The dock at Cruz Grande, once a mining port that enjoyed many years of economic prosperity, is currently a cove for artisanal fishing and the end of a little-known tourist route. Along with the groups that travel and inhabit the dock everyday, our guest columnist this week wants to promote a new boom in local productivity and identity for this place.
Over a century ago, Chile’s growth was directly related to mining activities developed most strongly in the northern part of the country. With the discovery and mining of ore deposits, major works were constructed including refineries, processing plants, shipping ports, railways, and towns. Once the ore was exhausted, the constructions were emptied, leaving behind monumental works and ghost towns that were open to looting, deterioration, and dismantling. This process brought several emblematic works to an end, erasing little by little all traces of its existence, and with it, part of our history.
It was in 1914 that iron ore extraction began at the El Tofo Mine, located 56 km north of La Serena, with approximately 1,000 miners, contractors, and employers who worked and mined ore for about 55 years. In its time, the Tofo was one of the most important iron mines in the world and, in the hands of the Bethlehem Chile Iron Mines Co., it had a thermoelectric plant with the first electric train in South America and a dock in the bay of Cruz Grande to ship the mineral to the US.
The territorial transformation associated with the El Tofo mining operation began in 1840 when the Polish scientist Ignacio Domeyko toured the hills of the Coquimbo Region and discovered what he called “Tofos” or deposits of iron whose presence was characterized by a whitish clay (1). The construction of a large dock at Cruz Grande was finalized some 35 years later, which formalized the transformation of the site where before there had been no space for mooring boats like those that arrived from the coast of Pennsylvania in the US. Mining and the area’s industrial activity created much wealth in the zone during a half century, with a population that reached 947 inhabitants in 1970. One year later, with the nationalization of copper and iron by President Salvador Allende, the dismantling and decommissioning of the mine began. In 1983 the mechanical hopper was dismantled and its parts sold for scrap metal. The 26-km railway line that connected the hopper with the mine met the same fate.
(1) See Bernando Valdivia Godoy, El Tofo y los Tofinos (El Tofo Mine and the Tofinos) Editorial Alfa Centauro, 2013.
The dock or the section tasked for anchoring, loading, and unloading boats has not yet been declared a heritage site, and currently there is an association of fishermen who use it as a cove and storage site. Although the conditions of the fishermen are not ideal, the central location of the dock with respect to the community and its unique qualities in terms of protection from the wind, its marine currents, and easy access to the land, its proximity to the town of Chungungo and the large quantity of locos (abalone) and clams that are harvested in La Higuera make the site potentially important for the construction of a cove that can accommodate the more than 500 people who make their living fishing in the area.
This possibility is also supported by the strong identity of the place representing the dignity of a defined culture of “Tofinos,” a group of some 700 workers and descendants of the El Tofo mine. These same Tofinos have taken the role of supporters of the site’s history and have operated as a platform for territorial renovation. Currently, the Tofinos meet several times a year to celebrate the boom of the population and to bid goodbye to some of its members. Although the population itself is in a state of neglect and the dock as an asset does not have much potential, the social identity and collective memory of this group has established the appreciation and protection of the site’s heritage value (2).
(2) See José de Nordenflycht Concha, Patrimonio y Desarrollo Local: Una Práctica Social entre el Saber y el Poder (Patrimony and Local Development: A Social Practice between Knowledge and Power) Madrid: Comité Nacional Español de ICOMOS, p.177–179.
As it is an important part of the historical and cultural heritage of the country, it should be rescued. The dock should be maintained and a new use given to the site according to the local needs of the area. With two defined groups that maintain productive activities around the site, it should be possible to reactivate and recover the boom of the Cruz Grande Bay, prolonging its useful life and perpetuating it over time.
(3) See Anita Berrizbeitia, “Re-Placing Process” in Julia Czerniak y George Hargreaves (eds.), Large Parks (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007), p. 196
Patricio Fernández isa student of architecture of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and currently developing a project titled “Centro Colectivo de Producción y Memoria: Reactivación de la Dársena de Cruz Grande”. (Collective Center of Production and Memory: Reactivation of the Dock of Cruz Grande)