2- Port Authority
Located on 2nd and 3rd Avenue, 1st Street.
The building was erected in the 1930´s based on the designs of César Rivaflecha in order to be occupied by the Port Authority, the province´s government, as well as the governor himself. It has an Afro-Caribbean or Antilles influence, very much like the buildings constructed for the United Fruit Co. It is a corner building and has a layout in the shape of a ¨L.¨ It is made up of two floors with an interior patio. It has a handrail balcony on the second floor, while on the first floor there is a wide open corridor. The building uses Tea wood beams in the walls, the floors, and the ceiling. Cross-woven mats are used for ventilation which is very suitable for the climate of the area and large double plied windows in guillotine style. It served as the Port Authority and Government offices until 1986. It was declared a Historical and Architectural landmark on November 26, 1995.
3- Municipal Palace
Located on 2nd Avenue, 0 and 1st Street
The current building dates back to 1942 and it is said that the floor design came from the engineer Rogelio Pardo, while the concept of the façade is that of the architect José María Barrantes Monge, one of the most prestigious architects of the first half of the XX century in Costa Rica. The design of the façade offers very stylistic elements similar to that used by Barrantes in other buildings in the Central Valley. The construction is made of brick in neoclassical style, and takes the shape of a ¨U,¨ which uses steel trusses from the first market in 1893. The building has galleries and archways as well as tipped-arch windows on the first floor. Over the last few years, gardens have been installed with a statue of the indigenous hero Pablo Presbere. It was declared a Historical and Architectural landmark on July 26, 2002.
4- The Historic United Fruit Co. Offices
Located on 1st and 2nd Avenue, 1st Street
On February 7th, 1880, the first banana boat exportation took place aboard the Norwegian Earholm to New York. This started the banana production from Costa Rica for exportation. The buildings were built in the 1880´s to be used as administrative offices for the United Fruit Co. It had a typical design created in the company’s shops in Boston in the United States, and implemented in the Caribbean.
These are buildings designed for tropical climates with well-designed spacing. The building located on the northeast corner is one floor and rectangular, while the building on the southeast corner is two floors with a floor plan in the shape of a ¨L.¨ Both structures are made of steel supported by columns and beams. The exterior walls are made of brick and the interior rooms and hallways are wide with wood and French bahareque divisions. The roof handles all types of rain with wide overhangs that carry away rain water. The building with two floors has balconies and an enormous screen that facilitates ventilation and lighting of the mezzanines through large windows. There are large steel wings that stick out from the two buildings that form a gallery covering some 300 feet, which covers pedestrians from the rain and the sun. In the 1930´s the company abandoned banana production in the Caribbean and the buildings were taken over by the Banana Company of Costa Rica. In 1972, they were acquired by Copper and Steel S.A. represented by Enrique Odio Cooper. Currently, the building serves as offices and various commercial businesses. It was declared a Historical and Architectural landmark on February 18th, 1999.
5- Pensión Costa Rica
Located on 2nd Avenue, 1st and 2nd Street
The land on which the Pensión Costa Rica was built belongs to the architect Quinto Vaglio Bianchi, a businessman of Italian descent. In 1905, Vaglio created the design for the three floor lodge and César Rivaflecha was in charge of the construction. The façade has a symmetrical design an overall correspondence between the balconies and the doors. Stylistically, it is based on French neoclassical design in order to project a unique image within the landscape of the city. It was built with a steel frame and brick for the walls.
It is plated with grey granite on the first two floors and pink on the third floor. Its forged steel rail balconies stand out with false columns in the door frames, as well as stone in the pointed arches, which crowns the access to each balcony. There is a central patio and internal corridors that face each other on all three floors. In 1919, the hotel was handed over to Guillermo Niehaus Ehlers, and in 1973, it was transferred to the Coblenza Ltda. Company, owned by Hans Niehaus Ahrenas. Then, in 1982, it was acquired by María Loudres Torres Zapata. It was declared a Historical and Architectural landmark on September 5th, 1997.
6- City Market
Located on 2nd and 3rd Avenue, 3rd and 4th Street
All newly founded cities need to resolve a number of immediate and urgent needs. Among them is the existence of a market for the residents. Therefore, Limón decided to establish its first market in 1893, on the same site where it currently exists today. Afterwards, during the 1930´s, the building underwent a series of remodelings and expansions. However, its current features date back to the first two years of the Calderón Guardia administration (1940-1944), a period during which it was practically rebuilt under the guise of Rogelio Pardo Jochs and the architect José María Barrantes. Its Art Deco style is very similar to the Kingston Jamaica market, taking from it its closed style for health, aesthetic, and safety reasons. Originally, it was a symmetrical building and was surrounded by wide open gardens. Today, its appearance is a bit chaotic as a result of the gardens having been overtaken by commercial establishments. It was declared a Historical and Architectural landmark on September 22nd, 1998.
