History of Casa de las Palomas

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Byron and Fernandez portrait

 

Gene Byron and Virgilio Fernandez built Casa de las Palomas in 1963. Gene Byron, who after working as a radio actress in Chicago, settled in Mexico and worked as a artist. She married Virgilio Fernandez, a physician and Spanish Civil War veteran.

Together they ran a business in which they designed and produced furnishings and crafts influenced by the artisan traditions of Mexico. They had an important place in the artistic and cultural life of Mexico in the second half of the 20th century and their work was sold throughout Mexico and the United States. Their influence continues to this day in the exhibits and activities of the Gene Byron House Museum. Their work was often mentioned in the classic series of books about Mexican decoration and architecture by Verna and Warren Shipway. (Houses of Mexico, pp 232-237, 1970)

 

Parra in sunglasses
Parra in sunglasses

For the construction of this house, they used Manuel Parra as the architect. Parra was part of the vigorous artistic life of Mexico in the mid 20th century. His work was profiled in an edition of the journal Artes de Mexico (Artes de Mexico, numero 89, 2008). In his work he drew upon the vernacular and historical building ideas and methods of Mexico, but he manipulated space in a modern manner.

 

 

The house is a collaborative effort of these three individuals, but Parra  was unhappy with some aspects of the finished building.

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Parra’s preliminary sketch

Nevertheless, many characteristics of his work are present in the house. This is particularly true in the living room, dining room, and atrium section of the house. This space, which follow closely the design indicated in Parra’s preliminary sketch, is both modern and old.  This room is a thoroughly modern open space, with every part visible from any point in the room. The organizing element of this large space is a group of five arches, which create intimate sub-spaces with profound historical and vernacular context.

 

 

The house was built in the same period as Parra’s masterpiece, the house of film director Emilio “El Indio” Fernandez in Coyoacan, Mexico City, and shares many characteristics with that building.