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Chapala’s architectural gem turns 99

April 8 will mark the 99th anniversary of the grand opening of Chapala’s former railway station, an architectural gem that has survived a checkered history to stand out as the city’s most imposing landmark in its reincarnation at the Centro Cultural González Gallo (CCGG).

pg3aIn celebration of the milestone, the CCGG will host a free concert of traditional Mexican music performed by the Orquesta Típica de Chapala set for Sunday, April 7, 7 p.m.

Serving its original purpose for only six years, the railway station was the product of the vision of a few bold men whose ambitious dreams were dashed by political upheaval, economic crisis and natural forces. Memorabilia from the era is displayed in one of the CCGG’s permanent galleries.

The Chapala railway line was the brainchild of Christian Schjetnan, a Norwegian adventurer-entrepreneur who discovered Chapala in 1907 and followed a grandiose dream of developing the area as a world-class resort. He coaxed several wealthy U.S. and Mexican businessmen to join him in founding the Companía de Fomento de Chapala S.A., a corporation conceived to create a full gamut of tourist services and amenities for well-heeled travelers. Prominent Guadalajara architect Guillermo de Alba was recruited to design and build the Chapala station and several smaller depots along the route.

pg3bThe Chapala railway line took its maiden run with great fanfare on Thursday, April 8, 1920, departing Guadalajara’s main station at 8:30 a.m. and pulling into Chapala at 12:45 p.m. Regular daily train service started the following Saturday.

Schjetnan and his fellow investors did not foresee the misfortunes that would doom the railway line to an untimely demise. It would compete with automotive travel from Guadalajara that was just coming into vogue. Worse still, Lake Chapala’s waters surged during the 1925 and 1926 rainy seasons, leaving the stately station flooded with water and muck standing a meter deep. Train service came to a halt, plans for building a plush hotel were scrapped and the development company folded.

Over ensuing years the station and adjacent land changed hands among various private owners, eventually falling into extreme disrepair under occupation by squatter families and their livestock. In the early 1990s, the property was donated to the state by the heirs of former Jalisco governor Jose de Jesus Gonzalez Gallo.

The building was restored in fits and starts during more than a decade before it reopened March 28, 2006 to house the CCGG, named in the late governor’s honor. Guest dignitaries attending the inauguration included Mexico’s former first lady Martha Sahagún de Fox and Christian Schjetnan Garduño, grandson of the Norwegian visionary who lost his shirt and left Chapala with a stately monument of its lost Golden Era.

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