Cuenca Expats Magazine – Issue 44

By Jane Hiltbrand
Photos Courtesy of Mansion Matilda and Jane Hiltbrand

In the heart of Cuenca’s Parque Calderón, a striking yellow house with a rich history stands as a symbol of the city’s past and its promising future. Casa del Parque, previously shrouded in mystery, has been meticulously restored to its former glory, becoming a vibrant gastronomic and cultural center that has breathed life into the downtown area.

Once the residence of Hortensia Mata, known as “The First Lady of Cuenca,” this architectural treasure is now a hub of historical significance and contemporary delight.

The house’s captivating journey begins with its purchase by Mrs. Gladys Eljuri and her husband in the late 1990s.

Back then, it was inhabited by Hortensia Mata, the granddaughter of the original owner, and was not accessible to the public.

Her promise to stay in the house until her last days was upheld, and upon her passing, the transformation of Casa del Parque began in earnest in 2016.

CUENCA ARCHITURE - Casa del Parque - Mansión Matilde

As the Tranvía construction caused turmoil in the downtown area, Casa del Parque’s exterior restoration marked the first steps towards revitalization. 

By 2018, the interior rooms and decorative elements were being meticulously rejuvenated.  The municipality ensured that the historical significance of the house was preserved, respecting its role in Cuenca’s story.

CUENCA ARCHITURE - hortensia mata - Casa del Parque - Issue 44

The restoration work reached its culmination in January 2020, just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and although the initial opening was brief, the house has since found its renaissance.

This revitalization also catalyzed the restoration of downtown Cuenca.

New businesses and restaurants, such as Negroni, Itza Hotel, Madame, and Casa Firenza, have added to the city’s charm, making it a lively hub once more.

Casa del Parque’s restoration was a labor of love led by Esteban Espinoza, with the invaluable contribution of city historian Juan Cordero and a dedicated team

Hortensia Mata’s life story intertwines with the house’s history. Married at a young age into the Ordóñez Lasso family, she and her husband became significant landowners, contributing to the prosperity of the region.

CUENCA ARCHITURE - Casa del Parque
CUENCA ARCHITURE - Casa del Parque
CUENCA ARCHITURE - Casa del Parque
CUENCA ARCHITURE - Casa del Parque
CUENCA ARCHITURE - Casa del Parque

The house was built in 1888 by French architects Rene Chaubert and Giussepe Majon, under President Gabriel Garcia Moreno’s patronage. With her second husband, Hortensia Mata had a total of sixteen children, living in the most opulent residence of the time.

The house’s legacy is further enriched by its architectural details, including original wallpaper, murals, and flooring. The exterior walls are adobe, while the structural walls are brick and bahareque, presenting a remarkable example of Republican-era architecture in Cuenca.

CUENCA ARCHITURE - Casa del Parque
CUENCA ARCHITURE - Casa del Parque

Notably, the house was pivotal in introducing ornate ironwork to the region. It was also home to Cuenca’s first bathroom, a marvel of its time, amidst a city with canals running through its streets.

During the recent restoration, the original yellow color was discovered through a meticulous paint study. This reaffirmed the city’s commitment to preserving the historical authenticity of the house, which stands as a testament to Cuenca’s evolving architectural styles.

Casa del Parque is a house of many facets. It was divided in the past, with one side occupied by a general store. Mrs. Eljuri’s purchase brought both halves under her care, with one side transformed into delightful spaces. The Turquoise Tea Room, Bar 1880, and El Preferido de Matilde offer unique dining and drinking experiences, all with a view of Parque Calderón and the New Cathedral. The Treaties Hall and the Diplomatic Hall are versatile spaces for various events, and future plans include an Ecuadorian restaurant on the unoccupied side, promising even more of this stunning architectural beauty for Cuenca to savor.