Fundidora: An Urban Space to Love

Parque Fundidora

“I really like Monterrey as a city, but I am helplessly in love with Fundidora Park.”–Ironman contestant Daniel Castañeda answering interview questions for the March 24 “Other Side of the Peso” blog post.

Fundidora de antesWhat is today a fabulous multi-use park was, for most of the last century, quite different. Scratch the surface of Monterrey history, and you’ll quickly run into Fundidora de Fierro y Acero de Monterrey, S.A., or Monterrey Iron and Steel Foundry. Fundidora, for short, played a pivotal role in shaping the city’s reputation as a 20th Century industrial powerhouse.

When the smelter and foundry opened its doors in 1900, President and dictator Porfirio Díaz was firmly in power. Fundidora survived the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) that finally ended the almost 30-year Porfiriato and transformed the country. Even though sporadic fighting continued for the next decade, Fundidora thrived. The company manufactured rails for the expanding railway system and the steel infrastructure of La Nacional, Mexico City’s first skyscraper, finished in 1934. Fundidora management built housing for workers’ families, schools for their children and sporting fields for their leisure time.    

Hornos de FundidoraBut by the 1970’s, the company was in trouble. Competitors were giving Fundidora a run for its money. Management was slow to adopt changes in the industry. The labor union was flexing its muscle, creating work slowdowns, strikes and other obstacles. Debts were mounting. In 1977, the federal government took over Fundidora and assumed its debts.

 
By the early eighties, the steel industry was struggling world-wide, part of a larger global recession. Mexican businesses were closing, creating higher unemployment. The government could no longer sustain companies not paying their way.

In May, 1986, Fundidora declared bankruptcy, and 8,800 workers lost their jobs. The closure impacted an estimated 150 assembly plants, 500 suppliers to whom Fundidora owed $15 million pesos and the businesses where employees shopped.  

Disbelief and daily protests followed. In one, 30,000 workers marched to the Palacio de Gobierno, the state’s capitol building. Former employees and their families, urged on by union leaders, demanded Fundidora re-open. By the end of May, 1986, the state governor had proposed a workers’ compensation package as the reality of permanent closure began sinking in.

With the aging remains of the industrial giant in their midst, government and private sector leaders went to work. By 1988, Fundidora’s resurrection had begun.

ZumbathonToday, the former foundry’s grounds are a model for urban industrial redevelopment. Parque Fundidora houses hotels, a skating ring, baseball field, amphitheater, playgrounds, lakes, walking and biking paths and a center for the arts. CINTERMEX Conference Center and Plaza Sésamo Water Park, also within the park, are popular attractions. Events like the one in the photo to the left are common.  This March Zumbathon was part of a health fair put on by hospital employees from all over the state. 

Horno3 MuseumHorno3 Steel Museum is a prime attraction. Built in 1968, the 262-ft. blast furnace got a makeover worthy of Hollywood. Half of the museum is devoted to Fundidora’s history, half to interactive science and technology exhibits. The building includes a restaurant, museum store and zip line. The Furnace Show involves a documentary enhanced by a live speaker and plenty of real fire, sparks and smoke.   

Visitors have the option of a tour with guides like Omar Hernández, 21, who reels off stories and statistics with surprising ease. “I’m proud of what this Monterrey icon accomplished and how, during its time, it helped the city become what it is today,” Hernández says. He asks visitors to imagine the daily reality of men wearing hard hats, leather aprons and gloves as they work all day near rivers of liquid metal at 2,800o Centigrade (5,072o Fahrenheit). “Keep in mind that summer temperatures in Monterrey often rise above 40o (104o Fahrenheit),” he adds.  

Omar Hernández

Guide Omar Hernández riding the tram

At one point, Hernández shepherds his charges into an open-air tram that ascends to the top floor of the furnace. Hernández casually steps out onto a narrow catwalk for a panoramic view of Monterrey and the furnace tower. One visitor takes a tentative step then looks through the metal mesh flooring at the ground 40 meters (131 feet) below—and hastily backtracks.

When the tour ends, visitors exit past a dedicatory plaque that eloquently expresses what Hernández said earlier: “In the identity of every regiomontano (Monterrey resident), there is iron and fire; the iron of our strength, tenacity and resistance; the fire of our warmth and generosity.”  

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