Chocolate Covered Dreams
by Eric Marion
210 Calle San Francisco is San Juan's biggest and best kept new secret. The Old City's only private art collection is housed in a new museum facility owned and operated by Puerto Rico's legendary Cortes family.
A bit of history is in order. The Brothers Cortes started producing Chocolate confectionaries 97 years ago when the Caribbean Basin was still very much agrarian. The Company grew and prospered, and was handed down through three generations to the current owner, Ignacio Cortes. Cortes Chocolates are well-known in Puerto Rican, in no small part due to the advent of television.
As television became a household commodity, the Cortes Chocolate Company gained fame in Puerto Rico by hosting an "American Idol" type talent show as a sponsor and contributor. The show was famous for its harsh treatment of undeserving contestants: badly received performers were tossed a quarter and informed "take it, you'll need it for the bus ride home". The well known jingle which announced Cortes Chocolate sponsorship is still sung by Puerto Ricans of a certain age.
The Cortes family still owns and operates the Cortes Chocolate. The current Cortes, Ignacio, was introduced to the world of art by his father during a visit to the Sorolla Museum in Madrid. Over the next 35 years, Iganacio acquired works from numerous Caribbean, Central and South American Artists. After consulting with his wife, Mr. Cortes decided to share his art with the world and began construction on a new private museum located at 210 Calle San Francisco, in Old San Juan.
The new museum splendidly displays Mr. Cortes collection of notable art, including works by Arnaldo Roche Rabell, Nick Quijano, Jose Morales, and Hector Hyppolite.
The facility is nearing completion, with teak flooring, industrial finishes, and very adequate climate control. The third floor section of Casa Cortes is open to the public Monday, Tuesday and Saturday from 11-5. All visitors are given a free chocolate, and there is no charge to admission.
The collection is a splendid accumulation of local art which rivals the collections at Museo de Las Americas and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Ignacio Cortes’ 30 year infatuation with art is well-documented by the astounding pieces he has collected. Whether visiting or a year-round resident, this delightful museum is well worth a visit. This site will most definitely be added to local “must see” attractions for Old San Juan.