Casa Olímpica in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Casa Olímpica (Olympic House) is as stately and beautiful an example of early 20th century neoclassical architecture as exists in Old San Juan. Ionic columns, cornices, mosaics – this structure bears all the telltale elements of finest buildings constructed in the 1910’s.
As stunning as it is, though, it’s a good bet that you missed Casa Olímpica on past visits to OSJ. Its location in Puerta de Tierra, just a bit east of the main commercial area of the old city, doesn’t lend itself to much foot traffic. If you love sports and history, though, you may want to trek over here next time.
Puerto Rico’s First YMCA
The history of Casa Olímpica dates back to 1913. It was purpose-built as the first YMCA in Puerto Rico. This may not seem like such a big deal on its own.
When you consider what life was like in Puerto Rico at the time, it’s another story.
The island had only just become a “possession” of the United States some 15 years earlier (1898). This followed years of war and its attendant socio-economic degradation. Two hurricanes in August 1899 devastated what was left of the local economy after the Spanish-American War.
At the same time, the people of Puerto Rico had not been granted “full” United States citizenship just yet.
(Residents of Puerto Rico STILL can’t vote in United States Presidential Elections. As such, the extent to which the citizenship they acquired in 1917 is “full” remains a MAJOR point of contention.)
Operation Bootstrap, and the overnight transformation of the Puerto Rican economy was still decades away.
So yeah, things were hard. Very hard. Organized sports? Who had time for that?! Where could you even find facilities for that?!
Casa Olímpica History of Sporting Firsts
The YMCA brought answers to these and other questions in 1910’s Puerto Rico. This is where the island’s first public swimming pool was built. Puerto Rico’s first gymnasium and indoor basketball court were also found here. The island’s Tennis Association was born here, as was Puerto Rico’s first Boy Scouts troop. Other sports introduced here for the first time in Puerto Rico included softball and racquetball.
Indeed, this building is, in many ways, the cradle of sports in Puerto Rico.
It’s fitting, then, that it’s called Casa Olímpica today. The name isn’t just for show either. As it suggests, Casa Olímpica is, today, the HQ of the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee.
It’s not all sports and fitness here these days, though. The Olympic Committee rents out its various event spaces at Casa Olímpica for weddings and other special occasions.