Mexico by car. The panamerican highway and architecture for tourism

Catherine R. Ettinger


In 1936, the opening of the first section of the Pan American Highway –a project to connect American countries from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego in Argentina—marked a drastic change in tourism for Mexico. As tourists from the United States fell in love with car trips and began to venture beyond their Southern border, the Pan American Highway from Laredo to Mexico City and later to Acapulco became the preferred route for visitors from the North. In a brief period, tourist courts, service stations and restaurants popped up along the route to cater to the tastes and needs of the motorists.

Using postcards and guide books, this paper examines this architecture –which has largely disappeared due to changes in the route, the introduction of new toll roads that isolate the highway from its surroundings and the abandonment of car trips in favour of air travel--. The tourists of the forties and fifties –in contrast to the intellectuals, artists and writers who travelled in Mexico in the twenties and thirties—were interested in modern comforts, sightseeing, fishing, hunting and relaxing on beaches rather that in understanding local culture. The architecture that was produced to tend to these tourists concretized these conflicting desires using an imagery that was reminiscent of Hispanic California as well as of the rural architecture of Mexico. In the representation of Mexico through architecture for tourism –in particular, tourist courts and service stations—the desire to see Mexico as Hispanic (from without) and the cultural project of rescuing an image of local rural architecture (from within) coincided.


hotel architecture, the architecture of service stations, postcards, travel guides

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