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Preserving Our University’s Historical Heritage

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UPRM chapter.

Puerto Rico has lost many important historical locations in recent years. Places that were frequented in the past years of our youth now lie behind closed gates or in ruins. The Arecibo Observatory, the Dr. Juan A. Rivero Zoo, El Cemí Museum, the ruins of the Guánica lighthouse, the Camuy River Cave Park, just to mention a few examples. Not far from the UPRM campus is the Casa Solariega, former home of one of the founders of our campus, José de Diego. The house lies in ruins with the parts of the roof caved-in, and in others the walls still hold the weight which has not given out the hanging gardens that grace the rooftop. Eight blocks west the “Casa de los Cinco Arcos”, former home of Dr. Ramón Emeterio Betances, a hero of a past pandemic, is still abandoned after years of activists proposing the creation of a museum in the home. 

On the night of the 10th of November, the Henry Klumb House near the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus, unexpectedly caught fire and burned down. Henry Klumb (1905-1984) was a German-Puerto Rican architect widely known for his modernist architecture. During twenty years he was the only individual in charge of new buildings within the University of Puerto Rico. Many students are unaware that Klumb designed several buildings in our Mayagüez campus including: Lucchetti (Mechanical Engineering), Jesús T. Pinero (Agricultural Sciences), Sánchez Hidalgo, Faculty Offices, Mangual Coliseum and the Luis Stefani buildings. He also designed the student centers (Centros de Estudiantes) and main campus libraries in both the Río Piedras and Mayagüez campuses.

The Klumb House, built in 1947 by Henry Klumb, served as his private residence until his death and was acquired in 1986 by the University of Puerto Rico, as had been Klumb’s wish. In 1997 the structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The UPR-RP’s School of Architecture was charged with the restoration of the architect’s home, but it never received proper maintenance and as a result deteriorated over the years. 

At our campus we also have our own abandoned-historic structure. The “Casilla del Caminero” was built in 1883 to house road workers during the Spanish Colonial period. This makes the “Casilla del Caminero”  the oldest structure on our campus. The Casilla is suffering a not so dissimilar plight to that of the Klumb House. Since the university administration rarely takes upon itself to cut the grass or remove the weeds, the structure is mostly covered in vegetation and is camouflaged with its surroundings. This makes the structure inaccessible and creates a risk for anyone that attempts to reach it.  Additionally, Hurricane María in 2017 and the earthquakes at the beginning of the year both damaged the structure; and it risks collapse in the near future if no action is taken. 

The author of this piece is also the co-author of a plan designed to maintain the structure of the “Casilla del Caminero” and create a mural on a nearby wall. The mural would be related to the structure and be designed to welcome visitors to the university. As with many other initiatives started within our university, nothing has changed since I presented my ideas to the student council and the administration. For now, I will continue campaigning for the Casilla del Caminero to be persevered and hope that one day in the future other students can enjoy spending time walking around and admiring this structure. 

Historical structures like the Casilla del Caminero are of importance as part of our history and culture. Preserving these structures aids new generations in understanding their past and feeling a connection to our history. Structures of such note are rare and may be able to become important locations for tourism as their preservation increases the beauty and quality of the surrounding area. In light of recent events we should feel more motivated, rather than discouraged, to help preserve and promote our history. I encourage you to try and leave a positive mark on the university whether it be by creating a group project, helping a student organization, or by supporting efforts to preserve a 137 year-old structure.

Andrea Méndez Igartua is pursuing a major in psychology and a minor in writing and communications. She's passionate about reading and writing, and hopes to publish a novel one day.