By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
(Updated Friday evening)
officials already are promising to rebuild The
Black Star Line, the iconic, 94-year-old
community center in Limón Centro that fire
A Costa Rican official equated The Black Star
Line with the Teatro Nacional, the Basilica de
Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles and the Ruinas de
The two-story frame structure was the
headquarters of the Universal Negro Improvement
Association created and directed by Marcus
Garvey. The name came from the steamship company
Garvey created in 1919.
The alarm came in at 5:15 a.m., and when fire
fighters arrived minutes later, flames were
shooting several hundred feet into the air. The
blaze started in the northern part of the
building and slowly worked its way to the
best-known part on a corner.
Fire fighters blamed an electrical problem and
said investigators found damaged cables in two
places. A chocolate store, a restaurant and a
dance studio were in the structure and suffered
the same fate.
The building had been flagged by the
Ministerio de Salud for its electrical system
that lacked a ground and because the building
did not have fire detectors and alarms.
The structure gained the title of
patrimonio histórico arquitectónico in 2000, and
the Centro de Patrimonio and the building
manager, the Universal Negro Improvement
Association, were working on a remodeling plan,
said the Centro.
President Luis Guillermo Solís on a recent visit
to Limón spoke of the need to fix up the
He said Friday that the country needs to rebuild
the Black Star Line identical to the way it was.
He also praised Liberty Hall, the second floor
meeting and activities area of the building.
Sylvie Durán, the minister of
Cultura y Juventud, called the damage an
should be felt by the entire national community.
William Monge, director of the ministry’s Centro
de Investigación y Conservación del Patrimonio
Cultural, left for the Caribbean coast when he
heard of the fire. He brought a team with him.
The Centro said that the first job would be to
salvage what was possible from the ashes for
future use. Items included historic door locks
and other valuable and historic pieces.
He was quoted as saying Centro experts would
evaluate the structure to see if more damage
could be avoided. Some first-floor walls are
standing, but most of the structure has been
gutted. Fire fighters said they managed to
save 385 square meters of the 1,525-square
meter building. That’s 4,144 of 16,415 square
It was William Monge who equated the structure
to the other three Costa Rican historic sites.
It would be hard to overestimate the
significance of the building to residents of
The queen of the Carnavales de Limón has been
crowned there since 1949. There were thousands
of civic and private events in the Salón
Libertad or Liberty Hall.
Garvey, a Jamaican, was in the forefront of
the back-to-Africa movement and set up the
steamship company partly for that purpose.
The company suffered from poor management and
only lasted three years. The offices in Costa
Rica were in the Limón building.
Garvey also was a passionate crusader for
black rights, education and economic
The New Orleans style structure with a
wrap-around second-floor balcony stood on
pilings, which is typical of Caribbean
buildings to prevent the entrance of water and
small animals and insects.
The building suffered heavy damage in the 1991
earthquake, and had been restored.