Luxury condominiums for sale at El Tigre Golf Course, Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, 10 minutes North of Puerto Vallarta, by Greenbay condominiums

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History of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta is a Mexican balneario resort city situated on the Pacific Ocean's Bahía de Banderas. The 2010 census reported Puerto Vallarta's population as 255,725 making it the sixth-largest city in the state of Jalisco. The City of Puerto Vallarta is the government seat of the Municipality of Puerto Vallarta which comprises the city as well as population centers outside of the city extending from Boca de Tomatlán to the Nayarit border (the Ameca River).

Puerto Vallarta is named after Ignacio Vallarta, a former governor of Jalisco. In Spanish, Puerto Vallarta is often shortened to "Vallarta", while English speakers call the city P.V. for short. The city occasionally is spelled or pronounced as Porto Vallarta. In internet shorthand the city is often referred to as PVR, after the International Air Transport Association airport code for its Gustavo Diaz Ordaz international airport.

History

Puerto Vallarta's proximity to the Bay of Banderas, the agricultural valley of the Ameca River, and the important mining centers in the Sierra have given the town a more interesting past than most Mexican tourist destinations. Puerto Vallarta was a thriving Mexican village long before it became an international tourist destination. Tourism was a major economic activity because of the climate, scenery, tropical beaches, and rich cultural history. For a sense of the extent even of the city's modern history, note that Puerto Vallarta and Seattle were founded in the same year 1851.

The early municipality - early 20th century

In 1918, the village was elevated to municipality status and renamed after former state governor Ignacio Vallarta. During the early years of the 20th century, most of Puerto Vallarta was owned by the Union en Cuale company controlled by the American Alfred Geist. Geist sold land only in large plots at prices that were quite high for the time and otherwise leased the land on short term leases. To remedy this situation and to enable the new municipality to develop, the citizens petitioned the government for a land grant based on the new constitution's provisions.

In 1921, the Local Agrarian Commission approved a grant of some 9,400 hectares (23,000 acres or 39 sq mi), with the land to be expropriated from the Union en Cuale company. The grant was established as an ejido holding (a farming cooperative administered by the government). Legal squabbling over the size of the land grant, and the ejido status of the properties involved would stymie growth in Puerto Vallarta into the 1960s, as developers were reluctant to build anything too substantial on land for which one could not obtain clear title. (Ejido land is controlled by individuals who are given licenses to use it, but it could not be sold, subdivided or leased.) The Crown of Our Lady sculpture on top of the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe

During the Cristero War, the municipality was twice taken over by Cristero forces (April 1927 and January 1928). After it was recaptured for a second time, the national government stationed a small garrison there under Major Ángel Ocampo. The garrison was stationed near the mouth of the Cuale River and is responsible for planting many of the palms that now line the beaches on near the mouth of the Cuale River to help limit beach erosion during heavy rains in October 1928. One casualty of the skirmishes was local pastor Padre Ayala who was exiled to Guadalajara for his role in fomenting the local revolt. He died there in 1943, though his remains were returned 10 years later and interred in the main parish church of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

As mining activities in the Sierra waned in the early years of the 20th century, Puerto Vallarta and the agricultural valley to the North of the city became important destinations for those leaving the Sierra towns and looking for a place to settle. Many of those who arrived had family members already living in Puerto Vallarta, and the pattern of migration that ensued turned the town into a collection of more or less extended families, giving it the cohesion of a typical sierra town.

From 1925 until 1935, the Montgomery Fruit Company operated in the area around Ixtapa. Friction with the state government over labor issues eventually led to the venture being abandoned, but for ten years it provided an important source of employment in the area. Aerial view of marina, cruise ship docks and downtown Puerto Vallarta

The first airplane service arrived in 1932, with electrical service on a small scale arriving about the same time. The first suspension bridge over the Cuale went up in 1933. The city's first plumbing system was started in 1939. In 1942, Puerto Vallarta was finally connected by road to Compostela, Nay. Until then the only access to Puerto Vallarta was by sea, air, or by mule trails to the sierra towns. Also in 1942, in the New York based magazine Modern Mexico the first advertisement for a Puerto Vallarta vacation appeared, sponsored by the Air Transport Company of Jalisco. By 1945, the company was landing DC-3s in Puerto Vallarta (carrying 21 passengers).

