What secrets do Hotel El Prado’s ceibas silently hide?

Alfredo Baldovino

Photos and Article: Alfredo Baldovino Barrios

Proud and majestic, bearing within, a history entrusted to them alone, Hotel El Prado’s ceiba trees alongside 54th and 55 avenues raise their branches in the hotel’s namesake neighborhood. Some bathe the sidewalk in shadows, intertwining with the foliage of palm trees, or shaping a makeshift tunnel as their extremities meet with adjacent mango trees. In all, they number around thirty, with enormous and sinewy trunks, from which other, no less impressive projections split, forming the quaintest of figures.

Alfredo Baldovino

Some other ceiba trees, displaying their paint-bloodied stumps, still recover from storm or man-inflicted wounds, making the most out of recent rains to exhibit their sprouts as trophies.Watching them there, so magnificent, so self-confident, despite the wrinkles in their bark, and the damage that termites have managed to inflict on some branches, it almost seems as if they’ve always stood in that place.

Alfredo Baldovino

Those ceiba trees, in fact, were planted there close to the end of last century’s roaring 20’s decade. The plan, according to architect Juan Pablo Mestre, followed the stylistic principles of the Garden City concept, which the first American architects and engineers, as part of the El Prado Property Development Company, brought to Barranquilla with the intention of implementing within the city.


On the first draft, the neighborhood was to be circled by a thick tree belt, and there would be ample and cool avenues on which to calmly stroll by twilight, and green grass to lie down and improvise a picnic. It was, in the end, an attempt to install a European urbanistic model on a small Latin-American metropolis, to remedy foreign immigrants’ nostalgia for their places of origin, and served as stimulus to American romantic sensibility to evoke with greater realism the bucolic scenes of English romanticism.

Barranquilla was, around 1920, the year in which El Prado Construction Company – presided over by Karl Parrish and Manuel De la Rosa- was legally founded, a city of 70,000 inhabitants that stood out in the national scenery as a stronghold of international; commerce. What is now known as the neighborhood of El Prado was an enormous estate, dedicated to growing cattle, lime extraction, and metal working.

The natural beauty of the haciendas, and the number of undeveloped hectares were such that Parrish, envisioning what the future city would look like, proposed to De la Rosa the construction of a residential development for Barranquilla’s well-to-do families, away from the scrum’s ruckus and protected by the tree’s shade. On a trip to the United States, the American entrepreneur would find the means to set the project in motion, and in no time, the rising quarter attracted hundreds of buyers.

And so was born the idea of raising a five-star hotel, unprecedented in the country’s history, with the highest comfort standards, to tend to the demand brought by a distinguished clientele. Its first owners would be members of the reputed Obregon family, and the design would be commissioned to engineer Bernardet Higgins. The facade’s U shape, according to Mestre, with the ceiba trees forming a tight escort on the flanks, was conceived to make use of the wind’s arrival and to promote an ambiance of freshness. And so the ceiba trees grew side by side to Colombia’s first planned borrough, while the city steadily set foot into modernity.

Alfredo Baldovino

Who knows how many secrets they keep, now that Barranquilla has grown to over 2,000,000 inhabitants. What stories would they tell if only for a moment they could talk, about outdated fashions, about the first buses to drive around the city, about the famous personalities that visited the hotel along its vast history, about the memorable carnival parties held in its courtyard, about the naked breasts that their branches gazed through half closed curtains, about forbidden love and secrets shared by the local ruling class around the pool. Silent witnesses from the roadside, to a past known only by them, the ceiba trees keep on writing their history, barely noticed, proud, discreet, resilient despite it all.

