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Admiring architecture in old Puerto Rico.

VISITORS TO THE capital city of San Juan know its old town is famous for Spanish colonial architecture. But few know of the distinctive Spanish Creole buildings in Ponce, Puerto Rico's third-largest city.

In the late 19th century, Ponce developed its own blend of Spanish Creole and neoclassical architecture called Ponce Creole; it's characterized by the use of Corinthian columns, wrought-iron balconies, and gas lamps. It was dubbed Creole because it reminded some of New Orleans's French Quarter. Wealth from Ponce's sugarcane industry financed most of the elegantly ornamented buildings.

A 1 1/4-hour drive southwest of San Juan, Ponce is worth a visit to see its architectural gems on a self-guided walk.

Begin in the heart of the recently renovated historic district, at the Plaza Central, at Simon Bolivar and Union. Here, you'll see the finest examples of Ponce Creole. Look for exterior columns, a balcony with a grille, a wall of small windows.

Along the plaza's west side, on Union, is the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture and Tourism Information Office. It's in a restored neoclassical mansion called the Casa Armstrong. Pick up a free walking-tour map here between 9 and 5 weekdays.

Walk across the plaza to the Parque de Bombas. This gaudy red- and black-striped wooden structure was built for an 1882 exposition. It later became a fire station and now houses a firefighters' museum.

Continue around the square and head down Calle Cristina to number 70, the Museum of Puerto Rican Music, another attractive example of Ponce Creole. The building also houses a fine museum that depicts various influences on Puerto Rican music. It's open 9 to noon and 1 to 4 daily except Mondays and Tuesdays. Admission costs $1, 50 cents for ages 12 and under.

From San Juan, Ponce is easy to reach by car on the Ponce Expressway or on tours offered by major hotels.
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Title Annotation:Beyond the West; Ponce, Puerto Rico
Author:Finnegan, Lora J.
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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