I still find myself pondering my recent visit to Paséo Sáenz Peña in the district of Barranco, Lima, Peru.
Whilst sitting in the covered bench area, overlooking the Pacific, I saw a sign that I instantly dismissed. It was a harbinger that all too frequently happens to artistic neighborhoods: a forthcoming luxury apartment development. This one touts itself as Entre el Cielo y el Mar (between the sky and the sea).
With signs like that some could say it’s a return to Barranco’s finer days. Others might eschew this as gentrification.
Consider these facts about the area, a formerly favored vacation area for wealthy locals: a small handful of ambassadors live in the area; famous Peruvian artists and writers are said to as well. Signs adhered haphazardly around the area, akin to “Missing Cat” notices, advertise roommates or landlords who only want foreign roommates. I saw no prices on these signs, so I can’t speak to the cost of rent, though Lonely Planet literally refers to Barranco as the “tony” area of Lima.
I’ve been to the tony places at night, and concede that it’s true. However, my new free-spirited friends who sell handmade jewelry to tourists on stone promenades over the Pacific also live there.
Flipping through some real estate prices reveal that some of the casonas reach US $1.4 million and higher. Judging by the fact that Barranco has evidently won design awards for its rehab efforts of several century-old mansions, I’m connecting more and more the gentrification word and the elevated real estate prices.
Many of the tall, two-story buildings along the street are well-maintained former casonas (mansions) that now house commercial and nonprofit establishments. For instance, in optimistic colors 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.)
Lima already has exclusive communities such as Miraflores and San Isidro. Let’s let the artists have at least one of their own.