The neighborhood that disappeared to make way for Federalismo Avenue

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One of the oldest neighborhoods in Guadalajara had to be demolished in the 70s to make way for what is now Federalismo Avenue; this is its story

Guadalajara has countless temples. Hundreds of chapels and churches in each colony, in each neighborhood and corner of the places where we live. On kiosks and esplanades, in simple squares, unfinished and gigantic sanctuaries on the top of the hills. But one of the most characteristic religious precincts of Guadalajara is that of the Refugio temple, in the center of Av. Federalismo, in the middle of two lanes, like a lost island in the traffic of every day.

The Refugio looks like an unfinished work, something that is by mistake at the exit of the Light Rail station. But that the temple is there like a drifting boat is not a product of chance: it is the only witness, survivor of what was once there. A few decades ago, what is now a congested avenue and a Light Rail station, were blocks of houses and farms where dozens of families and hundreds of people lived, and that made up one of the oldest neighborhoods in Guadalajara; the Refugio.

Before, the Refugio was not divided by Federalismo. It was, in the name of modernity, that the Government of Jalisco decided to demolish 234 houses and farms, to mobilize to the north the accelerated growth of the city. Guadalajara was growing. It was no longer a secluded city located in the Province, under the tenacious sun of the Valley of Atemajac. Just a few years earlier, It had received a celebrity from the world, “Pelé”, who scored three legendary goals at the Jalisco Stadium, crowning Brazil as the absolute winner of the Mexico 70 World Cup.

Guadalajara then registered almost a million and a half inhabitants. Jorge Matute Remus, the visionary man who managed to move a building without his workers interrupting their work for a single moment, proposed the construction of a North-South axis that would speed up the mobility of Guadalajara, and its irreversible growth.

The tentative suggested the restructuring of 5.3 km of streets, from Washington to División del Norte, implying the destruction of a thousand 150 houses to “expand from 10 to 50 meters and match it with Colón Avenue”. The neighbors of the Refugio went out to protest at the Government Palace, headed then by Governor Alberto Orozco Romero, but the planning of the North-South axis had already been approved by the business guild, and especially by the mayor of Guadalajara, Guillermo Cosío Vidaurri, who a few years later would also be governor until the explosions of 92 and public disgrace would lead him to request a license from his position.

In those years, in the late 70s, there was still a lot to go for the big tragedy of the explosions. The Refugio neighborhood could do nothing against the voracious modernity, and the meticulous plans that would end up demolishing their houses, flattening their streets, and leaving space for the cars that came from all sides, and the underground construction of what would be the Light Rail.

The government used all the immovable rhetoric that justifies any project, even the most absurd, as it was said that the work was “urgent and useful, peak of the national population”, comparable to any project in Mexico City.

The president of the Republic, Luis Echeverría, also gave his approval to the extension of Federalismo from Washington to División del Norte. The College of Architects of Jalisco published a statement where they defended that the project was essential for “the conformation of the city and the progress of the community”.

The neighborhood began to be demolished in mid-1973. The Government of Jalisco decided to “save” the Refugio temple, which since 1900 had been administered by Franciscans, and if it did not disappear also, it was by decision of Governor Alberto Orozco, who spent his childhood and youth half a block from the temple, and the neighborhood that he had ordered to destroy in the name of modernity. 234 houses were destroyed, tenements, farms and multifamily.

Moro Street, which led directly to the Refugio temple, and which today is Federalismo from North to South, disappeared forever. It was not until 1976, three years later, that both Alberto Orozco and Luis Echeverría inaugurated the first section of the civil work. Somehow, that would remain forever in the conscience of Governor Orozco, whose intention, as he wrote in the book The New City, was the benefit of the largest possible number of Tapatíos at the expense of the suffering of very few.

“Much of the responsibility for the demolition of the beautiful neighborhood, in which part of my childhood passed, weighs on my conscience,” he wrote. For with his fist and letter he signed the documents with which he approved the demolition, the flattening, the destruction of the streets of his youth among metropolitan twilights, when the Center of Guadalajara still preserved among its farms that air of town.

From those years, from those times, there is nothing left but the temple in the middle of the avenue, sometimes inconvenient, sometimes inexplicable, but always survivor of everything that Guadalajara ever had to lose in the name of progress, and at the cost of what we are today.

Source: Informador