Old & Older Architecture Speaks In Spanish


It turns out Mexico and Beverly Hills have a few things in common.

At the end of July / start of August, I had the opportunity to travel to Mexico along with my mom, dad and sister. We drove from L.A. to Rosarito (via Fallbrook/Temecula and Tijuana) then flew to León, Guanajuato. Our first stop was at my uncle and aunt’s home there, but after that, we went to Aguascalientes and to Guanajato (City).

The trip had a profound effect on me in many ways. I was overwhelmed by the beauty, history and culture I encountered, not to mention seeing family I had not seen in years. And meeting new family members I had never met, including an architect. (We are now Facebook friends.)

But, you may still be wondering what do Mexico and Beverly Hills have in common aside from perhaps their live-in (and devious) maids? Well, the nopales or cactii are the same, naturally. But so is the architecture, if you really stop to think about it. And this sorta blew my mind after coming back from my trip. I have to admit, teasing through the details of history and different time periods was a little tough, but I’ve done my best to explain it below:

Beverly Hills City Hall was done in an early 20th Century neo-Churrigueresque style or Spanish Renaissance, though it is also sometimes referred to as Italian Renaissance style. This was in 1931 so  all kinds of revival were around, and the architects had free reign as to which styles they chose and implemented. That said, I believe this one really is most appropriately called Spanish Renaissance.

Now, Mexico’s Churrigueresque is a much earlier 17th Century version, and arguably, a much more grand, manifestation of it. But it did not originate there. The style was brought to Mexico by the Spaniards, and is actually named after architect and sculptor, José Benito de Churriguera (1665–1725), born in Madrid and of a Catalan family originally named Xoriguera! He designed the cathedral and alterpiece of Salamanca, among other things. This is also called Spanish Baroque.

Many of the features, elements, and details of this style, whether in Spain, Mexico or California, are strikingly similar. And that is the beauty of architectural styles in their many regional variations and revivals. In Mexico, I noticed many more “indigenous” or “native” features, making reference to the sun, animals, etc. Our guide said that it was natives in Mexico, not Spanish, who tended to carry out most of the detailed artwork on church facades.

In California, there are many other examples of early 20th Century Spanish Revival (throughout Southern California such as in Downtown, Santa Monica and San Diego. It would be interesting to go back down to Mexico and see more of this original architecture. It is also funny to think that they were building those massive, detailed churches down there, while here in the Southern California they were only really building missions, villages (pueblos), and ranches, I believe. The City of L.A. was founded in 1781 under Spanish rule, later going into its Mexican period in 1821, when Mexico finally gained independence from the Spanish after 11 years of war.

And just to put things into perspective, Beverly Hills came into being about 125 years after L.A. City in 1906, though it was not officially incorporated until 1914.

It was Burton Green and his wife who first gave Beverly Hills its name, after Beverly Farms, Massachusetts (though sometimes earlier periods refer to the area as Rancho Beverly Hills). Also, at one point the land was called “Morocco”, which was fleeting, and which Green had purchased for the failed Amalgamated Oil Co. In 1906, this became the Rodeo Land and Water Company, then finally to Beverly Hills.

I should also note that the Beverly Hills Hotel was built before Beverly Hills was officially incorporated in 1912. Later in 1923. it led its own mini revolution, fighting for its continued independence against the City of L.A. who threatened to annex it. The Beverly Hills Hotel was also, in fact, the City’s first historic landmark, just recently designated on July 25, 2012. Other notable and recently designated (mostly in 2013) buildings include, again, its City Hall (1931), the Beverly Hills Women’s Club (1925),  the Beverly Hills Post Office (1927) and Greystone Mansion (1927).

So, I hope You’ve found this post interesting and useful. I know there was a lot of history to cover, but that’s the beauty of it! Thank goodness that Beverly Hills, in this case, has finally started to designate all these historic wonders and storytellers. Oh, and I did talk to our guides about historic preservation in Mexico, too, but not in great depth. Generally speaking, most of the churches are under a national registry, at least. Finally, here are a few instagrams from my recent trip to Mexico, with some brief descriptions.


We always stop at these apartments on the way to Rosarito, which is why I’m including this picture. This is property management for our family. My dad usually picks a box of avocados up directly from a processing plant in Fallbrook, too.

I’ve grown up going to Rosarito since I was a little girl. Baja California was my first taste of Mexico outside of this relatively northern part of California in the US.

León is a sprawling, modern metropolis. Its historic core is vibrant, charming and well-maintained. I won’t forget the suburban malls, the lush “colonias” and the country club I visited, or my uncle’s cellar (shown below). I was surprised to see Costco, Sams and Home Depot, among other big box chains. Oh and a Blockbuster! The cathedral there, el Expiatorio, was marvelous. The tacos, fruit, fruit juices, and artisanal gelato were unforgettable, too, though I did get sick at one point… Montezuma’s revenge?


The highlight of our visit here was seeing family for the annual Gutierrada. That said, the town itself is charming. The most memorable part was visiting “La Plaza de Tres Centurias“, an urban redevelopment project that dates from the 19th to the 21st century in terms of cultural and architectural offerings. I can’t believe how little I know about Mexican history. I guess that lone course I took at UCLA on Latin American History just didn’t cut it.

This old Spanish colonial town is absolutely dreamy. Our time was well-spent here on a romantic “recorrido” where we were led through the historic and quaint, winding streets to “El Callejon del Beso” by musicians, poets and students sharing stories and singing to us in Castellano.

The city has an elaborate system of underground tunnels originally built by the Spanish, but also centuries later, and is known for its “naturally mummified bodies“. Apparently it is due to the minerals in the land.

Aside from that, Guanajuato is home to several museums, including one dedicated to Diego Rivera, as its his home town, and others focused on local history, from the Spanish inquisition and mining industry to late 19th century development.

I currently call Beverly Hills home and was surprised to find out recently that its City Hall is considered a type of Spanish Renaissance or Baroque, in the same vein as Churrigueresque church (featured above) in Guanajuato. And finally, the succulents and cactii. The arid geography reminds us all that Mexico and the Southwest of the United States share common ground, literally.

Signing Off,

~ Erica

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