02 May 2009

Kiosco Morisco - Moorish Kiosk - Mexican Alhambra

I am fortunate to have a very good friend in California by the name of Malcolm Lubliner. Malcolm is a professional photographer and a very good one. You can see his work at the Malcolm Lubliner Photography website which is called CityVisions. Believe it or not I met Malcolm through a man named George P. Thresher who has been dead for at least seventy five years. How could that be? Well, one day I was walking around the town of San Miguel de Allende here in Mexico and I stumbled into a photo gallery named appropriately "Gallería de Fotografía". There I walked up to a photo labeled "Queretaro Monument" and I recognized it as the spot where Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of the Hapsburg lineage, and at the time the presumed "Emperor of Mexico", was executed. The photograph is fascinating in that the surrounding area has long since been overrun with the trappings of humanity and today does not look anything like the terrain in the photo which was taken by George Thresher. Mr. Thresher's photo was taken around the year 1900 approximately thirty to thirty-five years after Emperor Maximilian died on that very spot on June 19th, 1867. I asked the gallery people about the photo and they knew nothing about it. The suggested that I contact Mr. Lubliner who is the owner of the Thresher collection. I wrote to him that very day and thus began our friendship. He asked me if I could write some essays about George Thresher's photos and so far I have written three of them which you can find on his website. I invite you to take a look and see the complete collection of Thresher's Mexico photos and find out how Malcolm acquired them. Malcolm will also be happy to oblige you if you would like to obtain large format prints of the photos for your own collection.

Malcolm has been very generous with me and among other things he has given me a beautiful thirteen by nineteen inch print of the Maximilian Execution Site photo and also a print of a Thresher photo labeled "Lottery Building". The photos were enlarged and printed from the original glass plate negatives and the fine details are exquisite. I decided to tackle the "Lottery Building" photo as my next essay project. The pace at which I am researching the photos, however, will probably require another lifetime so I plan to do as many as I can and leave the rest to someone else. At this point I must stop calling the photo the "Lottery Building" and start calling it the "Kiosco Morisco" (Moorish Kiosk) which is what it is called today. Here is the Kiosco Morisco as it appears in the original Thresher photo:

This kiosk was designed by a prominent engineer named José Ramón Ibarrola as an exhibit for the New Orleans Universal Cotton Exposition and World's Fair which ran from December 16, 1884 to June 1, 1885. One of the features of the Kiosco Morisco is that it was made from cast iron pieces that could be taken apart and reassembled with relative ease making the kiosk portable and available for reuse at other locations. Many people think that the Moorish design was adopted because of the Moorish influence on Mexican architecture but in reality the theme was chosen because interest in the Middle East was very high at the time and the Moorish designs at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition just a few years earlier in 1876 had been well received. At the New Orleans fair the kiosk was called the Mexican Alhambra Palace because the style of architecture so closely resembled the style of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. It was also sometimes referred to as the "Octagonal Building" because its walls were in the form of an octagon or eight sided figure. After the New Orleans Fair the kiosk was dismantled sent to Mexico City and erected on the south side of the Parque Alameda Central. There the Kiosco Morisco stood until 1910 when it was moved to make way for a semicircular memorial known as the Hemiciclo Juárez, which is dedicated to the former Mexican president, Benito Juárez. The Kiosco Morisco in turn was moved to The Alameda de Santa María la Ribera where it stands today. Around the turn of the century and before it was moved to its present location it was used as a platform to announce the winners of the Mexican National Lottery. No doubt it is for that reason Mr. Thresher labeled the photo "Lottery Building".

Although there was a small Mexican exhibit at the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876, Mexico's attendance at New Orleans constituted the first major effort to portray itself as a modern nation on the world stage. Some people claim that the Kiosco Morisco was used at the Exposición Internacional de París in1889 and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World's Fair in St. Louis in 1904 but I can find no evidence of this. Mexico did participate in these fairs but the exhibits were larger and completely different. I believe that one of the reasons that people think the Kiosco Morisco was used again in Paris and St. Louis was that flattering promotional material from the New Orleans exhibition was used to create advance promotional material for future fairs. Mexico also participated in the Chicago exhibition of 1893 and the Buffalo exhibition of 1901 but for economic reasons it was on a much smaller scale.

