Backstory and Context
The Ballaja Infantry Barracks Building (El Cuartel de Ballaja) in San Juan, Puerto Rico was constructed between 1854 and 1864 by the Spanish Corps of Military Engineers in the Ballajá Quarter of Old San Juan on 6 urban blocks of land expropriated from the Dominican Friars. The building is one of Spain’s most impressive buildings in the New World; it stands as the last example of large-scale military architecture by the Spanish Monarchy in the Americas. Used until 1898 as infantry barracks and permanent housing for approximately 2,000 soldiers and officers with their families, the building included housing, storage, kitchens, dining rooms, jail cells, and stables for horses. After Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898, the U.S. Government used the building to house the Army Infantry. During World War II, the Barracks became an annex of Fort Brooke’s military hospital. In 1944, it was renamed Rodriguez General Hospital in honor of Major Fernando E. Rodríguez Vargas. The building was transferred to the Government of Puerto Rico in 1976 through the Historic Surplus Properties Program. Restoration planning for the Barracks began in 1986 and the work was completed in 1993. An impressive building with a large interior courtyard, it now houses various small museums including the El Museo de las Américas, a music school, a dance school, a library, a restaurant, and an arts cinema. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 2013, the Ballaja Barracks is a contributing resource to the Old San Juan National Historic Landmark District.