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Mexico Travel - Guadalajara

[Tlaxcala, Texcoc, Jalapa, Tehuacan]  [Morelia, Patzcuaro, and Uruapan]  [Guadalajara]  [Lake Chapala]  [Guanajuato, Queretaro, San Luis Potosi]  [Guaymas, Culiacan, Mazatlan, and Tepic]  [Taxco and Cuernavaca]  [Taxco to Acapulco]  [OAXACA]  [Monte Alban and Milta]  [Progreso, Merida, Uxmal, and Chichen-Itza]  [Tehuantepec and Salina Cruz]  [Some More Places to Visit if You Have Time]  [More Mexico Travel Tips] 

( Originally Published 1939 - Presented For Historical Purpose )

AN AUTO ROAD IS NOW UNDER CONSTRUCTION FROM Mexico to Guadalajara via Toluca, Morelia, and Lake Chapala. Although construction on the road is going on full blast, there is so much to be done that it is doubtful if it will be completed before 1940. At the time of writing, the best way to go to Guadalajara is by train. The railroad operates a good night train with Pullman sleepers from Mexico City. There is no observation car, but as a matter of fact, none is needed on this night ride. The scenery is beautiful, but might be rather monotonous for a daylight ride of fourteen hours. If you leave Mexico City on a clear evening, you will have some excellent views of Ixtaccihuatl and Popocateped from kilometers 37 to 46.

The Pullmans are the standard Pullman cars and are very good, although I found the dining car service rather poor-in fact, the worst I had in Mexico. This may have been just bad luck, but it happened in both trains going and coming, and the car was not the same on the return trip. For the last hour into Guadalajara the scenery is magnificent. The line follows the Rio Lerma and passes a series of small lakes where white herons wade among the water hyacinths.

GUADALAJARA is the second principal city of Mexico, with a population of about 200,000. It is a fine city, abounding in sights. Extensive public works are in progress-the town is being repaved and attractive red-and-white tile sidewalks are being constructed.

There is an imposing new STADIUM and a handsome little PARK called Agua Azul, with no less than four swimming pools. The river which once cut the town in two has now been completely covered and is used as a sewer. A main street now covers the river itself.


The churches of Guadalajara are interesting, but not so interesting that they need occupy all your time. The CATHEDRAL is famous chiefly because in the sacristy is the well-known Ascension of the Virgin, by Murillo. The Cathedral is a mixture of just about every style of architecture and has been so frequently damaged by earthquakes and renovated and changed that very little of the original structure remains. Amazingly enough, however, the gold-leaf decor that was applied in 1 7 i 6 is still completely untarnished. During the revolutionary period, the Cathedral was occupied by the army, but the floor of mesquite wood was able to stand even the tramping of the horses. The iron candlesticks before the altar were once solid silver, but during the revolution, they were melted down by a revolutionary general who was thoughtful enough to substitute iron ones.

The classical style altar, although made of 1 marble brought over from Italy, is not particularly effective. The mahogany stalls in the choir, on the other hand, are really quite magnificent.

SANTA MONICA IS perhaps the outstanding church of the city. It has a fine facade in the plateresque style.

Over the door IS a STATUE OF ST. CHRISTOPHER, the patron saint of travelers and also, in Mexico, of bachelor girls. Local gossip insists that lonely maidens come to the church to pray to St. Christopher for a lover, and then, when their prayers are granted, come back to the church to pray again to get rid of him.

Outside of these, there are few churches that really demand your attention. In the PLAZA OF SAN FRANCISCO near the station is a church of the same name with an elaborate baroque facade. It is a somewhat startling addition to a typical fortress-church. The interior was recently wrecked by fire and is now under repair. Almost directly across the street is another example of the fortress-church, that of Aranzen, with a lovely little churrigueresque altar.

The Archbishop's Palace

The old ARCHBISHOP'S PALACE opposite the Cathedral is now a private house. The fine old frescoed patio has been ruined by the fact that the spaces between the arches have been boarded up and rented out as garages. From the front of the Archbishop's Palace, you can get an excellent view of the majolica-covered CATHEDRAL TOWERS.

