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Costa Rica historic preservation offers little for owners

May 22, 2009

The four blocks surrounding the historic center of San José are lined with contrasts.

Water-damaged, 19th century architectural relics sit across from brightly-colored, concrete nuisances near the pedestrian intersection of Avenida Central and Calle Central. A relaxing fountain, where the elderly read newspapers under the shade of sagging tree limbs, sits a half-block from light posts with chipped paint and missing lamps.

Since every block has a different mood, there´s a disjointed feeling emitted by the contrasting styles of the buildings.

The Heritage Center, part of the Culture Ministry, is trying to promote the preservation and restoration of historic buildings and districts. But with laws that tend to threaten punishment, instead of offering assistance, they have found themselves relegated to focusing on a few isolated problems every year.

This year, the center has a list of six buildings it will restore in San José, with a price tag of $1.4 million, said Sandra Quirós, the director of the Center. One of those is La Alhambra, located a half-block south of the central intersection and named after the famous 14th Century palace in Granada, Spain.

With the help of the southern Spanish autonomy of Andalucía, the sagging beige and burgundy building will be restored to a more respectable and original state of appearance.

“We´re very proud to have a historic property,” said Carlos Berciano, the nephew of the owner, Estela Rodriguez.

But after a fire gutted the top floor and damaged the roof´s beams just over a year ago, Estela Rodriguez didn´t have the money to repair the damage, let alone take care of the worn-down exterior of the late-19 th Century structure.

“We´re talking about a lot of money,” Berciano said.

To be more exact, close to $84,000 will go into the restoration, with the Culture Ministry and the Andalucían Council for Housing and Planning splitting the bill almost directly down the middle.

Even with the restoration, there are problems to face. One revamped building, surrounded by grimy structures lined in cracked paint, hardly transforms the block – though that was the idea.

See May 29 print or PDF edition of The Tico Times for more on this story.

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