John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Architects once contemplated a spectacular border crossing celebrating the Americas.
America elects a new president, and he immediately proposes a bold intervention on the U.S.-Mexico border: An “International Gateway of Friendship” to represent the dear bond between our great nations.
This actually happened, and not in a bizarro 2017 universe where Donald Trump speaks fluent Spanish. It was 1929, and President-Elect Herbert Hoover had floated the idea of something monumental for our associates in Central and South America. That’s according to historical documents from the 22nd Lloyd Warren Fellowship, Paris Prize in Architecture, maintained by New York’s Van Alen Institute.
The idea was strange, given the Hoover administration (with support from some city and state authorities) would right afterward help deport or “repatriate” hundreds of thousands of Mexicans as well as U.S. citizens of Mexican descent to Mexico during the Great Depression, partly due to jobs fears. But here’s the reasoning for the gateway from the competition’s “First Preliminary Exercise for the 22nd Paris Prize of the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects”:
At the suggestion of President Elect Hoover, it has been proposed to construct an international road furthering the link of friendship and commerce between the three Americas.
This road will cross our border over the Rio Grande into Mexico, and this program proposes to erect on the brink of the river a monument symbolizing this new bond between the Republics of the new world.
The project presumably never broke ground—Google shows one contemporary newspaper report about the competition’s existence from Texas’ Brownsville Herald—though there is a different, smaller, and much sadder version from the 1970s at the San Diego/Tijuana nexus. The ideas were wild, though, full of cloud-kissing arches and towers and godlike figures guarding what would’ve been a 50-foot-wide avenue. Here are some of the designs from the competition’s architects, who (in a bit of a kick in the seat to Mexico) had to be U.S. citizens. From one Harry A. Gnerre:
From C. Boutillier:
Joe D. Murphy:
N. T. Montgomery:
And E. M. Jones: