“Five minutes are enough to dream a lifetime, that’s how relative time is.”
In memory of Mrs. Toñita Hilera de Dapena, Mrs. Julia Ríos, Mrs. Hilda Conesa de Yordán, Mrs. Julita and Mr. Toño González.
In memory of Gonzalo Diago Betancourt, José D. (Lolo) Castro González, Jaime Julio Yordán Conesa and Winston Ramírez Irizarry.
Upon my arrival in Ponce, the historic area was well regulated, but very little encouraged by our Institute of Culture. Even the owners of the structures felt that they were depriving them of the free use of their properties.
It was a boiling kettle that soon exploded. It became what the always witty journalist Luis R. Varela called “The hysterical zone”.
Since then, a restoration and development plan for the city was needed, such as the one implemented many years later by Governor Rafael Hernández Colón and in his time captained by Mayor Rafael “Churumba” Cordero, sons of Ponce who deeply loved their city.
What I want to relate today is, however, that by the time of my arrival the city was already developing, and before my eyes it continued to grow, especially in the urban south and east of the historic area, a modern Ponce that, In my opinion, its spearhead was the start in 1956 of the Commonwealth Oil Refining (CORCO) operations and the jobs that it produced.
Icons of that development were also the Darlington Building, the Acoustic Shell, the Santa María University on its current campus (it had started at the San Conrado College headquarters); Las Américas Avenue, which ran across the entire front of the university campus from Hostos Avenue to the east to Muñoz Rivera Avenue to the west; the futuristic architecture of the Iglesia Santa María Reina, the Academia Santa María; and the birth of the Caribbean School, created especially for the children of Americans who came to work in the petrochemical complex.
This began in a structure built in “durotex”, a carcinogenic material that was also manufactured in Ponce. It had a large patio and was located between the southern end of the university campus and Avenida Muñoz Rivera.
I saw her every afternoon when she crossed from the also recently built Villa Grillasca urbanization (an area par excellence for university accommodation), dribbling a ball, towards the cement fields of the Santa María University, to “eat court.”
There were also the Fullana or Mariani Extension urbanizations, the Santa María and in it the always busy YMCA; the La Rambla urbanization; the Tastee-Freez in the Santa María and La Rambla urbanizations; Paquito Montaner Park, still new at eight years of age, and on its playing field a portable court to play superior basketball, (trying to silence with it a solemn promise and a law to build an indoor court for the city, another volcano on the verge of exploding, to which as time goes by, in full view of all, we pour gasoline and fan it).
Symbols of this contemporary emerging modernity were also the new Ponce Court, which adjoined the Gándara residential complex (the court was still on the second floor of the El Castillo Building, which today is the School of Fine Arts); and the new building of the District Hospital, part of what is now the San Lucas Dos Hospital.
A separate paragraph deserves for me, in “the gold of my memories”, the inauguration of the Ponce Intercontinental Hotel on El Vigía hill, where I enjoyed musical concerts and unforgettable moments with my university girlfriend, Lena María (Luna) Franceschi Irizarry, then my wife and mother of our three children.
There are two facts, unrelated to each other and actually very simple, insignificant if you will, which I remember particularly however.
One of my first friends residing in the Villa Grillasca urbanization was Neco Santiago, the brother of a well-known and beloved figure in Ponce, Froilán Santiago, who for many years was Sales Manager of the Serrallés Distillery, a family from Juana Díaz.
Neco was passionate about baseball and he followed the rookie year with frenzied passion day by day, with the new Giants already settled in San Francisco, the “Baby Bull” Orlando “Peruchín” Cepeda. It happened in 1958.
It was crazy. I would rush to my lodge to imitate the narrator I had just heard of each of the 25 home runs in its first season. It is a very simple fact, certainly, but it is deeply rooted in the memory of my first months in Ponce.
The fact that follows struck me because of how strange and alien it was to the world from which I came. It happened that among many of the young Ponceños my age, especially among the boys from Ponce High School (Doctor Pila didn’t exist yet), there was a fever of fantasy military marching competitions, which they were very good at.
So much so that they told me (I don’t know for sure) that a Ponce High team had won a great prize in that specialty in the United States.
I still have in my memory the memory of the face of the one who was pointed out to me with admiration as the leader of the winning team, the hero of that youth from Ponce. His name was or was called “Piloto” and he lived in one of the first houses on the recently built Avenida Las Américas, near and on the same sidewalk as what is now Burger King, which is on the corner of Avenida Hostos.
The fever was so great that many of the young people unconsciously walked marching in their daily lives, a fact that I understood better, I think, because they had just arrived from another cultural reality.
I reiterate, for you and me, that the day I graduated from high school at the San Antonio de Padua School in Isabela, I could not make a better decision than to come to study at that university, which was barely nine years old. , which only had three simple buildings and a temple of modernist architecture.
Ponce: choosing you was a huge success for me.