In the little plaza beside the Cathedral sit the local SCRIBES, who, for a small fee, will write a letter for you on any subject. You don't even have to word the letter. Just give them the general idea, and they will do the rest. They used to work by hand, but now they have all taken to using typewriters.

The Museum

The MUSEUM is obligatory. Even if you do not particularly care for museums, you must go in to see the patio of this lovely old building. It was built as a Franciscan seminary and became a museum in 1918.

When you enter the PATIO, notice the seat on the lefthand side of the entrance made of old tiles, and walk up the fine colonial staircase. On the second floor there is an extensive collection of old furniture and paintings of no great interest. The collection of FEATHER PAINTINGS is interesting, however, as an example of an erstwhile great Mexican art, now practically extinct.

Among the rather mediocre examples of paintings, there are three good Giordanos and eleven paintings by Murillo or his students.

More typically Mexican are some of the first works of Orozco and also some of the very early Riveras. There is an unusually interesting collection of Orozco lithographs, including one remarkably humorous one that I would cheerfully burglarize the museum to get. It shows a party of American tourists staring at some Indians and the Indians returning the compliment.

The museum contains a rather odd collection of pieces. Anything that could possibly be considered either pretty or interesting has been stored here. A magnificent display of pottery, the natural mummy of a mother superior found in the church of San Diego near Guadalajara, and a statue of the Virgin made of chicle-all are in the same building! If you don't like one particular collection, try the one next door. With such a variety, you are bound to find something that appeals to you.

The LIBRARY is situated in the same building as the museum. It has an attractive entrance, but little else to recommend it.

The Plaza Mayor

Don't overlook the PLAZA MAYOR, the main square of the town, with its interesting portales, or arcades. In these portales you will find all sorts of small local shops and interesting groups of people, talking, buying, and going about their own affairs. Many of the famous local mixed fruit drinks are sold at stands along the portales. The drinks are good, but make sure the glass is clean before you take your first gulp.

The Governor's Palace

The GOVERNOR'S PALACE IS one of the really impressive sights of Guadalajara. It is, at present, the state capital. The interior is a magnificent example of baroque. In the center of the facade is a fine clock tower, and in the dial of the clock there is a little round hole that has an amazing history. During the revolutionary period, Guadalajara had many governors, some of whom had very brief careers. The story is told that when a certain governor realized that he was going to be ousted from his office, he fired a shot from his revolver through the dial of the clock as a gesture of resentment.

The interior is impressive, with good patios and a handsome staircase. In the patio there is a modern fresco by Amado de la Cueva which had been plastered over with stucco, but which is now being cleaned. It was in this palace in the year 1810 that Hidalgo signed the decree abolishing slavery. Consequently, this is the central figure in the great oxozco MURAL on the staircase. The mural is best seen from the balcony. On the left you have the conflict between church and state which breeds hate. This hate produces the conflict shown on the central panel. On the right you have the present-day leaders of the world, whom Orozco shows as completely confused as to what they are doing, but completely self-satisfied as to the manner in which they are doing it. It is an extremely interesting subject and, like all of Orozco's works, a superb piece of painting.

The COLONIAL SQUARE outside the Governor's palace is slightly spoiled by a modern building, but nevertheless still remains impressive.

The Orphanage

One of the great sights of Guadalajara is the HOSPICIO or ORPHANAGE. Ordinarily, you would be required to obtain a permit through the consul to see this building, but if you are on a sightseeing tour, or with a local guide, you can dispense with this formality. The building is an imposing one, the exterior having remained as it was when it was built in 1805. The interior has been completely modernized. They have put in new tile floors and installed modern plumbing fixtures, but fortunately have not changed the plans of the building.

The orphanage has a great number of lovely patios, some maintained as gardens, and others as playgrounds or athletic fields for the six hundred-odd children living there. The remarkable thing about the place is the fact that there is nothing here of that dull institutional atmosphere so common to most orphanages. The little girls, instead of wearing drab uniforms, are dressed in gay print frocks. All the children appear well fed and happy. The dormitories are bright and clean, and there are pretty colored spreads on the beds. Everything possible is done to avoid the institutional look.