7- Post Office and Telegraph building
Located on 2nd Avenue, 4th Street
The building was constructed in 1911 and its first owner was a man with the last name Miiridge, of Jewish descent. Stylistically, the building offers a mix of styles like neocolonial and neoclassic styles adapted to the environment, as well as some Art Noveau elements. The two floor design was created by César Rivaflecha who implemented its symmetrical design and ¨U¨ shaped floor plan. It has a central patio which is accessible by interior corridors on both levels. The frame of the building is made with thick iron beams and a brick exterior.
In the beginning, the first floor was used by local commercial businesses and the second floor was for residential purposes. Externally, there are 15 large doors on the street level, and on the second level, an equal number of forged iron rail balconies. On the façade there are Corinthian arched pilasters. The doors and windows are decorated in Art Noveau style with polychrome plaster motifs alluding to railroads and shipping. Over time, it has seen many uses. In the 1950´s, the government acquired it converting it into a branch of the Judicial Court System, the Mayor´s office, and the Police Agency. In the 1960´s, it was used for the JAPDEVA offices, the Rural Guard , and the New School. As of 1973, it has been the home of the Post Office and Telegraph Department. There is a potential project hoping to convert it into the Limón Ethno-historical museum. It was declared a Historical and Architectural landmark on November 5th, 1981.
8- The Culture House
Located on 3rd Avenue, 3rd Street
In 1938, this building of re-enforced concrete was constructed to be initially used as the city´s meat market, but in 1939, it was converted into the Sanitary Department of Limón. The façade is in Art Deco style, which was very common during that time. In the 1960´s, the center of the building was converted into El Oasis restaurant, which was very popular among seamen that arrived to the port. It offered more than just a restaurant. It also offered a large dance floor and a bar. The restaurant was opened by Rubén Acón León, the building´s renter, who also had his home on the second floor of the building. In the middle of the 1980´s, The State took it over in order to convert it into the Umán Popular Theater and a Culture House. In order to do this, they proceeded to remodel the internal space by means of demolishing the second floor and installing stage machinery and seating. In one of the side sections, offices for the Culture House were installed and on the other side is the still existing Bonilla Bookstore.
9- Tomás Guardia Gutiérrez School
Located on 2nd and 3rd Avenue, 5th Street
In 1870, Limón was declared a town to meet the need to create a port for international commerce. Two years after they started developing lots and property, in order to populate the area, they undertook the urgent task of establishing a learning center for the children of the area. So, on February 12th, 1877, during the Tomás Guardia Gutiérrez administration (1870-1882), orders were given for the construction of the first education center called Higher Learning School for Boys in Limón. Over time, the infrastructure of the building was modified until the Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia administration (1940-19449) managed to construct a new two floor building made of re-enforced concrete. Since then, it has been expanded with new halls made from brick and ornamental concrete blocks. The oldest section, created in the Rationalist style, is a design by the architect José María Barrantes Monge. The education center, as an institution, is the oldest of its kind in the city. It was given the name of General Tomás Guardia Gutiérrez as homage to the president that established the first school in Limón. It was declared a Historical and Architectural landmark on May 17th, 1989.
10- Big Boy Baseball Stadium.
Located on 1st and 2nd Avenue, 6th and 7th Street
At the end of the XIX century, baseball took hold as a sport in Limón on an open field as a result of the influence of US workers that arrived to the area to build the railway to the Caribbean and thereafter to establish banana industry. In 1887, a formal field was inaugurated and later became what is now the baseball stadium for the purpose of playing baseball. Ten years later (1897), the United Fruit Co. legally donated the land to the city in order to encourage the sport in the city. In the 1940´s, the stadium was closed for remodeling. New brick fences were built as well as new stands. After that, the decision was made to christen it as the Big Boy Baseball Stadium in memory of, and homage to the famous ball player, Bancroft Scott. The stadium has no architectural relevance, but it played a great role in the development of the sport in the city. It was declared a Historical and Architectural landmark on July 18th, 2002.
11- The Cathedral
Located on 3rd and 4th Avenue, 5th and 6th Street
In 1892, the first Catholic church of Limón was established with the parish choosing the Sacred Heart of Jesus as its patron saint. During the vicariate period, the church was under the guise of the Vincentian Order, who were from Germany. Between 1954 and 1956, the earlier cathedral was constructed in brick and concrete. In the 1940´s the Episcopal House was erected in neoclassical style. In 1994, the Diocese was established with the Presbyter José Francisco Ulloa as its first bishop. The old cathedral was demolished in 2001. The new cathedral was design in modern style by the Mexican architect Raúl Godar. There is a unique nave with a capacity for some 600 parishioners. The material used was concrete mixed on site with exposed finishes. It was consecrated in 2009. The building retained the stain glass windows, the bells, and the Christ statue at the back of the cathedral. The new project aimed to preserve the bell tower from the old church.