By the 1950s, Puerto Vallarta had started to attract Americans, mostly writers and artists in search of a retreat from the USA of the era of Eisenhower and McCarthy. Gringo Gulch began to develop as an expatriate neighborhood on the hill above the Centro. The city also attracted Mexican artists and writers who were willing to trade the comforts of life in the larger cities for its scenic and bucolic advantages.

In 1956, the Mascota mule trail was replaced by a packed dirt road. In 1958, 24 hour electrical generation arrived. A new airport arrived in 1962 connecting Puerto Vallarta with Los Angeles via Mazatlán, and the Mexican Aviation Company began offering package trips.

By the early 1960s, the population had started to spread beyond the Centro and Gringo Gulch, and the Colonias of 5 Diciembre (north of the Centro) and Emiliano Zapata (south of the Cuale River) began to grow.

The modern resort - 1960s to the present, Puerto Vallarta at night.

Four influences converged during the 1960s and early 1970s to launch Puerto Vallarta into its trajectory toward becoming a major resort destination.

First the federal government finally resolved century old property disputes involving the status of communal land originally appropriated from the Union en Cuale mining company to be parceled out as farms. The communal (ejido) status of the land had stifled development in the town for much of the 20th century. The transition to private ownership of much of the land within present city limits culminated in the appropriation of much of the land in 1973 and the establishment of the Vallarta Land Trust (Fideicomiso) to oversee selling the land and using the revenue to develop the city's infrastructure.

Second, the American director John Huston filmed his 1963 film The Night of the Iguana in Mismaloya, a small town just south of Puerto Vallarta. During the filming, the US media gave extensive coverage to Elizabeth Taylor's extramarital affair with Richard Burton, as well as covering the frequent fighting between Huston and the film's four stars. The subsequent publicity helped put Puerto Vallarta on the map for US tourists.

Third, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Mexican government invested in the development of highways, airport and utility infrastructure, making Puerto Vallarta easily accessible both by air and ground transportation for the first time. The city's first tourist boom occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s because of this work. During those years most tourists in Puerto Vallarta were Mexican, and the reason they started travelling to Puerto Vallarta then was because the trip between Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta was made sufficiently convenient because of the governments investment in infrastructure.

Finally, in 1968 the municipality was elevated to the status of a City. The change in status reflected the renewed interest shown by the federal and state government in developing the city as an international resort destination. Closer view of the church

Also significant was the August 1970 visit of US President Richard Nixon who met with Mexican President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz in Puerto Vallarta for treaty negotiations. The visit showcased Puerto Vallarta's recently developed airport and resort infrastructure, and thus contributed to the growing visibility of the city as a resort destination.

Prior to 1973, hotels in the city tended to be modest, and only two large sized luxury hotels existed (the Real and the Posada Vallarta). After 1973, Puerto Vallarta experienced rapid growth in the number of larger luxury hotels, culminating in 1980 with the opening of the Sheraton Buganvilias. In 1982, the peso was devalued and Puerto Vallarta became a bargain destination for US tourists. Consequently, the mid-1980s saw a marked and rapid rise in the tourist volume. This in turn fueled more development, for example the Marina which was started in 1986. By the early 1990s, development of other destinations in Mexico like Ixtapa and Cancún caused a slump in travel to Puerto Vallarta.

It was also during the early 1980s that Puerto Vallarta experienced a marked increase in problems related to poverty. While the devaluation of the peso brought record numbers of tourists to the area, it also stifled investment and thus construction. So while more and more workers were arriving in Puerto Vallarta to try to cash in on the booming tourist trade, less and less was being done to accommodate them with housing and related infrastructure. So during the mid-1980s the city experienced a rapid growth in impromptu communities poorly served by even basic public services, and with a very low standard of living as the boom of the early 1980s leveled out. During the late 1980s, the city worked to alleviate the situation by developing housing and infrastructure, but even today the outlying areas of Puerto Vallarta suffer from poor provision of basic services (i.e. water, sewage, roads) as a legacy of the early 1980s.

In 1993, the federal Agrarian Law was amended allowing for more secure foreign tenure of former ejido land. Those controlling ejido land were allowed to petition for regularization, a process that converted their controlling interest into fee simple ownership. This meant that the property could be sold, and it led to a boom in the development of private residences, mostly condominiums, and a new phase of Puerto Vallarta's expansion began, centered more on accommodating retirees, snow-birds, and those who visited the city enough to make purchasing a condominium or a time-share a cost-effective option.


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