Casa de la Masacre

Casa de la Masacre
Today the Ponce massacre building is a museum that honors the victims of the massacre and commemorates the infamous event
Location SE corner of Marina and Aurora Streets (32 Marina St.), Ponce, Puerto Rico
Area less than one acre
Built 1910
Architect Blas Silva
Architectural style Ponce Creole
Governing body State (ICP)[2]
NRHP Reference # 05001098[1]
Added to NRHP October 20, 2005
Museo de la Masacre de Ponce

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Museo de la Masacre de Ponce
Location within Puerto Rico
Established 1987
Location Calle Marina #32, SE corner of Marina and Aurora Streets, Ponce, Puerto Rico
Ponce, Puerto Rico

18°0′33.444″N 66°36′48.7074″W / 18.00929000°N 66.613529833°W / 18.00929000; -66.613529833Coordinates: 18°0′33.444″N 66°36′48.7074″W / 18.00929000°N 66.613529833°W / 18.00929000; -66.613529833

Type Museum
Curator Neysa Rodríguez Deynes[3]
Owner ICP,
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico,
San Juan, Puerto Rico

The Museo de la Masacre de Ponce, or (English: Ponce Massacre Museum), is a historic building in Ponce, Puerto Rico. The building was the site of the Ponce Massacre, and the museum depicts the history and events surrounding the event, which some describe as the most tragic event in the history of Puerto Rico's struggle for independence.[4] The museum is listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in as Casa de la Masacre.[1]

The house that the museum occupies was the site of "the incident that is today remembered as a manifestation of the oppression of political liberty in Puerto Rico".[4] The museum documents "U.S. investigations into hundreds of individuals" belonging to the Nationalist movement and includes a considerable number of photos from the Nationalist era.

It also houses photographs and various artifacts from the Ponce massacre episode, with a section devoted to the Father of the Puerto Rican Nation, Harvard graduate and Ponce native, Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos.[5]

Historical background

After the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico in 1898, the Island's political status within the US became a subject or ardent conversation within Puerto Rican political circles. A number of political parties sprung up as a result of this, with platforms founded on the differing ideologies of what such relationship with the US should be. The three basic platforms were independence, statehood, and commonwealth, an in-between status of greater local autonomy while still being a territory of the US. The independence movement came to be symbolized by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party.[6]

Birth of the Nationalist Party

The Nationalist party was founded in 1922 and, though it had a small membership, was highly involved in activities, in particular after Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos became its president. Born in the aristocratic city of Ponce, Albizu Campos earned a law degree from Harvard University in 1921, and entered the Nationalist Party in 1924. In 1926, he became the party's political messenger to Latin America, which took him to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, Venezuela, and Peru, from 1927 through 1930.[6]

Returning to Puerto Rico in 1930 Albizu Campos turned into the strongest and most vocal supporter of an open and militant challenge to the colonialist presence of the United States in Puerto Rico, and advocated an armed struggle as a means of gaining independence from the United States. The economic situation of the Island at the time, the result of the Great Depression of the 1930s, further served to fuel the antagonist sentiment against the United States, garnishing a considerable amount of nationalistic feeling in the Island that helped the party gained additional ground in terms of unity and membership.[6]

Winship's persecution

"On March 21, 1937, Easter Sunday, this site witnessed one of the most tragic and moving events of our history: The Ponce Massacre.

On that day, a peaceful march organized by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party was dissolved by the authorities through a shooting, with a large number of Nationalists and bystanders resulting dead and wounded, as well as two policeman also victims of the incident.

The Hays Commission, created to investigate the facts, determined that what occurred at this site was a massacre provoked, in great measure, by the climate of intolerance, discrimination, and belittlement towards civil rights of the government of General Blanton Winship.

Today, on the fiftieth anniversary of that mournful event, the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture places this memorial as permanent record to the fallen, who offered their lives in defense of their ideals and of the most basic human rights.

Juan Cotal - Conrado Rivera - Jose Antonio Delgado - Ivan Rodriguez - Maria Hernandez - Jenaro Rodriguez - Luis Jimenez - Pedro Rodrigiez - Ceferino Loyola - Obdulio Rosario - Georgina Maldonado - Eusebio Sanchez - Bolivar Marquez - Juan Santos - Ramon Ortiz - Juan Torres - Ulpiano Perea - Teodoro Velez - Juan Reyes"

