· Traveling from Riviera Nayarit to the town of Bellavista is like making a trip to the past
The charismatic custodian of Bellavista usually begins his speech by saying: “My name is Juan Caña Stephens and I’m in charge for everything that you see here, although all of this is property of the State Government, the INAH and of Conaculta”. He usually gathers crowds of tourists who sit on the steps of the old textile factory just as if they were elementary school students.
Caña is a former elementary school teacher, and his descriptions of the architecture of this beautiful spot of Nayarit Colonial take us to past times. He smiles and asks, “What did you notice on the bricks?” and continues “You may not have noticed anything, but I’ve been studying them for years”.
And this is how the class actually begins. Bellavista is an archaeological site, not of pre-Hispanic times but of Modern Mexico; they are the remains of an old textile factory of European-inspired architecture that extends throughout the town, blending with the lush landscape of central Nayarit to give it a very special look.
José María de Castaños y Llano from Santander partnered with Ignacio Fletes from Jalisco, and founded the factory on September 11, 1841. Here, even the name was imported, as José María’s son saw the “Bellevue” factory on the city of Ghent while he was on a trip in Belgium, and decided to name his factory “Bellavista”.
Technology, knowledge, and large quarry blocks were all brought from the Old Continent, and the factory was built as an exact replica of the factory in Ghent. It soon became a commercial reference model in Nayarit and throughout the country.
The factory’s success was perhaps due to experience of José María. He arrived in Mexico City in 1810 (at the beginning of Mexico’s Independence, on September 16, 1810), together with his uncle Don Antonio de Llano y Álvarez, who was captain of the Leales de Fernando VII battalion and owner of large estates in Chapulimita and Casa Blanca, near Ahualulca.
They moved to Guadalajara and then to Tepic, where he made a fortune in the shipping industry before marrying Gabriela de Lazcano y Sagaz de Cañizares, daughter of a Basque businessman and born in Tepic in 1824. As a traveling agent he served the Barron-Forbes house of the British consul Eustaquio Barrón (1790-1859) and the U.S. consul Guillermo Forbes Sempill (1790-1884), great merchants in the San Blas-Tepic-Guadalajara area. He served as boat captain, and his business continued to expand until he was able to have his own ships, which traveled from San Blas to the ports of Mazatlan, San Francisco, California and the East, Macao, mainly within the rule of China. He was the first to introduce the Mexican peso in Asia, and was appointed Consul of the United States and Spain. In 1839, together with Vicente García Granado, he founded a commercial house in the port of Mazatlan, a port that was given command of the Customs of San Blas. This was the context in which the Bellavista factory was born.
His fortune kept growing, and in 1843 he sent his technicians to Don Jose Palomar, who later became Governor of Jalisco, (Tepic was part of Jalisco at the time), and associated with Spanish businessman Francisco Martínez Negrete to build the textile factory in Atemajac, called La Prosperidad. In Guadalajara he founded the factory La Escoba in 1841, and the paper factory El Batán and La Experiencia, co-property of Manuel Olasagarre, Sotero Prieto y Compañía. In 1866, he founded the Rio Blanco factory, originally located in El Salto and years later moved to Zapopan Jalisco. José María de Castaño y Llano built a superb mansion, which is now a historical monument in the city of Tepic, in the streets of Mexico and Hidalgo Avenue, a house later used by the powerful Casa Aguirre, consisting of the Basque family of Juan Antonio and Domingo Aguirre, his successor.
But good luck also comes to an end. According to INAH, the factory went bankrupt in 1846, and when José María died, Bellavista owed $136,000 pesos to the Luzárraga house in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
Barrón -Forbes purchased the factory and owned it for 47 years. The Barrón -Forbes consolidated their fortune and became the largest financial institution in the country, to the extent that they even granted loans to President Juarez in 1847 and years later to Lerdo de Tejada.
In 1885, the Barrón-Forbes Company was dissolved and most of the property went into the hands of the Barrón children and grandchildren, who eight years later liquidated their entire estate. Bellavista went through many owners and became part of the assets of the Aguirre family.
Bellavista has a special place in the history of trade unionism in Mexico. There was a famous workers’ strike (which for some was just a brief work stoppage), headed by the brothers Pedro and Enrique G. Elías, and followed by sisters Francisca and Maclovia Quintero. The strike broke out unexpectedly on March 20, 1905 as a result of a political and unprecedented event in the social life of the region and country.
As expected, disgruntled workers were deemed by employers and authorities as criminals, and were repressed by the police. However, workers fearlessly marched in the city of Tepic and protested to the administrator of the Aguirre House.
The leaders chose not to expose workers, and even though they didn’t get a positive response to their demands, this emerging struggle was in itself a victory for the workers because it united them around a common cause, and symbolically became the beginning of an unstoppable social rebellion.
A HISTORY OF MASONS
“So, what did you see on the bricks?” said Juan Caña at the end of his course. “Look at all those symbols carved on the façade, they are Masonic symbols”. There are plenty of them, and there is even an unfinished Masonic temple half a block-away, whose construction dates from 1872. Juan Caña Stephens’ class his ends with a question: “Does anyone know what they mean? I do not.”
HOW TO GET THERE
To go from Riviera Nayarit to the town of Bellavista you can take any of the roads leading to Tepic. You can stay overnight in the state capital, and make a short trip of less than ten minutes north on the highway to Aguamilpa, before taking the junction to this beautiful site.