Episode 373 – Living In A Piece Of History.

When I showed my best friend around our Mérida winter home (during a FaceTime chat) she suggested that it reminded her of the historic mansions we loved to tour on our March Break holidays.

She’s absolutely right. We’re living in a place that feels like guided tours should be given – and charged for!

We’re situated on 56th Street (Calle 56) between 57th and 59th, almost directly opposite the Hotel Gran Real Yucatan, and beside a motorcycle repair shop. More significantly though, we’re just a few streets away from the Palacio Cantón, located on the Paseo de Montéja. The Palacio, completed in 1911, was the home (until his death in 1917) of Generalissimo Francisco Cantón Rosada, who was Governor of Yucatan between 1898 and 1902. Before being Governor, though, he was the owner of haciendas and railroads – a very wealthy man, who around the turn of the 20th century built the townhouse we’re living in, along with 2 others attached to it: one for each of his 3 sons.

The townhouses were built in the same kind of Beaux Arts eclectic style as the Palacio, with classical, neoclassical and French baroque details, among others. In fact, they were designed by the same person, the Italian architect Enrico Deserti.

The style became known as Porfirian, or Mexican-French fusion architecture, and is well represented in Mérida.

Symmetry, columns, stone, baroque-style balcony supports, Italianate metal work, neoclassical pediments – so many different style elements and yet they come together beautifully! Our townhouse comprises the furthest 3 arches on the right, with the owner living behind the 3 windows above.

I had to do a bit of research before trying to categorize the many interesting features we’re lucky enough to be living with every day. I learned that:

  • Classical architecture originated in ancient Greece and Rome, and is characterized by symmetry, columns, rectangular windows, and marble.
  • Neoclassical architecture is characterized by grandeur of scale, simplicity of geometric forms, Greek or Roman detail, dramatic use of columns, and a preference for blank walls.
  • French Baroque, as it was applied to residential homes, involved extensive use of stone, vase-shaped balusters, ornately molded cornices, and bold door moldings.
  • Georgian best explains the exterior symmetry.
  • Spanish Art Nouveau (think Anton Gaudi) is represented in the fluid lines of some of the doors.
Clockwise from top left: vase-shaped balusters in the back hall, above the stained glass bathroom door; kitchen courtyard columns; upper level Corinthian column; lower front courtyard square column.

“Use of marble and grandeur of scale” in the entrance hall. The cabinet in the bottom right photo is almost 10 feet tall!

I haven’t been able to figure out what “style” the bifold doors fall into, but they are fascinating. Unlike regular pocket doors that simply slide into a wall, these fold and then pivot to fit into 2 side pockets/alcoves, hiding all but one decorative panel on each side from view. When closed, they have “window flaps” that can be opened to reveal etched glass, or simply barred openings to allow air to circulate, which is so important in this hot and humid environment.

One door, four options. L to R: doors closed with windows open; doors and windows fully closed; side doors folded to create single width centre opening; doors fully folded to create double-width opening.
L: this set of doors works the same 4 ways, but folds into a pocket, creating a short “hall”. R: between the entry hall and the dining room the double bifold pocket doors have etched glass panels instead of wrought iron bars.
Traditional French doors with Spanish Art Nouveau lines. The one with plain glass is near the rear of the house; the more ornate etched glass door is off the main vestibule beside the marble staircase.

Arched windows and alcoves add Roman/Italianate elements to the mix.

General Cantón’s eldest son Eduardo lived in “our” townhouse, as evidenced by the initials etched into the transom windows: a large C entwined with an E and a G, denoting Eduardo Gregorio Cantón.

These transom windows (there are 5 etched with Eduardo’s initials) are 12 feet up. It’s hard to get a clear picture without climbing on a ladder (which I did NOT do!) Bottom left: the bifold double non-pocket doors to the living room feature one of the etched windows..

In repairing the house, Chris kept all the original elements, and where large repairs were needed (plaster/stucco walls for instance) remained true to its original character.

The beautiful floor tiles were thankfully intact, although in the “working” areas of the ground floor (the kitchen and rear vestibule that now leads to the pool instead of stables) they are badly discoloured and occasionally cracked. it’s no wonder that simpler unpolished tiles were used in those areas. The first courtyard, open to the elements, also uses plainer unpolished tiles, clearly differentiating outdoor from indoor spaces.

Clockwise from top left: kitchen; second (back of house) open courtyard granite floor; first open courtyard (separating the atrium from the public rooms); rear vestibule (note the stone baseboards!). Remember that the courtyards get rain; note the corner drain in the lower right.
Closeup of the second/kitchen courtyard stone.

The more public spaces – now the atrium, living room, dining room, and master bedroom, as well as Chris’ private music room – all have highly polished tiles in more complex patterns, often laid to look like rugs with wide borders. I found out that these are called “pasta tiles” and are featured in many old upper-class Mérida homes. They are still made the same way as they were in Spain in the 1800’s, using molds for the floral and geometric patterns.

Clockwise from top left: entrance hallway (note the plain tiles separating the entry from the more open atrium); dining room (my favourite floor); blak/white/grey master bedroom; Chris’ music room mosaic floor; the vibrant red, yellow and ribbon patterned border in the living room.
Detail of the dining room tiles.

The dining room is one of my favourite spaces, with its faux marble walls, Baroque cornice moldings, colourful pasta tiles, and an absolutely huge stained glass window through which the natural light from the courtyard throws colourful beams of light into the room.

Top: after dark, a beautiful chandelier lights the space. Bottom: daylight through the stained glass window.
Detail of the Baroque cornice molding in the dining room. (14 feet up, so a bit grainy in my photo)

The Governor’s eclectic tastes would surely have appreciated the Mughal (South Asian) tile inserts in the repaired walls, and the Arabic tile inset above the door leading to the pool terrace. After all, collecting items from around the world and showing them off was a favourite hobby of the wealthy.

The jungle oasis that is the pool terrace – behind the kitchen – was once stables and a chicken coop. Looking at our photos below, it’s hard to imagine.

For professional photographs (featuring the prior living room and kitchen furnishings) , here’s the VRBO listing of the property: https://www.vrbo.com/7107667ha. Note: the photos are at least 10 years old, so every plant pictured is 10 years bigger and more lush.

12 comments

  1. Oh what a lovely place you’ve found and with the added attention to detail, and history. I feel I learn something new each blog you write. Enjoy your stay. It’s a long one isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Almost 5 months! I’m looking forward to beginning twice weekly Spanish lessons next week. 4 hours per week isn’t much, but hopefully it will give me a base on which to build.

      Like

  2. How awesome to be staying in a home like that – a history lesson without even going anywhere!!! Such fun – and such a gorgeous space to live in.
    B.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello Rose and Ted, we have been following you since the Viking World Cruise and I just wanted to say you have been a font of information for a couple of fellow Canadians following you along a similar if a little different route a year or so later. We are on the Viking Neptune WC in a couple weeks and then we are continuing to travel for the next couple years after that. Merida has been on our list for a long time and when you got there I had to finally write you. Thank you for all the great information and we would love it if our paths ever crossed and we could buy you a glass of wine and a beer. If you would like to correspond my email is attached

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I bet mommy loved the tour… I think lots of British old homes have those same types of bifold doors or floor to ceiling shutters… Beautiful

    Liked by 1 person

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