  - Inscription on the North exterior wall of the Museum

Concurrent with this increased sentiment for nationalism and independence, U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt assigned a new governor for the Island, General Blanton Winship. Winship governed for five years (1934–1939), during which time he engaged in "an open struggle against the Nationalist Party and a direct persecution of its leadership."[7] Consistent with this, "in October 1935 the State Police in the town of Rio Piedras murdered four [Nationalist] party members" at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras, a neighboring town next to San Juan. This is known as the Rio Piedras Massacre.[8] According to Jose E. Ayoroa Santaliz in his work Museo Casa de la Masacre de Ponce: En conmemoracion del Primer Cincuentenario de la Masacre de Ponce (Ponce Massacre Museum: March 2011), page 2, the Insular Ponce "assesinated" the four men in a pre-meditated fashion and under the direction of the U.S.-appointed Puerto Rico police chief the American colonel Francis Riggs. "The Nationalists responded by killing the State Chief of Police, Colonel Francis Riggs, in [sic] February 23, 1936".[8] The two young Nationalists responsible were captured and executed at the police barracks in San Juan without a trial, with no law enforcement officer ever being brought to trial for their executions.[9] Riggs' death provoked General Winship's rage, and he ordered raids to be conducted in the Nationalist Party's committee in all mayor towns in the Island, with the purpose of finding evidence that would incriminate the Party in the assassination of Police Chief Riggs, but no evidence was ever found.[8]

Still, Winship's government brought charges of "sedition" against Albizu Campos and the other party leaders. Albizu Campos and the others were found not guilty by a jury consisting of mostly Puerto Rican citizens and some American members. However, General Winship arranged for a retrial to take place, this time with a majority American citizens, where and conviction was achieved that sent Albizu and the others to a federal penitentiary in Atlanta for 30 years. The elimination of the party's leadership, however, did not stop neither the Nationalist militancy nor Winship's repression, a situation that resulted in the violent event that took place in Ponce in 1937.[8]

The parade

The Ponce Committee of the Nationalist Party had its headquarters at 32 Marina Street. This was a corner property that bordered Aurora Street, and had been used as the committee's meeting hall for over 10 years. In 1937, the local committee made plans for the annual celebration of the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico, which had taken place on March 22, 1873.[10] The date chosen for the 64th anniversary commemoration of the abolition of slavery was March 21, 1937.

The nationalists had received a permit for the parade from Ponce Mayor José Tormos Diego's office. But at the eleventh hour, Governor Winship instructed the new Insular Police Chief, Colonel Enrique de Orbeta, to contact Mayor Tormos and have him cancel the parade permit. He also ordered Orbeta to increase the police force in the southern city, and to stop, "by all means necessary", any demonstration conducted by the nationalists in Ponce.[11]

The massacre

The permit was revoked the very same morning of the activity, but the Party refused to cancel the parade and instructed its participants to form as planned in front of their club house and move on with the activity. The group of participants consisted of the male members of the "Cadets of the Republic", the female "Daughters of the Republic" group, and a small music band. These, together, with their families, friends, and local bystanders started to crowd around midday around the club house in preparation for the parade. Simultaneous with this, some 150 well-armed Insular Police officers positioned themselves strategically such as to encircle the demonstrators.[8]

Tomás López de Victoria, Captain of the Ponce cadets was in charge of the cadets in the parade. Moments before the march began, the head of the insular police walked up to him and ordered López de Victoria to keep the cadets from marching, to which López de Victoria responded by ordering the cadet band to play La Borinqueña, Puerto Rico's national song and his men to started their march.[12]

It is believed that a shot was fired by the police to instigate and incident between the different factions present. The police responded with a massive counter fire towards the defenseless crowd, wounding almost 200 people and immediately killing fourteen. Five more died as a result of their wounds during the next few days.[8]

The investigation

The violent incident in Ponce shook the entire population of the Island despite their political differences. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) came to Puerto Rico and formed a commission consisting of well-respected citizens to investigate the incident, with Dr. Arthur Garfield Hays, President of the ACLU, as the Commission's president. After months of investigation that ACLU commission determined "that Governor Winship was directly responsible for the incident; that the Nationalists were exercising their basic right of freedom of speech and association; and that the killing of defenseless party members and by-standers had to be recognized as a 'massacre'.[13]

The afternoon of March 21, 1937, became "one of the saddest" and the most violent day in Puerto Rican political struggle for independence.[14]



The Ponce Massacre Museum is the two-story house at the intersection of Marina and Aurora streets where the events took place. It is a brick masonry and wood building. The Historic Archives of the Municipality of Ponce show a residence at that location as far back as 1886, however, the present building, and the building occupied by the Nationalist party dates from the early 1900s.[15] By 1906 the owners of the property contracted Blas Silva, a well-known civil engineer from Ponce, (Casa Salazar, Casa Wiechers-Villaronga) to design a new facade and interior arrangement for the property. The renovations were completed in 1910, but they followed Blas' design in part only.[16]

The museum

At the time of the 1937 Ponce Massacre, the owners were Francisco de Jesus y Graciela Toro Vendrell. In 1945 the property was sold to Juan Riera Ginard and Carmen M. Toro de Riera, who never occupied the house but instead used it as a source of rental income. The house was rented out in two units: the first floor as commercial space and the second floor as residential unit. In 1987, the Puerto Rico Legislature passed Joint Resolution Number 2951, designating the property a national historic landmark. In 1988 the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture purchased the property, reconditioned it, and subsequently converted it into the Museo de la Masacre de Ponce.[17] The architectural style is Vernacular Creole.


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