Cast iron, the material used for the Kiosco Morisco, was a natural for that time. Cast iron was the metal of choice throughout the second half of the 19th century. Not only was it a fire resistant material but large structures could be produced with cast iron at less cost than other materials such as brick or stone and cast iron structures could be erected with speed and efficiency. Cast iron is also more resistant to corrosion than either wrought iron or steel and while molten, cast iron is easily poured into molds, making it possible to create nearly unlimited decorative and structural forms. For this reason it was particularly useful in creating the intricate design patterns on the Kiosco Morisco. Apparently José Ramón Ibarrola, the designer, was an acquaintance of Andrew Carnegie, the iron and steel magnate. The sections of the Kiosco Morisco were cast at the Union Mills Foundry of the Keystone Bridge Company which was one of Andrew Carnegie's companies. As a matter of fact both Mr. Carnegie and Señor Ibarrola received honorary degrees together in 1906 from the University of Pennsylvania.

At the New Orleans Exhibition the Kiosco Morisco (Mexican Alhambra) was situated near the southeast corner of the Main Building. Over the entrance to the Kiosco Morisco hung a prominent sign containing the Mexican national seal and the words, "Mexican Mining Pavilion", in gilded letters. Within the pavilion were large glass display-cases, arranged in two circles, in which were placed a multitude of rare minerals from each of Mexico's mineral States. The States having the finest displays were Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Zacatecas, Guanajuato and Hidalgo, whose immense resources in iron, copper, zinc and lead, as well as in the more precious metals of gold and silver, were well represented. Precious stones were also shown and in particular opals from the state of Queretaro. Beneath the dome, at the center of the pavilion, was a half a ton of silver displayed as a mountain, while collections of various tropical shrubs were placed beneath the colored-glass windows surrounding the building. A distinguished mining engineer and very accomplished individual by the name of Gilberto Crespo y Martínez was in charge of the displays in Mexican exhibit. In addition to the Kiosco Morisco (Mexican Alhambra), a wooden building was constructed to house both a Mexican martial band and a cavalry squadron. It was reported that the Kiosco Morisco (Mexican Alhambra) and the Mexican band were the most popular foreign attractions at the fair.

The Kiosco Morisco was declared a National Artistic Monument by the Mexican Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia en 1972 and underwent a complete restoration in 2003. It is located at the Alameda de Santa María la Ribera which is bounded by the streets Salvador Díaz Mirón, Dr. Atl, Manuel Carpio, and Torres Bodet, in the Colony of Santa María la Ribera. It is stunningly beautiful and well worth a visit.


YayaOrchid said...

What a beautiful building! In the 'today' view, it looks very nice in the park. What beautiful scenic places to visit in Mexico! Thank you Bob for taking the time to write and share this with your readers!

Anonymous said...

Love the story and your curiosity and ability to bring to light the charm and history of Mexican culture. Bravo

Please keep doing these stories, including, those of every day items, sal de uvas, Marias etc... They give us insight into everyday items and Mexican culture.

glorv1 said...

Those are all beautiful buildings. Mexico sure does have great artists and architects. Thx for the pix. By the way, there are a few more dichos left on my blog if you care to read them. Esteemarlu left some good ones and yaya left a good one too. Take care Professor.

Billie said...

I've met Malcolm. In fact I think he was at my house one time with some other friends while his show was up here in San Miguel. You know it is a small world and it seems like you and I have put our feet in the same place a few times.
Really, really small world.

Mexico Cooks! said...

Bob! I was walking around in that park in Mexico City just about 10 days ago. A friend of mine lives on Calle Dr. Atl, just opposite the kiosko.

The kiosko is just as beautiful today as it always has been, a treasured part of Mexico's history.


Jesus Chairez said...

I live across the street from the Kiosco Morisco the park Alameda Santa Maria la Ribera. This is a great information and you have a great blog too.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.