“The Plaza de Armas (literally Weapons Square, but better translated as Parade Square or parade ground) is the name for the main square in many Hispanic American cities. . . While some large cities have both a Plaza de Armas and a Plaza Mayor, in most cities those are two names for the same place.” –Wikipedia
In Torreón, there are both.
I went on a tour with my boss and some coworkers to La Plaza de Armas on a Saturday in January. I love history and this kind of thing is right up my alley.
Torreón is a young town, compared to many cities in Latin America; a railroad town that was born in the early years of the twentieth century, much like DeQuincy.* The date of incorporation is 1907. The architecture is pretty ordinary, but there are a few things that really stand out and give my wistful soul a thrill.
Teatro Nazas (somewhat of a misnomer considering that the name comes from the baskets that natives used to use to catch fish: “la nasa,” en español), built in the 1940s, is pretty cool because the entire facade is made of zinc. Zinc is a mineral mined in the state of Chihuahua and processed in Torreón, along with gold and silver.
Torreón was, it seems, very proud of the bank building that went up in the nineteen-teens. It was at the time the tallest building in town. It is now a municipal building where you can go to pay your taxes and request permits for whatever you need them for, but inside is a beautiful mural, painted by a local teacher, depicting the history of the city (including the native people catching fish with their nasas), and a museum with the original bank vault.
Just off the plaza is a beautiful old building (c. 1906) and I can’t remember what our guide told us it started its life as, but at various times it was used as a stable for horses, a headquarters for Pancho Villa, and a hotel. It has been abandoned for years now, but from the outside, it brings to the imaginative mind pictures of Victorian ladies and gentlemen covered in dust looking for a bed and a meal and a bath and the clerk behind the desk taking keys from the cubby . . .
. . . but the last one, well, since we could go in, we actually saw the clerk who takes care of the keys.
I didn’t get a picture of the desk clerk and her cubby (or the original switchboard!), but Hotel Galicia is still open for business. It is of the Art Deco style of architecture, so I guess it came along a little later than the Princessa (which didn’t start out as a hotel, anyhow). Now, it looks rough, like an old lady who didn’t take care of herself that much during her wild life and now wears a twenty-five-year-old dress with frayed cuffs and hems to church. But it’s still beautiful.
The billboards on top of the house and the awnings on the sidewalks seem jarring in contrast to the filigree and reliefs on the balcony that make me think of decorative frosting on a layer cake.
The tiles were imported from Europe, and I don’t know where the stained-glass window came from, but it’s really famous ’round these parts. Well, in the circles who care about the history of Torreón, anyhow.
I didn’t take a single photo of the square itself. It is decorated with four fountains (at least one with a sculpture of a mermaid) and there’s a story about one of the original statues being removed in the 1970s because it was wearing no clothes. There are food vendors and musicians and stalls with toys and a newsstand. There’s a hexagonal clock tower (or is it octogonal? I don’t know, I didn’t count the sides). A wrought-iron fence draws a circle around the clock tower and outside the circle are the four fountains.
There was more, but I’ve gone on long enough. Don’t want to bore anyone.
Next: La Plaza Mayor.
*DeQuincy, Louisiana: the town where I was born and that most of my mother’s side of the family hail from.