While based in Boston at a software sales job he didn’t like and growing tired of the cold, Rob Meehan dreamed about an adventure in another culture, perhaps one related to his longstanding love of old houses.
Things changed quickly in 2008, when, using his travels for the job as Latin American sales rep as a steppingstone, he made an uncharacteristically quick decision to buy a large, unique old house in the Mexicaltzingo neighborhood of downtown Guadalajara, just three blocks west of the Teatro Diana. The transaction was completed in two weeks and his extensive restoration in two years.
Then, just two weeks ago, on February 20, a surprising plaudit capped Meehan’s whirlwind experience and he was showered with press attention, speeches in Guadalajara’s Palacio Municipal, a countdown among 26 nominees to rival the Oscar ceremony and a cash prize of 80,000 pesos — all courtesy of a 12-year-old, annual house restoration contest in which a worker in the city’s Urban Commission had entered him. (The contest is called Premio Anual a la Conservación y Restauración de Fincas de Valor Patrimonial de Guadalajara, or Annual Prize for Conservation and Restoration of Estates of Historical Value.)
Tired and giddy after driving into Guadalajara the night before from Puerto Vallarta, where he owns another property, Meehan managed a gracious speech in Spanish to the crowd of 300 at the award ceremony, even dropping a hint that City Hall make a few improvements to the Mexicaltzingo neighborhood in order to turn his single restored house into a trend.
“The people at the Urban Commission mentioned that mine was the first house ever entered from Mexicaltzingo,” Meehan said, speculating that a desire to spur changes in the neighborhood, as well as the fact that his restoration did not involve gutting the interior, could have loomed large in the judges’ minds and snagged him the first-place prize.
“This is not a chic area, like Chapultepec. It’s blue-collar, with a lot of repair shops.” Meehan noted that since he is from a blue-collar background, he feels comfortable and safe there.
“There are a lot of homes in need of restoration. There must have been a lot of money here once. Some houses need painting or they’re abandoned. My home was not falling apart, though. It’s a well built house. It’s been standing there since 1890, despite minor earthquakes. So I was able to put all my resources on the interior.” He explained that he simply painted the exterior in shades of grey and eventually replaced windows and doors.