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When Calzada Zaragoza was a spa area

Current text and photography: Carlos Villasana and Ruth GómezWeb design: Miguel Ángel Garnica

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Within the framework of the Holy Week vacation period, while the inhabitants of the capital begin to leave Mexico City for the beaches or any other place without risk of environmental contingency, we remember an old option that has almost disappeared for the Chilangos: the Calzada Zaragoza spas. .

When thinking about Calzada Ignacio Zaragoza, the first thing that comes to mind is its proximity to the Mexico City International Airport and the exit to the State of Mexico or Puebla.

Zaragoza, as it is popularly called, has become one of the main arteries to the east of the capital, so it is not strange to see it surrounded by houses, buildings, formal and informal commerce and various public transport routes.

The past of the Zaragoza road

But it was not always like that, in the sixties and seventies, the Calzada looked moderately populated and with a surprisingly green landscape; which is why some properties were used to build spas where the residents of the capital could spend their weekend or a holiday.

Aerial view of the Calzada Ignacio Zaragoza in 1962, near the Puebla and Civil Aviation neighborhoods. Credit: DDF.

An excursion within the same city

A few meters from the whereabouts of the Zaragoza Metro, there is a huge housing unit called “Bahía”, so named because on the property on which it was built there was a very famous 40,000-square-meter spa.

Deportivo Bahía was next to the Calzada Ignacio Zaragoza and those who visited it remember their trip to that area of ​​the city as an "excursion", since there were no routes that quickly connected the south or north with the east.

Within its facilities there was a vegetation of two thousand trees that adorned the attractions they offered: three heated pools at 27º C, basketball courts, volleyball, racquetball, fronton, spiro ball, weights or ping pong tables.

Advertisement for Deportivo Bahía, 1973.

The building next to its main pool was adorned by the mural "Song to the ocean" by the sculptor Manuel Felguérez, who made it especially for the spa. In the lower part were the lockers and showers so that users could leave their belongings. and take the traditional “regaderazo” before swimming.

Cuando la Calzada Zaragoza era zona de balnearios

Don Jesús Navarro, a resident of the area for more than 50 years, tells EL UNIVERSAL that when he was a child he often went to the spa since it was two blocks from his house: “the water from the pools was diverted through a ditch from Bahía and Las Américas, one of a kid doesn't think and we would go swimming, so to speak,” he commented.

He explains that the official entrance was in the current Telmex offices, on the Calzada, but that he and his little friends used to jump from a tree next to the fence: “it was funny when the guards didn't catch us because we were hanging around in the pools all day, but when they caught us they threw us with everything and clothes into the water, they told us that we had wanted to enter without paying,” he said with a laugh.

According to his calculations, twenty years ago the residents of the area “lost the Bahía”. Don Mario, the name of the owner of the spa Jesus remembers, sold it after a bad run in business. Today the only thing that remains of that place is the main pool, of Olympic proportions, battered and in disuse.

Current view of what was once the main pool of Deportivo Bahía.

In his youth, Don Jesús began working at Deportivo Las Américas, which was behind the Bahía. His work was mainly cleaning, although his "compadre" of his, a friend he referred to by that nickname, taught him how to manipulate the pool boilers.

Don Jesús explains to us that it was very important to have them well calibrated because if the temperature of any of them rose, they could have caused burns to someone. According to him, everything else was routine and easy to do, so he limited himself to doing things well, learning to swim and enjoying wrestling on Sundays, since the center had an outdoor ring.

"There I got to see good famous wrestlers, they got hot, what a shame I never took a picture," he says while looking at the few images we had of the spa. In one of them, it is said that Las Américas had "one of the best, largest and best-installed equipment in Latin America for purifying the water in its three swimming pools and the children's wading pool, which is kept at a constant temperature of 27 °C, in addition to having its own Mini-Meter”.

Advertisement for Deportivo Las Américas, 1973.

The services offered by Deportivo Las Américas were not far from those that could be found in the Bahía, although it did have more children's games such as swings, seesaws, kites, a maze, a small plane, a fire station, tightrope and archery. Just like the Bahía, this sports center also disappeared.

Mr. Jesús Navarro, at the door of his house in Colonia Cuatro Arboles, a few meters from the Bahía Housing Unit.

Lastly, we met Yolanda Esquivel, who told us that she was not taking her children to Bahía or Las Américas, but to Elba, which was already more on the way to Puebla.

She shared with us that in those times, the seventies, there were no disposable containers and it was not common to use them to store food, so on her way from the south to the east she kept everything in normal pots.

She said that, unlike today, she was more used to eating cakes than sandwiches, so the bolillo was essential, the condiments with which the cakes, fruit and spaghetti would be made, all ready to be eaten cold.

Doña Yolanda, with some tenderness, explained to us that in order to get to the Elba, she and her family had to take a truck from the south to San Lázaro and from San Lázaro to Iztapalapa, where the resort is located. “It was as if you left the city, because you stopped seeing buildings and you began to see everything green. The women's prison was already on the outskirts of the capital, right now it is already in the middle,” she said.

The Elba spa, located on the slopes of the Old Rock, 1970. EL UNIVERSAL Photographic Archive.

However, she and her family stopped going when the atmosphere at the Elba spa became tense, they no longer felt comfortable visiting it. In 2005, our colleague Claudia Bolaños explained in her article "Drought and crime resort challenges in Iztapalapa", that the Elba resort had been abandoned by its first owners, some Spaniards who took advantage of the natural condition of the property, which had a waterhole, to erect the spa.

After a decade and a half of abandonment, in 1987 one hundred ejidatarios from Iztapalapa took over the spa but the social condition that prevails in said demarcation has confronted them with homeless people who want to live inside the facilities.

Currently, there are few spas in Mexico City and they are used mostly by families who cannot afford to leave the capital, they have become a place that marks the difference between classes and not as in the years seventies, when they were for any family regardless of their origin.

This note leaves a feeling of sadness, we live in a polarized society where public places where we could live without fear have been disappearing; It seems that we do not realize how important it is to know each other in order to generate pleasant collective memories and thus take care of the city that we all cohabit.

Old photograph: Villasana-Torres Collection, EL UNIVERSAL Photographic Archive. Sources: Interviews with Jesús Navarro and Yolanda Esquivel. "Drought and delinquency in Iztapalapa defy resort", by Claudia Bolaños in EL UNIVERSAL. Advertisements from various magazines from the 1970s.