There are several infirmaries in the building, and the guardian who took us though was extremely embarrassed over the fact that nobody happened to be sick at the time, and not a single one of the infirmaries was in use. We assured her that it was more a tribute to the institution than a cause for apology, but she seemed to have her doubts. Finally, in the last section of the orphanage we visited, she succeeded in finding one child about three months old who had a little cold in its little nose. Her relief was enormous. She felt that the honor of the orphanage had been saved.

The kitchens of the orphanage are huge, well equipped, and clean. The children do not do the work in the kitchens and the laundries, and all the labor is employed from the outside. The little children will probably sing for you when you go through, and you are not expected to give them coins as a reward. If possible, you should try to get there at about eleven in the morning, which is the time when the younger children have their mid-morning snack. I have never seen a group of kids have a better time, each with a mug of milk in one hand and a large hunk of hard candy in the other. They were smearing themselves happily with both, but no one seemed to mind.

They have not only little children here, but youngsters of more mature years, who are taught trades and are trained to take their places in the outside world. I have heard that their instruction is so good that there is little difficulty in finding positions for them. The orphanage turns out such excellent stenographers that the supply cannot keep up with the demand.

The old CHAPEL of the orphanage is being converted into a library and moving picture theater and is being redecorated by Orozco. If it is not finished by the time you get there, and if Mr. Orozco himself is working, you probably will not be permitted to enter. If no one is there but the workmen who help him, you might be able to stick your head in the door for a moment. The pictures are magnificent, but did not strike me as being particularly suitable for an orphanage.

Whatever you do or do not see in Guadalajara, don't miss the orphanage, which should be a model for the other orphanages in the world, for instead of being a depressing sight, it is one of the most inspiring things I have ever seen.

The New Penitentiary

The PARK OF THE REVOLUTION now stands on the site of the old penitentiary. The NEW PENITENTIARY 1S Outside of the town. Except for the fact that it is surrounded by a wall, it looks more like a pretty little city than a prison. Although the prisoners are required to work, they are paid modest sums for their labor so that they may have a certain stake to support them when they are free, and also so that they may have a trade which will keep them self-supporting. There are swimming pools, a moving picture theater, and a library. Many of the prisoners make little souvenirs, mostly of bone, which they sell to visitors. Some of the souvenirs are rather amusing and, I might remark, rather indecent.

Excursions Around Guadalajara

There are several interesting excursions around Guadalajara. At ZAPOPAN, there is a seventeenth-century plateresque church, with majolica domes and an enormous atrium. The church is historically important as the spot from which the founding fathers of the California missions were sent out in the old days. Unless you are a real enthusiast for Mexican ecclesiastical architecture, you can well afford to pass this up.

If you like natural scenery, take a drive to the BARRANCA DE oBLATOS. This is about five miles from the city, and there is a good auto road all the way. Here the Lerma River, now called the Santiago, runs along the bottom of a gorge about 2,00o feet deep. The scenery is vaguely Grand Canyon-ish and extremely beautiful.

Another good excursion is the one to the village of SAN PEDRO TLAQUEPAQUE, or the Potters' Village. This is really a misnomer, for at one time the village was a rich suburb of Guadalajara. Many of the magnificent old colonial houses with patios are still there today. It is probably called the Potters' Village because some of the best potters of Mexico live there. This is the home of the famous Panduro brothers, whose family has been making terra cotta miniatures, portraits, and caricatures for a long, long time. You can have a sculptured clay portrait made of yourself while you wait.

