The Casa del Francés estate, built in 1910, is one of the historical buildings on the island municipality of Vieques. Its name, “House of the Frenchman,” alludes to the nationality of the original owner, Henri Mourraille, who came from the French colony of Guadalupe. The structure was the main house for the Puerto Real Central Sugar Mill, better known as the Esperanza Central Mill, which was founded in the late 19th century. Later, it became a small hotel and inn. Today, the structure is in ruins because of a fire that occurred in 2005.
Mourraille sold the property to the Bird Arias family after his failed marriage with a French woman. Later, it passed to the hands of the Eastern Sugar Associates. After the decline of the sugar industry, the property was used as a small hotel. In 1979, Irving Greenblat, the new owner, established an inn on the site. In 2002, it was bought by the United States company Brambilla Associates, which planned to transform the property into a hotel and residential complex, a plan that never came to pass because of a fire that broke out and destroyed the house in 2005.
The residence displayed traditional architectural characteristics of the big houses on the sugar plantations, along with other modern elements. Like other plantation big houses, it was a two-story, rectangular structure. The second story was surrounded by a balcony. The four-gable roof was covered with sheets of corrugated metal. The modern elements, generally in the classical style, included wood walls covered with concrete, which gave them the texture of stone, and a portico crowned with a pediment that had a roofed tympanum. Instead of an interior patio, it had a small interior garden whose size lent a more intimate air. This space provided light and ventilation to the interior and provided a transition space between the living room and dining room. Unlike older homes, the bedrooms and the kitchen were incorporated as part of the main living area.
The structure’s design took into consideration the tropical climate conditions. The entrance and the spatial distribution show similarities to many other non-urban houses that were built in the same era in the San Juan area, such as those designed by Czech architect Antonín Nechodoma (1877-1928).
After the disastrous fire, the residence was left in ruins. The level of destruction by the fire and the lack of detailed plans and blueprints prevent the reconstruction of the building in a way consonant with the current parameters of historic conservation.
Adapted by the PROE Editorial Group
Original source: Karen González Jensen, Requiem eternum Casa del Francés, 2006. Conserva, Conserva, 2ª edition, State Office of Historic Conservation Magazine, Office of the Governor.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: January 04, 2010.
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