San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

In the Barrio: Neighborhoods Celebrate Heritage

Albert Einstein once said, “The school has always been the most important means of transferring the wealth of tradition from one generation to the next.” Clearly, the Culture Ministry agrees, for it was in a school that its new neighborhood heritage project was launched.

With much fanfare and students in traditional garb performing folkloric song and dance, Proyecto Barrios opened its first exhibit Sept. 8 at Escuela República de Chile elementary school in Barrio Luján, a historic neighborhood in southeastern San José.

The project seeks to explore and celebrate the history of six of the capital’s most emblematic neighborhoods, a process designed to proudly remind josefinos, San José residents, of their urban heritage and identity. After Luján, exhibits will follow in barrios México, Otoya, Escalante, Pitahaya and La Cruz.

“This project has been a return to our roots,” said Escuela República de Chile Director Ingrid Marín during the project’s inaugural ceremony. “Thanks to the work the children have done, they now know their town better and can appreciate the historical and cultural significance of certain buildings.

“Now, for example, they know that the bakery, the pharmacy, the library, the butcher shops and the groceries have all been here since the neighborhood’s inception back in 1900, and how important they are to the town’s identity.”

Costa Rican artists Rodrigo Brenes, Guillermo Porras, Luciano Goizueta and Florencia Madrigal were asked to paint their impressions of Barrio Luján for the project. Together, they came up with 12 pieces of work for the exhibit.

“I know Barrio Luján like the back of my hand, having grown up here since I was little, so it was great to paint,” said Madrigal, whose paintings depict the two houses and hotel diagonal to the town’s bakery.

Porras added, “I used to study in this neighborhood, and painting it brought back fond memories. Neighborhoods like these make me think of a San José of peace and harmony, a place where people are known for their decency.”

According to the exhibit’s historical section, at the turn of the 20th century Barrio Luján was known as Turrujal, a name derived from the indigenous word “turru,” a type of fruit tree now believed to be near extinction.

In 1920, the name changed to Barrio Luján, after a government worker named José Luján went to check up on the development of a much anticipated potable water system and was greeted by an excited crowd waving placards reading “Bienvenido a Barrio Luján.”

A seven-minute documentary directed by producer Alberto Moreno, in partnership with the University of Costa Rica, also forms part of the exhibit. Grainy black-and-white footage of the town is mixed in with recent interviews with reminiscing residents who speak fondly of the good old days and how things have changed over the years.

As part of the school’s involvement in the project, students were required to study the neighborhood’s 20th century architecture.

Twelve students were then selected by the school’s art teacher to draw pictures of their favorite buildings for the exhibit.

“It has been really interesting learning about Barrio Luján,” said 12-year-old student Rafael Molina. “The houses used to be very beautiful. I think I would have preferred to live back then when things were more typically Costa Rican.”

The ¢50 million ($86,000) project also involves university architecture students studying dilapidated public spaces and presenting possible solutions, in a bid to restore the identity and heritage of their particular neighborhoods.

“It is hoped that this project will bring people closer to the tangible and intangible heritage of their different neighborhoods,” said project coordinator Virginia Vargas of the Culture Ministry.

The exhibit was scheduled to be displayed at Escuela República de Chile until yesterday before being moved to the nearby Child Welfare Office (PANI) in Barrio Luján. For more information about Proyecto Barrios, contact the Culture Ministry at 2255-3765.


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