Casa de los Azulejos

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Casa de los Azulejos
Palacio de los Condes del Valle de Orizaba
Casa de Azulejos 3.jpg
View of the Casa de los Azulejos from 5 de Mayo Street
General information
Architectural styleNew Spanish Baroque
LocationMexico City, Mexico

The Casa de los Azulejos ("House of Tiles") or Palacio de los Condes del Valle de Orizaba (Palace of the Counts of Valley of Orizaba) is an 18th-century Baroque palace in Mexico City, built by the Count of the Valle de Orizaba family. The building is distinguished by its facade, which is covered on three sides by blue and white colonial Talavera tiles from 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.[1][2]

The counts of the Valle de Orizaba began construction of the palace in the 16th century.[3] Descendants of this House of Orizaba covered the exterior of the palace in 1737 with the beautiful azulejos that are seen today.[3][4]

The building of the house[edit]

Casa de los Azulejos depicted in a painting of 1858 during the Reform War.
Casa de los Azulejos in the 20th century.

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.[1][2] 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.[1][2]

The mansion was remodeled a bit later, adding the covering of blue and white tiles. This caused a sensation and gave the house its popular name.[1][5]

The tile facade[edit]

Part of the facade, with azulejos

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.[1][6][7] 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,"[5] 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.[5][6] These tiles cover the three exposed facades of the house on both levels.[5]

The rest of the house[edit]

The peacock mural side of the courtyard.
Courtyard at night.

The most notable feature of the exterior are the blue and white tiles from Puebla that cover the building 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.[1][5] Inside, the main courtyard contains a fountain crowned with mosaics. The 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 Mudéjar.[1]

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.[5] There is also a collection of porcelain art.[6]

18th to early 20th century[edit]

Upper floor with doors

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.[1] During the Mexican Revolution, the Zapatista Army occupied the building for a short time.[6][8] 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.[1]


The colonial Baroque[9] fountain of the palace, and the Sanborns restaurant

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[2] 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.[1] A restaurant covered the inner courtyard and now dominates the establishment, which now is the flagship site for a chain of restaurants called Sanborns.[6][7] The building was declared a national monument in 1931.[7] Since the early 20th century, this Sanborns has been a popular place to have a meal in luxurious surroundings.[6] 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.[2] 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.[1] Sanborns currently belongs to billionaire Carlos Slim.


See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Beezley, William H. Judas at the Jockey Club. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press 1987.
  • Escobosa de Rangel, Magdalena. La casa de los azulejos. Mexico City: San Angel Ediciones 1998.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "La Casa los Azulejos" (in Spanish). Mexico City: Sanborns. Archived from the original on 22 August 2009. Retrieved 3 September 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d e Lopez Velvarde Estrada, Monica. "EL PALACIO DE LOS AZULEJOS: LUGAR DE HISTORIAS NACIONALES CIEN AÑOS DE SANBORNS" (in Spanish). Mexico City: Museo Soumaya. Archived from the original on 7 July 2009. Retrieved 3 September 2009.
  3. ^ a b Luis Gonzalez Obregón (1909). México viejo y anecdótico (PDF). Robarts Toronto. p. 201.
  4. ^ "La Casa de los Azulejos".
  5. ^ a b c d e f Galindo, Carmen; Magdalena Galindo (2002). Mexico City Historic Center. Mexico City: Ediciones Nueva Guia. p. 134. ISBN 968-5437-29-7.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Humphrey, Chris (2005). Moon Handbooks: Mexico City. Emeryville, California: Moon Handbooks. pp. 34–35. ISBN 978-1-56691-612-7.
  7. ^ a b c "Casa de los Azulejos" (in Spanish). Mexico City: Gobierno del Distrito Federal. Retrieved 3 September 2009.
  8. ^ Actually the Zapatista Army did not occupy this mansion but rather used it at will. At that time, the original Sanborns was a drugstore located along Madero Avenue, but not in the House of Tiles. They did not move into their flagship location until 1918

Coordinates: 19°26′3.19″N 99°8′24.74″W / 19.4342194°N 99.1402056°W / 19.4342194; -99.1402056