Casa de los Azulejos, Mexico City
The Casa de los Azulejos or "House of Tiles" is an 18th-century palace in Mexico City, built by the Count del Valle de Orizaba family. What makes this palace, in the City of Palaces, distinctive is that its facade on three sides is completely covered in the expensive blue and white tile of Puebla state. The palace remained in private hands until near the end of the 19th century. It changed hands several times before being bought by the Sanborns brothers who expanded their soda fountain/drugstore business into one of the best-recognized restaurant chains in Mexico. The house today serves as their flagship restaurant.
The building of the house
The house is currently on the Callejón de la Condesa, between 5 de Mayo Street and what is now Madero Street. Madero Street was laid out in the 16th century and originally called San Francisco Street, after the church and monastery here. Later it was called Plateros Street, because of all the silver miners and silversmiths located here. From the 16th century through most of the colonial period, it was one of the most desirable streets in the city. Before 1793, there were two houses on this site, which were joined through the merger of two creole families of New Spain, when Graciana Suárez Peredo and the second Count del Valle de Orizaba married. Both families were very rich and held noble titles. The current structure was begun in 1793, with much the same dimensions and shape as it has today, but no tiles.
The tile facade
There are two conflicting explanations of how this building got its current appearance. The more reliable version states that the fifth Countess Del Valle de Orizaba, who resided in Puebla, decided to return to the capital after her husband's death and remodeled the house with Puebla tile in 1737, to show the family's immense wealth. The other version is more colorful and tells of a son whose lifestyle caused his father to state that if he didn’t change his ways he would "never build his house of tiles," meaning that he would never amount to anything. As an act of defiance, the young man had the tiles put on when he inherited the house. These tiles cover the three exposed facades of the house on both levels.
The rest of the house
The overwhelming aspect of the outside of the house are the blue and white tiles from Puebla that cover it on three sides. Its windows, balconies and doors are framed in carved stone and French porcelain crowns on the Callejón de la Condesa and Madero Street facades. Inside, the main courtyard contains a fountain crowned with mosaics. This fountain is surrounded by highly decorated columns and topped with more French porcelain crowns as well as a stained glass roof that was added in the 20th century. Both the fountain and columns show some damage. On the second floor, the courtyard railings are made of copper; some made in China and some made in Mexico. The overall look to the courtyard is generally Baroque but also somewhat Oriental or Moorish.
There are two large murals in the interior. The first one is a peacock mural by Romanian painter Pacologue done in 1919. In the main stairway is one of the earliest works by José Clemente Orozco titled Omniscience and done in 1925. The three symbolic figures appearing in it represent masculine values, with their feminine counterparts and Grace presiding over them both. According to chronicler and poet Salvador Novo, the torso in the center was later copied by Orozco in the work called Prometheus at Pomona College. On the second floor, the facade of what was the chapel has a set of gold frames bedecked with angels. There is also a collection of porcelain art.
18th to early 20th century
The Counts of the Valley de Orizaba sold the house to attorney Martinez de la Torre in 1871. Upon Torre's death, the de Yturbe Idaroff family moved in, the last to keep the building as a private residence. Near the end of the 19th century, the house lost 90 square meters on the north side, to make way for 5 de Mayo Street. In 1881, the top floor was rented to the Jockey Club, the most exclusive social club between 1880 and 1914, and the lower floor housed an exclusive women's clothing store until 1914. During the Mexican Revolution, the Zapatista Army occupied the building for a short time. (No, the Zapatista Army did not occupy this mansion. Sanborns, the restaurant where the Zapatistas had lunch, had not yet moved into this house, it was next door, so beware of such myths....). In 1914, supporters of Porfirio Díaz held a banquet here in honor of Victoriano Huerta to celebrate the assassination of Francisco I. Madero after the Decena Trágica. An indignant Venustiano Carranza then seized the property in 1915, holding it for a number of months. The original owner, Francisco-Sergio de Yturbe managed to regain possession of the house before government-hired workers were able to finish remodeling it.
Early in the 20th century, Frank Sanborn and his brother Walter opened a small soda fountain/drugstore on Filomeno Mata Street in the historic center of Mexico City, calling it Sanborns American Pharmacy In 1917, the two brothers saw the old mansion as a place to expand their business. They took two years to remodel it, putting a stained-glass roof over the main courtyard, putting in new floors and adding a peacock mural by Romanian painter Pacologue. A less important mural was painted by José Clemente Orozco in 1925 called Omnisciencia, solicited by his friend Francisco-Sergio (Paco) de Yturbe with the approval of the Sanborns brothers. A restaurant covered the inner courtyard and now dominates the establishment, which now is the flagship site for a chain of restaurants called Sanborns. The building was declared a national monument in 1931. Since the early 20th century, this Sanborns has been a popular place to have a meal in luxurious surroundings. The business has hosted painters, writers, actors, poets and revolutionaries. It was a symbol of a cosmopolitan atmosphere in the first half of the 20th century. The building was restored again between 1993 and 1995 after suffering a minor fire on the second floor. This project was aimed at preserving the elements of the building dating from the Baroque period, the French and Art Nouveau elements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as the two murals, which had deteriorated considerably. Sanborns currently belongs to billionaire Carlos Slim.
- "La Casa los Azulejos" (in Spanish). Mexico City: Sanborns. Retrieved 3 September 2009.
- Lopez Velvarde Estrada, Monica. "EL PALACIO DE LOS AZULEJOS: LUGAR DE HISTORIAS NACIONALES CIEN AÑOS DE SANBORNS" (in Spanish). Mexico City: Museo Soumaya. Retrieved 3 September 2009.
- Galindo, Carmen; Magdalena Galindo (2002). Mexico City Historic Center. Mexico City: Ediciones Nueva Guia. p. 134. ISBN 968-5437-29-7.
- Humphrey, Chris (2005). Moon Handbooks: Mexico City. Emeryville, California: Moon Handbooks. pp. 34–35. ISBN 978-1-56691-612-7.
- "Casa de los Azulejos" (in Spanish). Mexico City: Gobierno del Distrito Federal. Retrieved 3 September 2009.