Proposal for the Naming of the Malecon of Santo Domingo as a Treasure of Material Cultural Heritage

Presented by
Dolores Vicioso
Editorial Director
[email protected]
Tel 809 565-6510

The Malecon of Santo Domingo

The Malecon of Santo Domingo is a 14-km long four-lane boulevard that runs west-east-west along the southern coast of the capital of the Dominican Republic. Its past and continued participation in the cultural life of practically all residents and visitors to Santo Domingo makes it is worthy of being chosen “treasure of material cultural heritage.” The Malecon is competing for the distinction in the contest organized by the International Bureau of Capitals of Culture.

The Malecon dates back to the days when the city was rebuilt after the devastation of Hurricane San Zenon in 1930, with works beginning in 1931. Engineer Jose Ramon Baez Lopez-Penha was responsible for the layout and the construction was entrusted to Concretera, C. A., under Francisco Martinez Alba. Martinez Alba would later build the Las Americas Highway.

The Malecon is an extension of the Paseo Padre Billini that was built in 1905 and bordered the Colonial City alongside the Caribbean Sea. The new section was named George Washington Avenue on 23 February 1936.

In the 50s the Malecon was extended to reach the Eugenio Maria de Hostos Park and the Hotel Jaragua. Its concrete benches, that have served so many over the years, provided continuity all along the avenue.

In 1968, the boulevard was extended once again, this time to the Port of Haina with the construction of the section that is now known as 30 de Mayo Highway, commemorating the assassination of dictator Rafael Trujillo. The 30 de Mayo intersects with the Prolongacion Independencia (then Carretera Sanchez) and the Luperon Avenue. Even if its many sections have different names, as far as residents of the city and visitors are concerned, they have always been simply known as The Malecon.

The Malecon dresses up with color for the grand carnival parade in March. July is time for dancing in the street, with the Merengue Festival. The Malecon is the focus of Christmas and New Year partying, with artistic performances at its plazas and on the avenue itself that is closed off for the live performances.

It is also a collection of historical sites, with several sections of colonial walls still visible. Its monuments commemorate important happenings. See the San Gil Fort, the monument to the Aurora shipwreck, the Monument to Financial Independence celebrating the paying of the foreign debt, the Obelisk of Santo Domingo, the Monument to Fray Anton de Montesinos, recognized as the first precursor of human rights in the Americas, and the monument to those accused of killing Trujillo.

It is the face of the city and mirror to migrations. Dominicans learned about Italian food when the Bonarelli family opened the Vesuvio Restaurant in the 50s, making it the place to go for family reunions years before it was discovered by tourists. When that happened, the Bonarellis added Dominican cooking as a complement.

And although in its early days, wealthy families built their villas there, over the years the Malecon has given way to mixed use, with the building of hotels and luxury towers for those who want more time to contemplate the lovely vistas.

Early in the morning, the Malecon is a haven of peace bringing respite and mental sanity to residents of a city that can be more times chaotic than quiet.

Coconut trees, palm trees, sea grape and almond trees, and even the occasional pine tree make up the vegetation. But the trees of the Malecon mainly serve to frame the views that can be seen to the southwest of the Port of Haina or to the east of the Port of Santo Domingo, and to the quiet or raging waters of the Caribbean Sea. There are patches of sufficient trees in key points to provide the shade for hours of sea contemplation. As the day picks up, the Malecon becomes more a thoroughfare, but then at night it resumes its role as a setting for relaxation and recreation.

The views with the waves breaking against the rocky coastline create create a feeling of peace and tranquility that is an integral part of the life of city dwellers. To “go down to the Malecon” has been a part of all our lives. To watch the splendor of daybreak or sunset is part of the culture of the capital city dweller. The vistas are spectacular, from the skyline of the skyscrapers that mark the city, the colonial walls or the Columbus Lighthouse.

What can be done at the Malecon is a reflection of the city itself. At its westernmost end, a sprawling flea-market on Sunday, further to the east the Casa de Espana social club, the Caribe University, the Farmers Fair and the Go-Karts Race Track. Several restaurants would follow the Vesuvio, among these Chalet Suizo, Rancho Suizo, Adrian Tropical, Parrillada D’Luis, La Llave del Mar. There are the Presidente Beer offices and factory, as well as the city’s heliport.

The modern building that houses the Supreme Court of Justice overlooks the avenue from the Centro de los Heroes (1955), the center for government offices that includes the National Congress and the City Hall, the La Paz Church and several buildings that were designed by architect Guillermo Gonzalez, considered “Father of Modern Architecture in Santo Domingo.” There also is the Pavilion of Nations (The Little Globe) by Dominican architect Jose Amable Frometa Pereyra, a sculpture that has become a city landmark.

The Loyola School, formerly the Pavilion of Spain in the 1955 World Fair, was built by Javier Barroso, the architect who rebuilt the Columbus Alcazar.

The Ministry of Foreign Relations is located across the Malecon to impress distinguished visitors with its splendid vistas. The building is an architectural jewel, built by famous Antonin Nechodoma and Dominican Jose Caro Alvarez from 1912-1930.

The city's luxury movie theater is there in Malecon Center. And further on, the Ministry of Culture.

The largest concentration of hotel rooms in the city is located along the Malecon. The tall palm trees stand guard in front of the hotels together with the horse buggies that await tourists who want to take a more leisurely tour of the city.

The obelisks are among the most photographed monuments of the boulevard, but now there is also the new Plaza Juan Baron with several activities scheduled. The Malecon is a platform and stage for cultural life in the city.

Residents all have more memories of time spent on this avenue than on any other – romance, flying kites, family excursions, walking in deep thought along the Caribbean Sea. There we went to see the carnival with our parents, we went on romantic strolls, to street parties, but then we came back for quiet walks with friends, especially those of more than 60 years.

The Malecon is famous for what it is but for also for where it leads. It doesn’t keep its beauty to itself and unfolds into the lovely Avenue of the Port or leads into the Colonial City and later into the Las Americas Expressway, or links with the highway that travels on to the Southwest.

There is no doubt that the Malecon deserves to be chosen one of the seven treasures of material cultural heritage of Santo Domingo. And it deserves the distinction to remind citizens that it can’t be taken for granted for what it is and needs us now so that it may always be there for us. The Malecon needs our love and attention. This recognition can focus attention on the city so that we can notice it is lacking, and given its historic and cultural perspective deserves better luck.

With problems of lighting and safety, the Malecon needs to emerge from its present state of neglect and again dress up as one of the most beautiful avenues in the world that is home to the cultural wealth of the city of Santo Domingo. A step in this direction is voting for its recognition as one of the seven treasures of material cultural heritage of Santo Domingo.