To see extremely interesting pottery in the making, you should go to EL ARTE TONALTECA. Here you can watch the entire operation from start to finish. The clay is first ground and then colored. Next, it goes to a pot ter, who makes the original on a potter's wheel. (It must, of course, be remembered that this particular art is far more advanced than that done in the pottery villages near Toluca, where the potter's wheel is not yet used.) Once the original has been shaped to the potter's satisfaction, a plaster cast is made. Here the machine work, if it can be so called, stops. All the designs and coloring of the pottery are done by hand. For instance, you can tell one of the Indian designers that the general design is to be that of a man standing beside a cactus with a house in the distance. That is as far as you need go. The designer will do the rest. It may be a dinner set of a dozen pieces that you wish. Each piece in that set will have a man and a cactus and a house on it, and each picture will be sufficiently like the next one so that they will harmonize perfectly, yet no two pictures will be the same. The painter draws with a brush directly on the piece to be decorated-he needs no design from which to copy.

These designers are a most temperamental crowd. The owner lives in the establishment and sometimes may be wakened at one or two in the morning by a designer who happens to feel like drawing. The designer will pick up a few pieces of pottery, draw designs on them happily for an hour or two, and then go back home and go to sleep.

When the designs and colorings have been applied, the pottery is baked to set the color. The glaze is then put on, and a second baking finishes the work.

Guadalajara has a fine modern residential district with streets shaded by JACARANDA TREES. Some have blue blossoms; others, red ones. Those bearing the blue blossoms are at their best in February and March, and those with red flowers are at their best in April or May.

What to Do in Guadalajara

The most satisfactory HOTEL in town, I believe, is the Imperial. It is in a good location, overlooking the little San Francisco Plaza, has an excellent restaurant, and is clean and comfortable. It is definitely a first-class hotel. Next in rank is the Fenix. This is farther away from the station, and you will need a cab to get there. The prices are about the same as they are at the Imperial, but like all Mexican hotels, neither one is particularly expensive. The Frances and the Roma are a little more modest than the other two, and consequently slightly less expensive. I think that either the Imperial or the Fenix would be suitable for the American tourist.

There are plenty of RESTAURANTS worth frequenting. The best in town, I think, is El Patio. It is small, somewhat expensive, and as the Mexican dines very late, it begins to get interesting at about eleven o'clock at night. There is dancing every evening. The cuisine is superb. The Montparnasse specializes in French cooking and has a good reputation. El Rhine (pronounced "Reen" in Guadalajara) is a German establishment where the food is excellent, but the cocktails are not. The wines and beer, however, are good.

The three best MOVING PICTURE THEATERS in town are the Colon, the Reforma, and the Roxy. In season there are BULLFIGHTS quite as good as those in Mexico City and by the same fighters that you will see in the capital. The only difference is that the ring is somewhat smaller. The season for bullfights is in January, February, and March.

There are GOLF courses at the airport and at the country club. Both courses have eighteen holes, and both have a good reputation.

What to Buy in Guadalajara

Exquisite TEXTILES Of the hand-woven type can be bought at the home shop of Senorita Esperanza Castellanos Lambley. Here you can see the native workmen operating their great hand looms and producing articles of unique beauty. The Senorita is constantly branching out into new lines. When I was last there, she was selling some glorious draperies of mixed wool and cellophane. The hand-made wool neckties that sell for about 50 cents are an excellent buy. The Senorita maintains a branch in Mexico City at Sinaloa 13.

Guadalajara is still a good place for ANTIQUES. These can be found at several shops, notably one in the patio near the State Museum. GLASS and GLASSWARE are made in Guadalajara at a branch of Odilon Avalos of Mexico City, and lovely little glass miniatures are made by Gonzales. LEATHER WORK arid SILVER can be found in several shops. The silver is particularly good at Orendain's, in the University Building.

Right next to the same University Building there is a charming FLOWER MARKET.

Guadalajara is the center of the TEQUILA industry. The best-known brand is the Providencia. The salesroom of this distillery is a delightful place in which to wander about. Nobody ever seems to be around to sell you anything, but there are bottles of tequila on display and little glasses for sampling the same, and if you are with one of the local guides or with someone from Guadalajara, apparently all you have to do is to help yourself.

Tequila is uniformly fine, but I myself prefer the yellow variety, because with this, you do not have to bother with the salt and lime ritual.