An exterior view of the Velasco house.
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July 2006

Santiago's Casa de los Velasco:
A witness of our Colonnial past

The building site for this house was given by the Cabildo de Santiago to conqueror Esteban Hernandez de Contreras, in 1556. It had different owners until Juan de Abaitúa built his house in it, after the 1730 earthquake.

On the last years of the Colonial times, what could be found here was a one-storey building made with adobe and tiles, with a façade looking right to the Santo Domingo convent street. It had two inner patios and a large allotment garden, with an exit towards the street of the Claras nuns, now known as Mac-Iver. On the year 1818, right in the middle of the Independence process, the house was bought by Jose Antonio Rodriguez Aldea, Secretary of the Treasury and personal councilor of Supreme Director Bernardo O’Higgins.

Rodriguez Aldea was a succesful politician and lawyer, who used to hold in his house regular meetings (then known a ‘tertulias’). He got married twice with two sisters: Rosario and Maria Mercedes Velasco Oruna. It was in this house where he raised his twelve children. For them he built a second floor and a chapel, in which he was waken when he died, in the year 1841 (and was later waken his wife, Maria Mercedes, in 1846). The Rodriguez Velasco siblings decided to sell the house, which was then bought by their cousin Jose Maria Velasco Almarza.

It was inherited by his sons, the brothers Velasco Muñoz; two Art collectors who filled the house with furniture and family portraits. From then on the house was known as the “Casa de los Velasco” (Velasco house), and it became one of the city’s most curious spots. Lots of chronicles of those time tell about its patios and halls.

Just before they died, leaving no descendants, the Velascos got rid of the house. The second patio and the old allotment garden were demolished in order to build houses for rent. The first patio was bought by the Chilean Electrical Co. in the year 1928. Its president, Mr. Pearson, hired British architect Victor Heal to complete its restoration. What he did was highlighting the building’s colonial origin, adding a balcony in the façade, and putting fences, beams and doors on the inside (most of them, coming from de demolition works at the San Francisco cloisters).

He ordered the painting of the whole exterior in red, and put Chilean governor José Antonio Manso de Velasco’s coat of arms right over the former portal. He mistakenly thought that this was the same Velasco family that had lived in the house since 1818.

The house in the year 1910
The Velasco house became a Historical Monument in the year 1981. The house was badly damaged by the 1985 earthquake and was taken on bailment five years later by Senator Gabriel Valdes, who hired architects Juan Echeñique and Jose Cruz for its complete recovery. The Senate used it for its presidency until 2001, when it was given to Chile’s Constitutional Tribunal to hold its headquarters. Currently the house belongs to the Fomento de la Producción Corporation.


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