The oldest city within the United States is actually an ocean away, and today it was recognized as a National Historic Landmark. The historic district of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico is one of 13 new National Historic Landmarks announced today by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Puerto Rico is also the site of a second newly-designated landmark – the Casa Dra. Concha Meléndez Ramirez, in San Juan, the residence and workplace of one of Puerto Rico’s most well-known intellectuals and educators, Concha Meléndez Ramírez.
Old San Juan is the only existing representation of an almost 400-year-old Spanish colonial city in the United States, according to the Department of Interior. As the oldest city in the U.S. and its territories, the Old San Juan Historic District includes the oldest house, Christian church, executive mansion, convent and military defenses in the U.S. It contains “the largest collection of buildings representing four centuries of Spanish culture, religion, politics and architecture,” according to the Department of Interior press release.
The Casa Concha Meléndez Ramírez residence in El Condado, one of metro San Juan’s most prestigious neighborhoods, was the place where the Dr. Meléndez worked and lived for 44 years. Meléndez, the co-founder of the Hispanic Studies Department at the University of Puerto Rico, was known throughout Latin America as one of the region’s foremost intellectuals, corresponding regularly with other literary giants like Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral. Meléndez was also the first woman to earn a PhD from the Universidad Autónoma de Mexico and the first woman ever invited to formally lecture at the Real Academia Española in Mexico, and was designated Woman of the Year by the Union of American Women.
The residence was built in 1940. According to the National Register of Historic places, the house is “designed in a sober Spanish Revival style, the most significant architectural elements on the building’s exterior façade includes the repetition of arches.”
Apart from the two designations in Puerto Rico, others reflected the history of African Americans and Civil Rights in the U.S. Two of them are the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where civil rights marchers were attacked by law enforcement officials in 1965, and the Camp Nelson Historic and Archeological District in Kentucky, where African-American soldiers were trained to fight in the Civil War.
“From the Civil War to civil rights, to the struggles and accomplishments of women, African Americans and Latinos, these sites highlight the mosaic of our nation’s historic past,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.