Architectural tales from bohemian Lima, Peru
When most expatriates and Limeans – as the natives of Lima, Peru, are called – talk about the district of Barranco, conversation usually centres on its bohemian nightlife. Today, however, marks an optimal day to explore its bohemian daylife. For that I go to Paséo Sáenz Peña.
Galleries for art and architectural furniture, a small university, and an avant-garde theatre and Latin dance centre pepper the quiet avenue. They flank a narrow peaceful park separating the lanes for some quarter mile. Musicians, artists, actors, dancers, and architectural students are as easy to spot as hippies at 1960s Haight-Ashbury. Surfers on their way to and from the beach some 200 feet below pass a harbinger for gentrification, a residential development that touts itself as Entre el Cielo y el Mar (‘between the sky and the sea’).
A small handful of ambassadors live in the area. Famous Peruvian artists and writers are said to live here, too. The area is a formerly favoured vacation area for wealthy locals, which may be recurring, as real estate prices reach US$1.4 million and higher.
Visits to Sáenz Peña repeatedly yield something new. Many of the tall, two-storey buildings along the street are well-maintained former casonas (mansions) that now house commercial and non-profit establishments. For instance, in optimistic colours ubiquitous to Lima is Aposento Los Girasoles Hospedaje (an upscale hostel). Its quaint, grassy outer courtyard offers enough privacy for two travelers to unwind over tea.
The Casa de Leeuw apartment building speaks through elegant architecture detail such as Romeo and Juliet balconies, a cupola bearing an oriel window, and muted hues that enhance designerly dimensions. Built in the early 20th century, this former vacation house for the wealthy now contains four exclusive, fully furnished apartments.
One casona seems anomalous. The large Victorian stands out not only because the architectural style isn’t common in Peru, but also because it’s in pitiful need of some care, unlike the others. It’s adoringly complete with an apropos hue of faded lemon yellow, yet it exudes the air of a haunted house. (Perhaps that’s simply because it’s empty.)
Paséo Sáenz Peña, also known as Avenida Sáenz Peña, warrants another return to witness through architecture its history since being founded in 1874. Secluded passages and tucked-away alleyways prophesy further finds in the future.