Alfredo Baldovino

Lo que dicen en silencio las ceibas del Hotel El prado

Alfredo Baldovino Barrios

Altivas, majestuosas, levantan sus ramas las ceibas del Hotel El Prado, guardando en su interior una historia que solo ellas conocen. Unas bañan de sombras la calzada, entrelazándose con el follaje de unas palmeras, o forman una especie de túnel  al tocarse en sus extremos con los palos de mango que hay del otro lado de la calzada. Son, aproximadamente, 30. Troncos gigantescos  y nervudos, de los cuales se desprenden otras ramificaciones no menos imponentes, formando las más pintorescas figuras.

Otras ceibas, mostrando sus muñones sangrientos de trementina, se reponen de las heridas infligidas por la tempestad o la mano del hombre, aprovechando las lluvias recientes para exhibir sus retoños como un trofeo. Viéndolas tan imponentes, tan seguras de sí mismas, a pesar de las arrugas de las cortezas, y de los estragos que las termitas han logrado hacer en algunas ramas, pareciera que las ceibas siempre hubieran estado allí.

Las ceibas, en realidad, no fueron sembradas sino hacia finales de la década del 20 del siglo pasado. El plan obedecía, asegura el arquitecto Juan Pablo Mestre, a los principios estilísticos del concepto de Ciudad Jardín, que los primeros ingenieros y arquitectos estadounidenses, traídos a Barranquilla por la Compañía Urbanizadora El Prado, trataron de implementar en Barranquilla.

En el bosquejo inicial, el barrio estaría rodeado por un frondoso cinturón de árboles, y habría avenidas amplias y frescas por donde pasear tranquilamente a la caída de la tarde, y  un césped verde donde tenderse a improvisar un almuerzo campestre. Era, en el fondo, un intento por instaurar un modelo urbanístico europeo en una pequeña urbe latinoamericana, que remediara la nostalgia de los inmigrantes foráneos por sus lugares de origen, o  sirviera de estímulo a la sensibilidad romántica de los estadounidenses, para evocar con mayor realismo las escenas bucólicas del romanticismo inglés.

Barranquilla era, hacia 1920, año en que se legalizó la conformación de la Constructora El Prado —presidida por Karl Parrish y Manuel de la Rosa—, una ciudad de 70.000 habitantes, que se proyectaba en el panorama nacional como uno de los bastiones del comercio internacional. Lo que actualmente se conoce como el barrio El Prado era una inmensa hacienda, dedicada a la cría de ganado, a la explotación de cal, a la herrería y a la ornamentación de interiores.

La belleza natural de la hacienda y el número de hectáreas sin construir eran tales que Parrish, visionando lo que sería la ciudad del futuro, le propuso a de la Rosa construir una urbanización residencial para las familias prestantes de Barranquilla, alejada del bullicio de las aglomeraciones y protegida por la umbría de los árboles. En un viaje a los Estados Unidos, el empresario norteamericano encontraría los medios suficientes para poner el proyecto en ejecución, y al poco tiempo, el naciente barrio atrajo la mirada de cientos de compradores.

Quién sabe cuántos secretos atesoran, ahora que Barranquilla ha superado los 2000000 de habitantes, cuántas cosas podrían contarnos si pudieran hablar por un momento, de las modas en desuso, de los primeros autobuses que circularon por la ciudad, de las personalidades ilustres que visitaron el hotel a lo largo de su historia, de las memorables fiestas de carnaval que se celebraban en su patio, de los senos desnudos que sus ramas avistaron a través de las cortinas descorridas, de los amores prohibidos y de los secretos que la clase dirigente local debió haberse contado alrededor de la piscina. Testigos silenciosos de un pasado que solos ellas conocen,  las ceibas prosiguen escribiendo su historia, sin apenas hacerse notar, orgullosas, discretas, persistentes a pesar de todo, a la orilla del camino.

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I was born and raised in Texas and found my way to Barranquilla in May 2012. When I'm not working at Barranquilla Life, I'm busy working as a counselor educator, clinical supervisor, and independent researcher. My research interests include family systems, masculinity and machismo, and technology. I enjoy beaches, tech-house music, Tex-Mex food, photography-art, and politics.

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