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April cover

Out of this World


Over the years, the sculptures gradually coalesced into a sort of haphazard city, with all kinds of extraneous attractions. Some of the concrete was tinted gaudy colors reminiscent of the ancient Mayan temples. James loved animals and had pens and cages built for deer, ocelots, monkeys, and flamingos. He also had electrical lines brought up the side of the mountain so that he could string colored lights and spotlights everywhere. Kaco remembers the night they were first turned on: "We all came up here, and about ten o'clock they threw the switches -- pow! pow! It was fabulous and incredible, but if you looked around in the brush, you could see all these little animals running around, sort of dazzled and disoriented." Before it was all over, James had spent an estimated $5 million on Las Pozas, easily more than $20 million in today's dollars.

Princess' ring
photo by Robert Ziebell

The early sixties to the early eighties were Las Pozas' golden years. James poured his imagination and energy into it, but even as the city was unfolding, its creator was growing old. In 1984, while on a trip to Europe, he suffered a serious stroke. A few months later he died and was buried at his family estate in England, West Dean. He was 77. For Las Pozas and the Gastelum family, the event was a dual tragedy. The exasperating man who had been the focus of their lives for decades was gone. Moreover, in a short while the money was gone too. Always utterly impractical about finances, James had left nothing for the upkeep of Las Pozas. Within four years Plutarco Senior and his wife, Marina, also died. An era had ended.

Kaco inherited Las Pozas, but as he candidly admits, "Everything had gone kind of crazy." He kept the place open for the few intrepid visitors who took the trouble to find it, but for years little else happened. For one thing, his resources were limited and, he says, "I didn't have the heart to ask people to pay to see it." Eventually, though, he realized he couldn't carry the burden alone. Three years ago he started charging eight pesos admission ($1) to help defray the cost of maintenance. But the money -- when someone is there to collect it -- goes only so far. It pays for the sweeping and pruning needed to keep the forest from reclaiming its land, but not for anything else.


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