Today, Santurce consists of 40 sectors. It is one of the largest wards, or divisions of a municipality, on the island, and covers an area of about 3,257 cuerdas. It is bordered on the north by the Atlantic Ocean, on the south by the Martín Peña Channel, on the east by the San José and Corozos Lagoons and on the west by San Juan Bay. Among the urban neighborhoods in Santurce are the Condado, Miramar, Villa Palmeras, Tras Talleres and Ocean Park, among others.
The Santurce sector of the capital city is a densely populated, multi-faceted community. It is an important center of economic and cultural activity. Its main thoroughfares are Ponce de León and Fernández Juncos Avenues. Other important arterials are the Baldorioty de Castro Expressway, Borinquen Avenue, Loíza Street, Ashford Avenue, McLeary Street, Eduardo Conde Avenue and De Diego Avenue, among others. The Minillas Tunnel, built in the late 1970s, divides Santurce from Hato Rey.
Among its parks and plazas are Central Park and Barbosa Park, the latter also known as the “last trolley” park because in the 1950s it was the last stop on the trolley that ran from San Juan to the border between Santurce and the municipality of Carolina. Other parks and plazas in the Condado area of Santurce are the Window on the Sea, Indian Park, the Condado Plaza and the Condado Walkway along the Condado Lagoon. The historic Market Plaza, which dates to the late 19th century, is located between the areas called Stop 19 and Stop 20 and is used in modern times as a public site for a variety of social and cultural activities.
As the city of San Juan spread beyond its walls in the early 20th century, the transportation system grew as neighborhoods were populated and highways were developed. In the late 19th century, before the arrival of the United States, the highway between San Juan and Río Piedras, which passed through Santurce, was paved with macadam. Horse-drawn trolleys provided transportation along the route. The Cangrejos area experienced huge demographic and economic growth in the latter third of the 19th century with the construction of the Camino Real, or Central Highway (begun in 1852), which crossed Cangrejos as it connected San Juan with Río Piedras.
Because of the improvements in the infrastructure and the economy, many people settled along the Central Highway. This led to the displacement of the original inhabitants to peripheral areas. The area known as El Olimpo (Miramar, today) became a residential area. With the arrival of the United States in 1898, the area known as the Condado developed. Today it is a tourism center along the Condado Lagoon.
Since the second half of the 20th century, Santurce’s identity has been tied to its public transportation system through the numbering of its bus and trolley stops. Some of these stops are still identified with nearby sites of interest, such as the Puerto Rico Museum of Art at Stop 22 and the Museum of Contemporary Art, located in the former Labra School, at Stop 18. In other cases, residents refer to various parts of Santurce based on the numbers of the trolley stops. Examples are Stop 15, Stop 18, Stop 26, and others. Many popular urban songs, especially salsa, make references to the stops in Santurce neighborhoods.
Development of the area began in the 17th century. Prior to that, it was inhabited by freed or fugitive slaves, mainly from the English or Danish colonies. The Cangrejos area, which was also the original name of Santurce, was located alongside the bridge that connected the islet of San Juan with the “big island” and other nearby areas. The area was named Santurce in 1880 in honor of one of the largest landowners in Cangrejos, Pablo Ubarri, the count of San José de Santurce (from Santurtzi, Vizcaya), who served as mayor of Cangrejos from 1864 to 1876. Among other contributions, Ubarri boosted the development of Santurce with the construction of a streetcar system that was inaugurated in 1878.
In 1773, the residents of Cangrejos asked to be separated from the civil territory of Río Piedras. Since 1729, there had been a chapel in the area and in 1760 it was replaced by a church devoted to Saint Matthew. There were five sectors: Cangrejos Arriba (today Isla Verde), Machuchal (today the Loíza Street sector), Puente (Stop 26 and Barrio Obrero), Seboruco (today Villa Palmeras) and Hato del Rey (today Hato Rey). Because most of the landowners did not live on their farms, the economy of the town never developed to high levels. In 1862, because of the town’s financial problems and the need to expand the territory of the capital, the colonial government withdrew the designation of Cangrejos and divided its territory between San Juan, Río Piedras and Carolina.
Beginning in the 1920s, many rural residents left the mountains in search of jobs and a better life in the city. Most of them settled in the wetlands and mangroves in Santurce in poor neighborhoods such as La Colectora, El Fanguito, La 23 Abajo, Martín Peña, Tras Talleres, Cantera and Gandul, among others. By the 1950s, Santurce had experienced a marked growth in population and had bloomed financially.
Since then, Santurce has undergone many changes. The desire for modernization has led to the expropriation of poor communities to make way for residential and industrial urban projects, although public housing projects such as Luis Llorens Torres still sit alongside residential neighborhoods and tourism areas. In recent decades, sectors such as El Fanguito, Buenos Aires, Melilla, Gandul, Figueroa and part of Tras Talleres have disappeared. Also, with the formation of suburbs on the outskirts of the original urban area, Santurce began to lose population and decline.
Current projects are aimed at revitalizing the area. In 1994, the San Juan Bay Estuary Program began with the purpose of implementing an environmental restoration plan for the bodies of water that form the estuary: the Martín Peña Channel, San José Lagoon, Los Corozos Lagoon, Suárez Canal, La Torrecilla Lagoon, Piñones Lagoon, Condado Lagoon, San Antonio Canal and Las Cucharillas Swamp.
Another purpose of the project is to revitalize the communities near these bodies of water. Various community efforts have been created to ensure that residents participate in the decisions about the estuary improvement plan. Among these efforts are the Cantera Peninsula Project, which aims to revitalize the sectors of Puente Guano, Santa Elena, Corea, Condadito Final, Último Chance and Bravos de Boston.
Additionally, the Martín Peña Channel Link Project proposes sustainable development of the communities around the canal: Barrio Obrero, Barrio Obrero Marina, Buena Vista Santurce, Cantera Peninsula, Stop 27, Las Monjas, Buena Vista Hato Rey and Israel-Bitumul. At the same time, it proposes establishment of efforts aimed at overcoming poverty and harmonizing the communities with their natural surroundings and the rest of the city.
Along with these community-based movements are cultural projects such as Arte Santurce, which is focused on improving urban life and revitalizing public spaces, infrastructure and the social and cultural life of Santurce. Centro Europa, the Fine Arts Center, the Puerto Rico Museum of Art, the tourism zones, hotels, emblematic buildings such as Central High School and Sagrado Corazón University, hospitals, churches and temples offer a variety of contrasts that represent the social diversity of the residents of the capital of Puerto Rico. The Bar Association, the Department of Justice, theaters and banks, as well as urban spaces for immigrants and public transportation projects are making Santurce a cosmopolitan center.
PROE Editorial Group