Friday 14 May 2021

Goodbye to 110 Years of History: the Limón Bar Frequented By A President and Witness of A Famous Crime

It was a place frequented by a president and witness of a famous crime. The Limón bar, on Avenida 7 de San José collected more than 110 years of history until, this week, it was reduced to rubble.

The Limon Bar before being demolished. Foto: Gesline Anrango

Since June 25, a group of workers has demolished the old structure that was once owned by the Spaniard Juan Horacio Puertas Amieva, who turned the business into a distinguished point of the capital. It was located near the Heredia by Tibás bus stop, on the north side of downtown San Jose.

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The Limón bar was the scenario to one of the most infamous crimes in the history of Costa Rica: the murder of Dr. Ricardo Moreno Cañas.

That’s what the Limón bar looked like 60 years ago. Photo taken from the book presidencies of the Castillo Azul.

It all happened on the night of August 23, 1938, when two policemen from the Guardia Civil (now the Fuerza Publica or national police) were stationed at the corner of the premises. There, they observed Beltrán Cortés approaching, who minutes before had left a trail of death.

Beltrán Dalay Cortés Carvajal (21 November 1908 – 11 June 1984) had fatally shot three times the man who at that time was considered the most famous doctor in Costa Rica and the first surgeon of the time, as well as a legislator.

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While fleeing, he also murdered Dr. Carlos Manuel Echandi Lahmann, another noted doctor, and a Canadian citizen named Arthur Maynard and severely injured two others. Prior to the murders, he had threatened killing the two doctors, who had operated on him years earlier.

The officers captured the killer in front of a house located next to the bar: the residence of former president Otilio Ulate.

Cortés is one of the most famous former prisoners of San Lucas Island.

Otilio Ulate, the stellar client

Otilio Ulate, who served as President of Costa Rica from 1949 to 1953, had a very close relationship with the centenary cantina and with Juan Puertas, who acquired the business in 1960.

Former president Otilio Ulate (center), poses next to the old owner of the Limón bar, Juan Puertas. Photo: Supplied by Mario Zaldívar.

Ulate spent every morning at the bar to have a drink before starting his walk of about 600 meters from his home and to Casa Presidencial (Government House), which at that time was located in what is today the headquarters of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE).

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Upon returning to his residence, now converted into a motel, the former president visited the cantina, according to the architect and researcher Andrés Fernández.

The relationship between Ulate and Puertas was so close that the head of state became the godfather of two of the daughters of Spaniard.

Otilio Ulate with Juan Puertas and his wife, during the christening of their daughter, Ana Rita. Photo: Supplied by Mario Innecken Puertas

But not only that, it seems that the bar had a secret compartment that Ulate entered to hide from the journalists and enjoy a drink in peace, accompanied by “boquitas” (snacks).

“I half saw it once (the secret compartment), I was in the bathroom in the back, but I did not see it very well, but it is true that it existed,” said Puertas’ grandson, Mario Innecken Puertas.

Mysteries, stories and memories

One of the great mysteries that surround this bar is the origin of its name, since, according to Fernández, it was not Puertas who baptized it, but it already had that name when he acquired it.

His grandson does not know the reason either, nor the writer Mario Zaldívar, author of the book ‘300 cantinas antiguas de Costa Rica‘, who recalled one of the most curious anecdotes of the bar’s past.

“The Municipality of San José agreed to leave at the discretion of the bartenders to open a Good Friday and the Limón bar was the first one opened, I went for a walk to see which ones dared and that was the first one I found, after he says was the Tapioca in Barrio Mexico that also opened that same day,” Zaldívar said.

Not only the years or the memories gave account of the antiquity of the business, but also its structure, made from adobe (an unburnt brick dried in the sun, a mudbrick) and bahareque (construction material similar to adobe, consisting of clay or mud reinforced with sticks or canes), among other materials. Despite its long history, it was never declared as heritage (Patrimonio in Spanish), which would not be possible according to architect Andrés Fernández.

The Spaniard Juan Puertas, attending a business during his youth, before becoming the owner of the Limón bar. Photo by Amantes de Casa Antiguas CR

“Architecturally the place was very transformed and damaged, in which case what could be declared heritage is the site because of the historical memory that it keeps,” said Fernández.

In any case, the architect was critical of the Ley de Patrimonio (Heritage Law) of our country.

“It’s wrong (the law), I consider as a specialist that heritage declarations are the worst thing that can happen to a well-built property because it ceases to be yours. When I have to ask what I can do with my property it is not mine anymore,” he said.

For him, the solution for private owners to preserve historic buildings is to make a change in the regulations that modify the law’s “confiscatory” aspect and establish parameters.

The man behind the bar

The history of the Limón bar is tied to that of Juan Puertas, the Spaniard who, like many others, arrived in the country during the first half of the 20th century, and who mainly worked in cantinas or as waiters, explained Fernández.

Juan Puertas, serving the clientele at the Limón bar. Photo by Amantes de Casa Antiguas CR

This was the case of Puertas, who started in the country working as a waiter at the soda Palace (closed in 1999), which allowed him to save enough money to finally buy the Limon bar.

The Spanish died in 2015, due to a cardiorespiratory arrest from a skin cancer that had removed him from his beloved bar.

When seeing the deterioration of the man, his children decided to sell the bar and that the old man could rest. However, the sale would not materialize until a year ago, said his grandson Mario Innecken.

“They (the family) tried to rent the patente (bar license) first, but it was not possible until finally a buyer was found,” he said.

The Puertas family realized the demolition of the building when one of the children observed the rubble while passing by the site, a situation that has filled each with nostalgia.

“My mom and my aunts became very sad, nostalgic, first because thanks to that (the bar), they were able to eat and have something to wear, then because of the cultural legacy, since practically you can count in one hand the cantinas (of San Jose),” Innecken said.

Source (in Spanish): La Nacion

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We strive for accuracy in its reports. But if you see something that doesn’t look right, send us an email. The Q reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it’s accuracy.

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