A visit to hotel Colomba in search of nostalgia, history, soft drinks and beer

Huaraz has hundreds of hotels, but not many of them have been part of Huaraz´ history for over a century. First built in 1903 by Mr Carlos Maguiña Herrera (1882 – 1962), owner of copper and silver mines Huancaramá, the building that is now the Hotel Colomba once housed the soft drinks and syrups company El Fénix (1909 – 1990 ), a factory for sweets, chocolates and biscuits (1928 – 1959), as well as the El Huascarán Brewery (1932 – 1961). The hotel, built on a solid stone structure, has resisted the onslaught of nature: the flood of 1941 and the devastating earthquake of 1970, which caused no damage to the property. It is said that not only has it resisted nature and the passage of time but also the local district authorities that have tried to divide the land with the purpose of building a road, without assessing its history and the conservation of the interior.

Today, the hotel has been completely remodelled with a comfortable and modern interior, and boasts excellent quality of services within its ample green areas. The hotel offers games for children, a squash and basketball court, restaurant and cafeteria services, room service, free parking, a gym and a laundry. The Huaraz Telegraph paid a visit to the hotel to see what´s left of the former factory and brewery. We met with Luis Antonio Maguiña Valenzuela, great-grandson of Carlos Maguiña Herrera and current owner and administrator of the hotel. Luis spoke passionately and with pride about the past.

Mr Maguiña, please tell us the history of your hotel

It all started thanks to my great-grandfather, Carlos Maguiña Herrera, who was the founder of the soft drinks and syrups factory El Fenix, a family business that started in 1903 in the mansion that still stands on the corner of Jirón Fransisco de Zela with Jirón Víctor Velez. The soft drinks and syrups factory operated until 1990. The brewery was started in 1932 and shut down in 1961. It produced a couple of beers including Cebú, which was a dark beer; Pilsen Huaraz was a blond beer and Cerveza Huascarán, the company´s best quality beer. Unfortunately, in 1954, the German brew master left Huaraz for Cusco and my grandfather wasn’t able to produce the correct formula, so he continued with the soft drinks factory. The soft drinks were sold in the Callejón de Huaylas, from Catac to Caraz, including its neighbouring villages and settlements in the Cordillera Negra and Blanca. People liked it a lot, and I remember that people drank it together with some bread. The factory produced different flavoured drinks including raspberry, strawberry, orange, and pineapple, and the bottles were one of a kind. In the beginning, the bottles were recycled and reused after being washed by hand in a fountain that remains in the front yard.

Originally, the bottles were sealed with a cork and later on with a small round glass ball that was placed inside the bottle neck. In 1970, the company purchased a Barnett and Foster bottling and cleaning machine. This made production a lot more efficient, as the cleaning machine was able to handle 48 bottles per minute. The machine also had inbuilt quality checks to ensure the bottles were thoroughly clean. The clean bottles were passed to the automatic carbonator, which added carbonic gas with flavoured water . After that, the bottles were capped, quality checked and shipped out to distributors and shops. The shipping boxes were interesting too. Nowadays, most global companies use bottle crates that fit 24 bottles; however, we used crates that had room for three dozen––one dozen on each side separated by a piece of wood, the third dozen went upside down.

Our soft drinks were very popular and were commonly known as La Huaracina or La Colombita in memory of my grandmother Sr Colomba Maguiña. After the earthquake of 1970, other soft drinks were introduced to the Huaraz market such as Concordia, Coca Cola, Inka Cola and Pepsi Cola, etc. Our market share decreased; however, in the rural areas, people kept buying Fenix.

Our beer was popular in Huaraz. Older people will definitely remember Pilsen Huaraz and Cebú, which was so good it was sold in the Crillón in our capital. The beer was shipped out of Huaraz on mules to Casma, where the beer was taken to Lima by boat. My great-grandmother was very enterprising, and in 1947 she brought the first truck to Huaraz to transport the soft drinks and beers. The truck was brought to Huaraz completely dismantled and transported by mules, which was the only way to get it here. When they received the chassis and motor in Huaraz, they had to put all the pieces together. However, they soon realised that it was too big to fit down the narrow streets, and so it was dismantled and returned by mules to Casma.

My great-grandparents were illustrious people, and my great-grandfather is mentioned in the first edition of the biographical dictionary of Peru of 1943. He has also been ad honorem mayor of Huaraz and my grandfather Federico Maguiña too between 1946 and 1947. My great-grandmother has also done many things for the Huaraz population and it makes me sad that not many people remember this.
The original buildings of the factories were made of adobe bricks, but with the introduction of the reforma agraria peruana [The Agrarian Reform was a social political process executed worldwide, following the guidelines of the new world order of the time, expropriating many land owners of over nine million hectares of land ], we decided to build the hotel in order to avoid the government taking our land. The hotel was opened in 1972.

