Cataño Cement PlantNational Archives Record Group 135-SAR: Prints: Photographs rejected for use in the Photographic Report to the President: “Survey of the Architecture of Completed Projects of the PWA, 1939”; Box 23: Puerto Rico file. Scanned and processed by Evan Kalish.
“Located between the low hills and marshy bay shore of Guaynabo,” what was known as the Cataño cement plant by government sources was constructed with federal funds administered through the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA), a New Deal agency. Completed in 1938, the large facility (renamed Puerto Rico Cement Corporation in 1940) was immediately able to produce 1.5 million bags of cement a year changed the course of infrastructure development and even the social fabric of Puerto Rico for years to come.
Geoff G. Burrows, pp. 114-115:
Puerto Rican civil engineers envisioned the construction of a lasting “hurricane-proof” infrastructure, and labored to build houses, schools, roads, hospitals, sanitation and water delivery systems, and rural electricity facilities that were engineered para permanencia — for permanence. Central to their efforts to build a permanent hurricane-proof infrastructure was the construction of Puerto Rico’s first cement plant, which transformed local natural resources into new forms of security, stability, and physical mobility for local residents. Built by PRRA engineers between 1936 and 1938, ownership of the Cataño cement plant was transferred to the local government, which had created the independently run Puerto Rico Cement Corporation (PRCC) to operate the plant. The locally produced cement was vital to the slum clearance and hurricane – proof public works projects of the PRRA.
The opening of the cement plant was one of the most important milestones in the island’s recovery from the Great Depression, and should be regarded among the most significant contributions to political change in 1940s. Although it is rarely mentioned in political histories of Puerto Rico, the Cataño cement plant contributed to key advances in public health that had a considerable effect on local politics at the end of the 1930s and the emergence of a mass-based “popular” coalition during the 1940s. Not only was the plant filling a demand for cement products, but it was creating new markets for them as well by helping to revive a moribund construction industry on the island. As a direct and indirect job creator, the cement plant was a model of New Deal efforts to combat unemployment by utilizing both the direct employment strategy of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the indirect employment strategy of the Public Works Administration (PWA) in the United States. Officially headed by PWA chief Harold Ickes after 1937, the PRRA should be regarded as a local version of both the WPA and PWA on the island.
The Cataño cement plant was not just a link between Puerto Rico and the United States. It also helped create stronger ties between Puerto Rico and other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, and its construction was watched with considerable interest by regional neighbors who inquired about purchasing Puerto Rican cement during the early 1940s. Not only did these neighbors view Caribbean-produced cement as a cost efficient means to building their own infrastructural projects, but Puerto Rican cement also proved extremely valuable to securing the region’s defenses during the lethal Nazi U-boat campaign in the area between 1941 and 1943.
The cement plant is no longer in operation, and Living New Deal believes it to be no longer extant. The geographic coordinates cited on the map constitute our best guess as to the location of the former plant based on descriptions of the location and other infrastructural reference points from images taken at the time of completion.
"The New Deal in Puerto Rico: Public Works, Public Health, and the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration, 1935-1955" by Geoff G. Burrows, 2014 (pp. 111-120) http://academicworks.cuny.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1314&context=gc_etds The Development of Hydraulic Mortars, Cement and Concrete in Puerto Rico National Archives: Record Group 121-BS: Records of the Public Buildings Service: Completion views of federal buildings (prints) alphabetically by state and thereunder by city, to 1966; Box 79.
Project originally submitted by Evan Kalish on April 19, 2017.
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