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Contact: SAJU Superintendent, 787-729-6777San Juan National Historic Site Family:
Recently questions have arisen about why the restoration of the walls that are white in color. We appreciate every opportunity we have to explain our Puerto Rican history!
The preservation of the Santa Elena and San Agustín Bastions is the first comprehensive preservation project that has been done at the park under the National Park Service (NPS), to protect resources that have been in peril since Spanish colonial times. This section of the wall, through the history of the fortifications is one of the most fragile because of erosion on the foundations of the wall. Santa Elena dates back to the 16th century and in the site where San Agustín Bastion is, the Spanish constructed the San Gabriel Battery, remodeled in the 1640's and renamed “San Agustín”. Both bastions have been subjected, throughout their almost 500 years of existence, to numerous changes, mainly to adapt to the military technology of the time. The only thing that didn't change until the end of the 19th century was the materials and constructive techniques employed to build and maintain them.
The West Wall was originally built using sandstone and bricks, filling them with rubble. The exterior faces of the walls were then coated with a mortar mix made of sand and lime. In certain cases, and depending on what part of the fortification system, the lime mortar mix can include brick dust. However, in the material analysis of the mortar used for the coating of the exterior surfaces of the West Wall, brick dust was not found. That means that the walls, when maintained by the Spanish, retained a bone white color. This means that in performing regular maintenance to the walls (every 5-10 years, depending on the section of the wall) the Spanish would've maintained the wall clear of vegetation and looking clean or with the appearance of being "new".
In keeping with this tradition, the NPS has looked back at what the Spanish did, how they did it, and what materials were used. Before we started the preservation project we did a condition assessment to ensure that we were addressing the structural and aesthetic conditions of the West Wall. We have studied the effects of the use of materials such as cement and how they have affected the historic fabric of the walls. Our amazing and gifted masons have done many wall mock ups in which they practice proper removal of incompatible materials, and its replacement with traditional (historically documented) materials. We tested the chemicals for the removal of the micro-flora, lichens and other biological elements to ensure the elimination of moisture sources. We did this to ensure that before we even went to work at the wall, we have removed or minimized any undesired outcome when preserving the wall.
The park knew that the walls would "look like new" when we went into this project. We took a culturally conscious decision to go with the best solution to preserve the wall. A decision that is consistent with our Spanish history.
The mission of the National Park Service is "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." In this project the NPS has made sure that the staff working on it is second to none, that treatment recommendations are derived from documented conditions and proven effective not only by past practice but also by scientific testing. We are following the traditions and techniques used by our ancestors but mixed and enhanced by the technological improvements of the 21st century. We are very proud of what our internationally renowned preservation team has done and are doing to preserve the Santa Elena and San Agustín Bastions.