What has been your role in the company before becoming the current hotel manager?

I arrived in Huaraz in 1983 and my grandfather, who was a smart and experienced person, let me observe the entire production process for over a week, that´s all I did. After that, I helped in the production process, and I went into town with the distributors, where I talked with the costumers and got to know the market a lot better. One day I had to drive the distribution truck and visit all little villages in the Callejón de Huaylas.

When my grandparents had to go to Lima because of health reasons, I was left in charge of the soft drinks factory. We treated our employees very well they received breakfast and lunch in the factory. In the 70s, we had between 10 and 15 people working for us, and we had two Ford trucks, two Dodge trucks and three tricycles. By the 80s, we only had two trucks and each truck had a driver and two helpers.
How did the flood of 1941 and the terrible earthquake of 1970 affect the company?
The flood of ‘41 inundated the property with mud a metre high, but it did not destroy the buildings. It did however stop the production of our factories because we had to clean up and reinstall the production process. If you look at our property now, you can see lot unevenness. This is because of the aluvión. The main part of the rocks are still in our yard and underneath the new buildings because they´re so big, it would take much effort to get rid of them. Some have been destroyed with dynamite, for example where we constructed our garage. Did you know that the district of Independencia is far safer compared to the Huaraz part? Crossing the bridge from the Rio Quillcay, the soil becomes very rocky, whereas the Huaraz part is unstable because of subterranean water streams.

The earthquake of 1970 didn’t destroy as much in Independencia compared to Huaraz. This is because the movement of the earth in Independencia was horizontal. In Huaraz, the movement was vertical like small waves. The subterranean water streams will cause Huaraz problems in the future because in the past, water beds were to be found at one metre and 80 cm, nowadays if you dig a hole, water can be found at just over half a metre. Can you image what this means for the seven-, eight- and nine-storey buildings? This might bother some people, but Independencia (Independencia is a district that is part of Huaraz, basically crossing the bridge towards the north) is the best place to build. After the earthquake, production had to be stopped. Apart from natural disasters, we have also fought battles with the authorities of Independencia. A former mayor, who is a colleague of yours as he works on television, tried to lay a street through our property. This caused a trial which we won, but lasted until 1999.

Can we try the beer and soft drinks, and have you ever tried or thought to relaunch one of the products?

Sadly, no one can. All that´s left are empty bottles, pictures and memories, the fountain I mentioned earlier and a mill. I have absolutely considered making a home brew beer, but it would only have been for guests staying at our hotel. My children and wife live abroad, and I am tired. Maybe my enthusiasm has ebbed away. In the past, I have actually worked for Coca Cola and for Pilsen Trujillo and Cusqueña, and I have seen how these companies can react. The market has changed too, the consumers of the 40s, 50s and 60s don’t exist anymore, and don’t forget, tastes and customs have changed as well. For different reasons, local people from Huaraz would prefer a beverage from the capital, instead of a product from their own land. Start-up costs, publicity and competition do not make it likely we will re-establish a brewery. Many people have suggested it in the past and we have done some market research, but there was not sufficient interest. Kola Real and Coca Cola are very competitive because of the massive volumes they can produce. It would be mission impossible. It´s nostalgia, that´s it.

Are locals interested in the history of the hotel and your great-grandparents at all?
No. If you walk out the door, you will see that Independencia has a boulevard named after a folk singer, it also has her statue. In Huaraz, the cultural centre carries the same for one of its former mayors. I am not against that, but Francisco Sotelo [creator of Radio Huascarán] or maybe Armando Moreno [entrepreneur and creator of daily Prensa Regional], Victor Valenzuela Guardia [main drive behind the creation of the National University of Ancash Santiago Antúnez de Mayolo] and my great-grandfather were all part of the history of Huaraz. A mayor needs to comply with his job and that´s it. There are no streets named after Francisco Sotelo, Armando Moreno, Víctor Valenzuela Guardia nor my great-grandfather. There is a whole bunch of streets in Indepencia called, Caraz, Jungay, Pomabamba [villages in the Callejón de Huaylas and Conchucos area] etc., but I believe that these streets should carry the names of illustrious people who have contributed to society.

Have any members of the municipality ever visited the hotel and offered to sit down and discuss this idea?

No. They only knock our door if they need a free room [laughing].

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