Wednesday, 1 April 2009
Pichilemu Puts Valparaiso To Shame
A couple of years ago I went to Pichilemu and was struck by the beautiful Casino Ross. Sadly, it was in a state of complete abandonment and it seemed destined to gently decay and eventually collapse in on itself.
The building was the first casino in Chile. Started in 1906, it was finished in 1909 and the casino functioned until 1932 when it lost its licences. It continued to function as a luxury hotel for some years and then slowly fell into abandon. It was later acquired by the council and left to rot. In 1988 the building was declared a Monumento Nacional, which is what the Chilean government does when it can't think of anything else to do with a beautiful old building.
Pichilemu was Agustin Ross' domain. Part of the powerful Valparaiso based Ross-Edwards family (they founded El Mercurio and are still prominent members of Chilean society), Don Agustin was a philanthropist at heart and donated the stunning park that adjoins the Casino to the town. The park contains over 100 now giant palm trees and is impeccably maintained.
18 months ago, funds were obtained from the regional government to restore the Casino. Around us$1 million was set aside for the complete renovation and reconstruction of the building. For the amount of work that was done, this was (as our enthusiastic guide who worked on the project said) a miseria. A pittance. And it's true- they managed an incredible job. The inside of the Casino was almost completely reconstructed. The roof tiles were cleaned by hand. And the facade was completely renovated. The result is amazing. And it took just 15 months.
The Casino now contains a library, conference centre, art gallery and community centre. Cheap cultural projects and classes are available to residents and the idea is to give the youth of the city something to do and something of which to be proud. It's a fantastic example of what can be done in Chile with just a little ganas.
Compare this with Valparaiso's shameful handling of the us$80 million BID funds; with the council's inability to get any major renovation project off the ground; with the continued closure of the Museo de Bellas Artes in the Palacio Barburizza; with the postponed for god knows how long Plaza Sotomayor project. Pichilemu has shown that Valparaiso is being managed by incompetent at best and corrupted officials at worst. I want Valpo to improve as much as anyone. I love this city. It's painful to see nothing happening and nothing changing.
Click here and here for photos and videos of the work in Casino Ross, Pichilemu.
Punta de Lobos
Sarah Palin dropped into town once and misspelled 'Maverick'.