Project Spotlight

My Colombian Adventures! Told by Richard C. Rich.

“Early in our firm’s history I had the opportunity to work on a number of parking garage projects in downtown Cali, Colombia, South America. It all began in 1967, when I received a call from New York asking if I would be interested in a parking project in Cali. Since I was already working on a parking feasibility study in Lima, Peru, I agreed to take on the new project in Cali. So, in 1967 I flew to Cali, which in my opinion is one of the most beautiful cities in the whole country of Colombia.

This new project was part of a development in Downtown Cali that was to be done for the Hotel Aristi. When I arrived, I met with one of the brothers who owned the hotel named Walter Aristizabal. Walter ended up being a very good friend of mine until his death in 2006. Walter and I became such good friends that I even spent 5 consecutive New Year’s Eves at his home in Cali. I would continue to visit Walter at least twice a year, from anywhere from 10 days to 2 weeks at a time, up until 4 years before his death.

The Hotel Aristi project consisted of a parking garage for the hotel along with a new apartment building on top of the garage. The site for this new garage was approximately 170 feet by 170 feet. Because Walter wanted apartments on top of the garage, I designed a central 70-foot diameter ramp for down-bound traffic to use as an exit out of the garage. I then wrapped a sloped parking module around all 4 sides of the garage for the inbound traffic to take upwards to enter the garage. This design gave us a center section in the garage that allowed columns to be built outside of the rectangular section of the spiral ramp which in turn supported upper level. This design was similar to other garages I had previously designed here in the United States. Rich & Associates was responsible for all of the grades and functional planning on this project. The garage was completed in 1970 with a provision to add one more floor of parking between the apartment house and the garage which they subsequently added.

After the completion of the Hotel Aristi, I went on to design four other garages in Cali, Colombia. I remember walking around one job site in particular that was in the early stages of construction and seeing an area where some small shops and residences were demolished to build a garage. I noticed a hole that had been dug measuring about 6-8 feet in diameter and at least 3 feet deep. I had no memory of a foundation being built in that area so I asked the owner why that hole was being dug. The owner told me that the Calima culture and the Quimbaya Civilization were known for burying their gold and jewelry in various locations in Downtown Cali. So, before any construction began on a site where gold and jewelry had possibly been buried, people would come in and dig for these treasures. These treasure hunters would in turn give a large percentage of whatever they found to the site owner.

*A map of where the Calima Culture and the Quimbaya Civilization were known to bury their gold, along with what some famous gold pieces discovered in Cali looked like.

On another memorable trip to Cali, one of the clients I was doing business with said a man asked him who had designed his garage. My client told him that I designed the garage, and the man said he was going to get ahold of me. When I met up with the man, I noticed that he was dripping in gold necklaces, gold chains, and gold bracelets. After talking, the man said that he was not the principal of the company, that he was only a representative and that I would probably never meet the principal. Out of curiosity, I asked the man who the principal was and what kind of business he was in. He gave me the name of two brothers who were in the pharmaceutical business as principals for this new project. I agreed to take a look at the proposed site, gather some information and come up with a fee for the man. Later that evening, I had dinner with a client of mine and his wife. During dinner, I mentioned the meeting that I had earlier that day. They were curious as to who the owner of this new project was so I gave them the name of the two brothers in the pharmaceutical business. They looked at me and told me that those two brothers are the biggest drug dealers in Cali and that I should never meet with them or their representative again because the DEA was watching their every move! I gave the representative the highest fee I could think of and told him I was no longer interested in doing the job.

During another one of my trips to Cali, at a social event at Walters house, a lot of our friends were gathered around and one man said to me ‘do you know why you get along with us so well?’ I said ‘No, why?’, he said ‘you never talk politics, you don’t talk religion, and you eat anything we serve you, you don’t even ask what it is.’”

The aerial pictures below of the Aristi Hotel and Parking Garage with Apartments on top were taken by me (Richard C. Rich) on May 8th 1975. I owned a Hasselblad 500 EL motor drive camera that was fitted for aerial photography, it could take film back 70mm pictures for 2 ½” x 2 ½“ negatives. I used this camera to take pictures of existing conditions during feasibility studies when we didn’t have access to the appropriate aerial photos in the city where we were doing our study. This camera was fitted for aerial photography because it had a U-shaped control mechanism allowing you to hold the camera in the bracket and push the button to take the pictures. When in Cali, I asked Walter if he could arrange for a pilot and an airplane to pick me up at my hotel in the morning so that I could take aerial pictures of all the projects I had done in the area. It was slightly overcast the morning the pilot picked me up, so the pilot drove me to his house near the airport to wait for the overcast to clear. The pilot had a strong and unique accent, I asked him how many hours in the air he had, and he told me that he flew 60 fighter missions during the war. I then asked him what kind of an airplane he flew and he said a Messerschmitt 109 which meant he was part of the Luftwaffe. We stopped at the pilot’s house which was adorned with many memorabilia of World War II, he was a crop duster now in Cali, Colombia. We then went to the airport and he told me not to expose the camera until we were in the air because it was illegal to take pictures without permission. The whole side came down on the right-hand side of the airplane so you really had to be strapped in.


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