12- Black Star Line
Located on 5th Avenue, 5th Street
The Black Star Line was built in 1922 (the current building is from the end of the 1980´s) with the structure and finishes all made from wood. The architectural design is in Victorian Caribbean style and has two floors. On the second floor there is a large multi-use hall known as ¨Liberty Hall,¨ that is used for cultural events and festivals. A perimeter corridor has an extensive handrail balcony to ventilate the hall.
On the first floor, there are various local businesses, among them being a Caribbean restaurant and a wide covered walkway to protect people from the elements. It is one of the most emblematic structures of Limón, having been built as part of a political-cultural project. In 1887, the Jamaican, Marcus Garvey was born (he was in Costa Rica in 1910), founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and promoter of the Black African Movement. This movement aimed to improve the social and economic situation of African-Americans and organize a return back to Africa. For this reason, throughout various countries, buildings were constructed as a symbol to link their common objectives and their steamboat company Black Star Line. Therefore, the Black Star Line building was created as a social club, similar to others that appeared throughout the Caribbean. It was declared a Historical and Architectural landmark on March 16th, 2000.
13- The Baptist Missionary House
Located on 6th Avenue, 5th Street
At the end of the XIX century, this building was constructed in Victorian Antilles style, resting on pylons and made entirely of wood. The two-floor structure with balconies was designed to be used for offices of the Baptist church and lodging house. The construction came about from interest from the Jamaican Baptist congregation undertaking religious missions to the Black community that lived on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. In 1888, the Baptist church was the first to arrive to Costa Rica. In 1894, the Methodists arrived, and in 1895 the Anglicans arrived. On May 27th, 1888, the Reverend Joshua Heath Sobey arrived, who was sent by the Jamaican Baptist Missionary Society, in order to observe the spiritual conditions of the immigrants. Because of his visit, he resolved to establish a mission in Limón that would provide support to all of Central America. The financing for the construction came from Jamaica and Sobey was named as a missionary. From the moment of its inauguration, it was known as the “Missionary House”. Today, it continues being the branch for the church´s offices. It was declared a Historical and Architectural landmark on April 4th, 2002.
14- Juan Gobán Soccer Stadium
Located on 2nd and 3rd Avenue, 8th and 9th Street
Initially, the site that the stadium occupies today, was just an open space known as Plaza Iglesias and belonged to the local municipality, In the 1940´s, they played soccer there, but there were no stands. In 1963, the Limón soccer team made it to the first division. Two years later (1965), the field was closed off with a brick wall and stands with wood seats were installed, making it a modest stadium. In 1993, due to the XV National Sporting Games premade stands were installed and offices were built for the County Sports committee. Juan Gobán Quirós (1904-1930) was the first football player from Limón, who played in the first division in San José. It was used for the Limón Gymnastics and La Libertad Sport Club from 1921 to 1929.
Located along the coast that borders the city
Even in 1883, during the high tides, the ocean flooded much of the area up to the area where the current city market stands. Because of this condition, the governor of Limón, Balvanero Vargas (1893 – 1905) vowed to reverse this situation. He ordered the lower coastline of the city to be filled with sand brought in carts from nearby beaches and build a breakwater. The job to build the breakwater led to a construction contract in 1891 with Minor Keith. In 1895, work was underway to build a 1 and a half foot thick concrete retaining wall. The design included an overhang on the inside of the wall to create a seat that would extend all along the breakwater and would also serve to sit and see the ocean. The breakwater extends from the west where the railway platforms are until the customs station and the east zone of the city until the extreme north, meaning that it extends from Vargas Park until the Tony Facio Hospital.
The construction eliminated the mud and encouraged growth of the city by means of consolidating new spaces that were distributed among the population to build new housing. Today, the breakwater is a reference point of the urban story and the irreplaceable scenery of the city. In 1991, a strong earthquake hit the Caribbean region and it was determined that the ocean floor rose causing the ocean to recede some 150 feet. This event caused the breakwater to no longer serve its original purpose. It was declared a Historical and Architectural landmark on June 26th, 1995.
16- Hotel Cariari
Located on 3rd Avenue, 2nd Street
In 1910, some investors from Great Britain built a two-floor structure in order to establish a bank for English capital. The eclectic design with neoclassical elements was created by César Rivaflecha and was made of concrete and brick. It has fluted columns and Corinthian capitals on the first floor and Doric columns on the second floor. Both have balconies and covered corridors. One interesting element of the building is the extensive decorative molding on the support beams. The vanes on the first floor have medium point arches, while those on the second floor have squared arches. Over time, the uses for the building have changed. During the Second World War it belonged to the US Embassy, which was used as a consulate. It was also a Charles Kit Patrick pharmacy. Afterwards, the building was used for residential housing and local businesses, with Tobías Berenson as the owner. It then became the Hotel Cariari with María Maguini as the owner. Today it is owned by Omar Corella Izquierdo. It was declared a Historical and Architectural landmark on February 23rd, 2001.
