In a rare departure from my ongoing efforts to document the history of the authors and artists associated with Lake Chapala, this is a review of the Spanish language book Chapala: Ciudad Señorial e Insigne. Chapala cuenta su historia. (Chapala: Stately and Distinguished City. Chapala tells its history). This book, coordinated by Moisés Alejandro Anaya Aguilar, was published in 2022 by the Jalisco State Government.
Its publication was timed to coincide with the designation of the City of Chapala as a “Ciudad Señorial e Insigne” (Stately and Distinguished City). The book has contributions by various writers and historians on a wide range of topics, from the early (precolonial) history and evangelization, to the events on Mezcala Island during the fight for independence, as well as details of the lives and contributions of certain key individuals to projects that established Chapala’s enduring appeal.
Interesting as many parts of the book are, perhaps—if a second edition is ever produced—the coordinator could see fit to consider some of the following suggestions?
The one line reference to “Henry Guillaume Galeotti” (page 68) offers no context or explanation for his inclusion. Henri (the correct spelling) Galeotti, was born in Paris, lived most of his life in Belgium, and deserves far more credit: he wrote the earliest truly scientific account of the lake, and his detailed report, based on a visit in February-March 1837, was an extraordinary achievement for the time.
The chapter “Nombre y origen,” first published many years ago, is closely based on Antonio de Alba’s 1954 book, Chapala. As valuable as de Alba’s book is, it offers only a partial list of the city’s many old villas and mansions, and it is also worth noting that the Hotel Nido and the Hotel Niza were both originally part of the famous Hotel Palmera, designed by Guillermo de Alba.
Devoting a short chapter to Alberto Braniff is a surprising choice. Braniff lived in Mexico City and spent only limited time in Chapala, where he had bought Casa Pérez Verdía (later known as Casa Braniff) for his mother. It is interesting to learn that Braniff, after agreeing to be a godparent for a local child, marked the occasion by throwing silver coins into the air, but surely Braniff was a peripheral figure among the many individuals who contributed more directly to the betterment of Chapala. The book rightly features the roles of Ignacio Arzapalo, Christian Schjetnan and Guillermo de Alba, but surely Septimus Crowe, Joseph Schnaider, Victor Huber (and several others) are at least as deserving of inclusion as Braniff?
A number of significant details in the section titled “Personajes y datos curiosos” are inexact. For instance, the “Naufragio del Vapor ‘Luisito’” occurred not in 1926 but in 1928 (as reported in El Informador and the New York Times), and the boat was not a steamboat (vapor) but a gasoline-powered motor launch. This section of the book is a miscellany and lacks any common thread.
The section of the book of most personal interest to me is “Chapala en sus inicios.” This is a period of Chapala’s history that holds a particular fascination for me as a geographer-historian. It is disappointing and annoying to read “Crow” for “Crowe” and “Garden” for “Carden” (143-144), and equally infuriating to read that Crowe first arrived in 1895, suffered from arthritis, and that he was somehow helped by Angelo Corsi. I have been debunking these and similar claims for years. The dates and chronology given for Crowe’s several houses in Chapala are inaccurate. And, though I agree with the author that the new 1960s’ version of the Montecarlo has no architectural merit, Sr. Crowe certainly did NOT sell the Villa Monte Carlo to Aurelio González Hermosillo, as claimed in this book (145-146).
The parts about Ignacio Arzapalo (and Guillermo de Alba) are similarly error-strewn. For example, evidence is totally lacking that de Alba designed the Hotel Arzapalo (146-7) or ever worked with Septimus Crowe (151). This section, a strange mix of fact and fiction, relies far too heavily on Antonio de Alba’s 1954 book.
Elsewhere, there was no such person as “Sra. Aurora Vidrio viuda de Arzapalo” (page 149) . The ONLY “viuda de Arzapalo” was María Pacheco, the second wife of Ignacio Arzapalo (senior) who built and owned the hotels. Their son, Ignacio Arzapalo Pacheco, had died a widower in 1904 and had never owned the hotels. It was his daughter, María Aurora—grandchild of Ignacio Arzapalo senior and María Pacheco—who inherited the hotels as a child.
Similarly, the account of Schjetnan’s early years in Mexico (page 153 on) contains grains of truth but the suggested chronology is unsupported by contemporary written sources. The capital for Schjetnan’s 1917 company (which successfully built the railroad) came largely from Norwegian investors, and most definitely not from state or federal funds. As a point of detail, the heavy rains and flooding which led to the closure of the Chapala railroad (page 180) occurred in 1926, not 1925.
The chapters about legends and local cuisine are a valuable part of this book, and an enjoyable read.
The chapter about photographer Jesús González Miranda (“El Chorchas”) is attributed in this book to Marco Antonio Castrañon Castro. Curiously, the text is identical to an article bylined by Javier Raygoza Munguía, published in the 18 December 1995 issue of PÁGINA Que sí se lee! Regardless of original author, this chapter repeats an unfortunate error in its penultimate sentence when it claims that Foto Esmeralda was the name of González’s photo studio. That studio had no connection to González and was (always) owned by a different photographer, José Cruz Padilla Sánchez.
Hopefully, some or all of these comments might be taken into account if or when a second edition is prepared for publication.
Note: My own books about Chapala history include Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travelers’ tales which looks at the period from 1530 to 1910, and If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s historic buildings and their former occupants, which considers Chapala in the twentieth century. The latter book is also available in Spanish as Si las paredes hablaran: Edificios históricos de Chapala y sus antiguos ocupantes.
Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.