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Once maligned by Congressmen, deplored by economists, bewailed by visiting sociologists, even abandoned by its citizens who have fled in droves, Puerto Rico is bulging at the bedrooms and bursting at the beach. She is literally turning visitors away at the door.
It is ironic that the boom which the Commonwealth has been preparing for years should have thus exploded so soon. A land of many ironies, Puerto Rico is actually still only in the first stages of a giant program for prosperity, in which tourism plays a major role. No resort in the world has so many plans on the boards, so many hotels in the offing, so many port and pleasure facilities in blueprint. These were to come into being gradually over the next few years, but events elsewhere changed things. The strange face of Cuba, for instance, dour and hostile behind its beards these last 12 months; the unrest in Haiti; the political churnings in the Dominican Republic have speeded up the actuality of the program almost to the very limits of its planned potential. American would-be tourists, scanning the Caribbean scene, suddenly realized that in Puerto Rico they could find stable conditions under an American flag. They also found the first of the new hotels, major in concept, supermodern in execution, perched at the seaside in a nest of cabanas and beach chairs under a golden sun and in temperatures that stayed reliably between 70� and 80�. The gaming parlors and the nightclubs throbbing with the cha-cha-chas were just an elevator's ride away. The advance guard gave three chas for Puerto Rico and came home sun-tanned and rum-cheered, to spread the good word.
The result was a tourist rush that shattered precedent. There were so many cases of hotel overbooking during the 1959 winter season that the Commonwealth placed an ad of explanation in The New York Times and the government opened the new wing of the Presbyterian Hospital for tourists. And this season, to quote Alphonse Salomone, manager of the Caribe Hilton, "is merely the most fantastic that ever existed."
Under this pressure, work on the new projects has accelerated. Probably the most ambitious is the Vieques Island Club, a $16 million resort being built and financed by two young millionaires, Robert F. Woolworth and Thomas O'Connor. It has already cost Puerto Rico the services of its young and able tourist administrator, Rafael Benitez Carle, who recently quit government service to join the venture. Located on nearby Vieques Island, where Benitez Carle was born, it will be crowned with a 100-room hotel in Spanish Catalan style designed by Ballard, Todd and Snibbe, who are responsible for Jamaica's Round Hill. Like Round Hill, it will offer lots for sale and require landowners to build in the club's prescribed style. A bath and tennis club with beachside rooms will nestle alongside the mile and a half of Sun Bay Beach. Moon Bay Beach is half a mile away. The plans call for a yacht club and marina with 16 cabana-type sleeping quarters for yachtsmen who yearn for a night ashore, and a championship golf course replete with cliffhanging lies along the lines of Pebble Beach and Cypress Point.
COLONIES OF CABINS
Another island cabana colony will rise on the hitherto uninhabited atoll called the Isla de Lobos, near Fajardo on the east coast. In the seaport of Fajardo itself will be built an 80-room inn to be operated by the Hotel Corporation of America, as well as a colony of 80 tourist cabins called La Sardinera. Two piers and a marina are going in at the nearby fishing village of Las Croabas, as well as a shoreline promenade, tennis courts, a pool and seven vacation cottages. Far across the island the Villa Parguera will get 50 new rooms to add to the 35 spread around its new pool.
Puerto Rico, refuge for the expense-account executive, at last will also begin to develop hotels for middle income groups. The Hotel Corporation's 216-room Charter House will open in San Juan in November. Sheraton expects to break ground in April on a choice ocean-front site two blocks from last year's flashy La Concha. The Coral Beach, near the San Juan Intercontinental in the airport area, will be completely rebuilt and is expected to reopen next winter with 230 rooms, an Olympic pool, roof gardens and the usual trimmings. Even Rockefeller's Dorado Beach, with its own airport and its own championship golf course hacked out of the jungle, has added another dozen rooms along a pair of crescent beaches that border the grounds.
Coming soon to strengthen the strain of island cuisine are such famous names as Trader Vic and Maxim's of Paris. The month's big opening was the $4 million Intercontinental Hotel perched on a mountain-top looking down on Ponce, 50 miles southwest of San Juan, and Puerto Rico's second city. From the heights, once a Spanish lookout post, guests will be transported to the beach, 10 minutes away, which because of its dry and sunny climate many observers think will eventually become Puerto Rico's Waikiki.
There is, in fact, such a boom in bananaland that Governor Mu�oz Mar�n has been accused of muffling tourism lest it cloud the whole island with commercialism and swamp the local culture. It is no secret that he has urged caution so that Puerto Rico will not become totally dependent on tourism's fast dollar. He views with alarm the touristy aspects of such holy places as Lourdes and Nazareth. He wants no hustlers and no hucksters preying on visitors. Already there are some minor evidences. The concessionaire in San Juan's handsome airport jacks up the price on every book and magazine and even charges a niggling 2� extra for a 5� newspaper. The drugstore in the Caribe does the same, lamely justifying itself as a "store of accommodation."
If tourism is not controlled, says one government counselor, echoing the fears pronounced by the governor, "we may become a floating Atlantic City." To avoid this, the island's jackhammering Operation Bootstrap is being tempered with a simultaneous and more gentle effort called Operation Serenity. Albeit with muted trumpet, Serenity is sounding the call for a cultural development to run side by side with the economic program—specifically, a restoration of traditional Spanish colonial architecture throughout the island. Bootstrap and Serenity come together in a narrow street called the Calle del Cristo, one of the original 13 streets laid out in old San Juan behind the protective sea wall. El Morro fortress commands its heights, and its lower end is marked by a tiny chapel set there to commemorate a horseman who was miraculously saved from death when, in a race around the hairpin curve in 1753, his horse plunged over the cliff. The tiny strip of a street is still paved with blue cobblestones that rode as ballast in the hulls of Spanish galleons westward bound to pick up treasure. Just a block or so off Cristo Street the ancient stones of La Fortaleza, bastion of Mu�oz Mar�n, were first set in place in 1533.