17- Quiribrí Island
Located in front of the port
In 1502, Christopher Columbus arrived on his fourth and last voyage to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. His ships anchored on the coasts of Costa Rica around the area which today is known as Port of Limón. It is said that Christopher Columbus greatly admired the beauty of a small island located in front of Cariay (Cariari). It was an island named after the indigenous population, Quiribrí and that he christened it as La Huerta. It later became known as Uvita. The island is located a few miles from the Port of Limón and can be reached from the coast in just 10 minutes.
It has 15 acres of land and is half a mile long from north to south and about 1,000 feet wide. It is an islet with lush scenery, typical of tropical rain forest. Some of the plants you can observe are almond plants, Peruvian Poro, Chamaedorea, Tobacco plants, Guarumos, Spanish Cedar, and an array of ferns and palm trees. A dock was constructed on the islet, as well as a light house and a manor. It was declared a Historical and Architectural landmark on September 26th, 1985, and in 1986, the National Nomenclature Commission reinstituted its original name ¨Quiribrí.¨
18- Monument to Pablo Presbere
Located on 2nd Avenue, 0 and 1st Street
It is believed that he was born in the 1670´s and became chief of Suinse or Suinsí. Pablo Presbere is known as the most feared warrior of Talamanca due to his bravery and valor in rebelling against the Spanish invaders in 1709. The indigenous uprising stemmed from the injustices and subjugation that the Spaniards caused in the Talamanca region. He brought together the indigenous people that lived in the area from Chirripó until the island of Tojar or Colón in the Admiral Bay. On September 28th, 1709, leading a group of Cabécares and Térrabas, he attacked the Urinama convent in order to extend the insurrection all the way to Cartago.
In February, 1710, the governor Lorenzo de Granda y Baibín organized an army to quash and capture the insurgents. On July 4th, 1710, Presbere was shot in the city of Cartago. An eight foot bronze sculpture of Presbere, created by Emilio A. was erected in the gardens of Limón.
19- Monument to Simón Bolívar
Located on ¿?, Avenue, 2nd Street
He was born on July 24th, 1783 in Caracas, Venezuela. He was a general and a statesman and leader of the American emancipation earning the title, ¨Liberator.¨ His way of thinking was nurtured by the French writers (Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Voltaire). He swore to dedicate his life to the liberation of his native land. In 1809, he joined a group of conspirators that organized independence revolutions and from this time forward he participated in armed movements designed to defeat the Spanish powers that were in South America. He led a powerful army and took part in memorable battles like Boyacá (1819), Carabobo (1821), Junín and Ayacucho (1824). His victories led to the emergence of several republics throughout the Andes Mountains. He died on September 17th, 1830. A bronze bust of Simón Bolívar, measuring some 2 and half feet and created by the sculptor Arturo Russ, can be found among the e gardens of the Justice Court Building of Limón.
20- Monument to Christopher Columbus
Located on 1st and 2nd Avenue, 0 Street
He was born in 1451 in Genoa, Italy. From a very young age he started his voyages thought of a plan to arrive to the Indies through the East. In 1492, in order to finance his undertaking, he received support from Queen Isabella, nicknamed the Catholic. On August 3rd, 1492, he left the Port of Palos in charge of three ships: La Pinta, La Niña, and La Santa María. He finally saw land on October 12th, arriving at Guanahaní Island, in the Bahamas. On September 25th, 1502 on his fourth and final voyage, he arrived to the coasts of Costa Rica without being able to disembark due to health reasons. His ships remained anchored for 10 days around Quiribrí Island, christening it as La Huerta, later known as Uvita, and recently changed back to Quiribrí. For the 500 year anniversary of his discovery of the new world, on October 5th, 1990, a three foot high bronze bust was unveiled in Vargas Park of Christopher Columbus and his son Hernando (sculptor unknown).
21- Balvanero Vargas Molina.
Located on 1st and 2nd Avenue, 0 and 1st Street
He was born in San José and owned a coffee plantation in Pavas. He served in the Municipality of San José and was a legal notary and Secretariat under President Jesús Jiménez Zamora. Later, he moved to Limón, dedicating himself to public endeavors which established him as a benefactor for the province. In 1883, he was named Governor of the Province and Port Captain. Thanks to his management, such projects came about such as the construction of the breakwater to create more space in the city, he designed the central park (which carries his name), he installed the pipe system in the city, and brought about activity to the main roads. Balvanero died in Limón in 1905. On October 12th, 1973, a bust in his image was unveiled in Vargas Park, measuring some 3 feet and created in granite by the national sculptor Néstor Zeledón Guzmán.