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Activists Fight to Preserve Historic São Félix Railway S...

Activists Fight to Preserve Historic São Félix Railway Station in Bahia, Brazil

Considered to be the main cultural and historical heritage building in the Reconcavo of Bahia, the São Félix, a former railway station, is now in an advanced state of deterioration and has been abandoned by the government since June 2014. An organization known as the Coletivo Criativo Ocupa Estação (Creative Collective for the Occupation of the Station)

Considered to be the main cultural and historical heritage building in the Reconcavo of Bahia, the São Félix, a former railway station, is now in an advanced state of deterioration and has been abandoned by the government since June 2014. An organization known as the Coletivo Criativo Ocupa Estação (Creative Collective for the Occupation of the Station) proposes artistic and cultural activities for the space, giving it a social function. The Collective started a film club, a library with a reading room, laboratory workshops and arts and crafts events for local communities. Before the occupation, it also operated as a health and fitness club.

The construction of the station dates back to 1881, during the period of railway expansion in Bahia, which was responsible for transporting cargo. Rail transport created a revolution for the Reconcavo region, and made St. Felix a major point of connection between the producing regions of the country. With the development and use of other means of transport, the train traveled through the town, but the station was abandoned and entered into a process of physical deconstruction.

View of the former railway station of Bahia, Brazil.

The São Félix Railway Station belonged to the now defunct National Railway Network SA (RFFSA), which transferred their property through Law No. 11483/07. The law, which deals with the revitalization of the railway sector, now falls to the responsibility of the Institute of National Historical and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN) in order to manage the movable and immovable property of artistic, historical and cultural value from the defunct RFFSA.

The building, which has been registered by IPHAN since November 2010, had its last repair completed in 2000. The space became headquarters for the Luiz Ademir Cultural Foundation.

On August 23, a civil lawsuit was filed by the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) in Feira de Santana for immediate restoration of the train station. The action is a result of a petition with 794 signatures from area residents who warned of the serious state of deterioration of the site.

According to the inspection done by IPHAN station experts, a proliferation of insects, oxidation of the fittings, leaks and even tree growth of more than three meters tall were found on the ceiling. Furthermore, the report says that there is an increased risk of fire and collapse of the structure. And according to the Collective, activities are paralyzed on rainy days, because the roof of the building is in a state of collapse.

In the lawsuit, the MPF requested that the Federal Court protect the development of the IPHAN restoration project within 120 days. The suit also asks that the works are executed within twelve months with funds from the federal government under penalty of a daily fine of one thousand dollars for each item, in the case of noncompliance.

A sign of the occupation of the historical railway station in Bahia, Brazil

According to Marco Santo, a member of the Collective, the action of MPF was undoubtedly a response by the creative occupation group to propose that a space be created inside the station in order to promote cinemas, courses, creative and artistic activities. "Our occupation was once inside the space where there was a bodybuilding gym, a sawmill and a tinsmith who initially suffered with the beginnings of reform so that these families could make their livelihoods off their work within the confines of the building, however the action is now being celebrated by everyone in town. Discussion regarding the future of the building is required and its important to debate the resources that will be used and how and what the building will become once the reforms take place."

How does your city preserve its historical spaces? Are there buildings in your community that have been neglected?

Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

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Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Nora grew up surrounded by the varied architectural styles and geographies of the Southwest U.S. After graduating from Middlebury College with a B.A. in Latin American Studies and Geography, Nora moved to Wash...

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