Friday, July 17, 2015

Holy Rollin': "La Casa de Azúcar," The House of Sugar

Sometimes the most holy ground upon which one may tread is most wholly unconsecrated by the church - any church.  To wit, La Casa de Azúcar.  To stand witness at the grounds of  "House of Sugar" in El Paso, Texas is to be transported to a sacred place.

From the minute we rolled up, we were overcome by holy rollin'!!!

A tribute to faith and to the people of El Paso, La Casa de Azúcar is the creation of retired garment worker, Rufino Loya Rivas, who in 1973 began transforming his modest desert home into a folk art fantasy.  Styled after the traditional churches of his childhood village, La Casa de Azúcar also employs similar design elements to those found in Mexico's famous sugar skulls.  Elevating humble materials into a spectacle most sacrosanct, Rivas' "House of Sugar" is as ornate as any cathedral we've ever come across.  In fact, the extraordinarily-detailed craftsmanship makes it hard to believe that this is a private residence.

And yet there is the front entrance in all of its candy-coated splendor!

The stunning beauty of La Casa de Azúcar's intricate design is a challenge to capture in photos.  It kind of has to be seen to be believed; so just believe that I'm prepared to show you about one million photos, encouraging you to make the pilgrimage and go see it for yourself!

¡Bienvenido!  Welcome!

Highly decorated on nearly every inch of available space, Rivas' deft hand and understanding of balance has resulted in a sanctuary that is subdued, restrained, even reverent (when it could have so easily strayed into corny, Hansel & Gretel territory).

The symmetry and and use of color create a simultaneously dynamic and restful environment.

The only churchy-type architectural terms I remember from Art History 101
are "nave" and "apse," I'm sure neither of which apply here...I think.  The
well-placed altars/shrines(?), however, are breathtaking. 

The patience and care it would take to produce just one of these pillars would be
enough to scare any ordinary person away, let alone the tricolor paint scheme.

So many layers of texture and depth are achieved with the most accessible mediums (concrete, paint,brick, etc.) 

One pillar, five colors!

My road trip buddy and I kept repeating our mantra for the day, "Just
look, don't touch," as we tried to remember that this was someone's home.

Again, if there was any doubt that this was a tract home, the aerial evidence is on the roof

"Jesus said into[sic] her, 'I am the resurrection and the life.  He that believeth
in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and
believeth in me shall never die.  Believest thou this?'"

Each sign and every Bible passage at La Casa is
conveniently presented in both English and Spanish.

It's not just the hardscape that is so expertly preserved, the landscape is precisely cultivated as well.

I'm not up on all my saints, but I'm pretty sure this is one of the good ones.

Occupying the better part of an entire neighborhood block, the breadth of La Casa de Azúcar's displays is staggering.

According to locals, the full "sugar house" makeover was complete by the late '90s...but who are they kidding?!!  Giving new meaning to the words, "labor of love;" one look at the expansive beauty of La Casa de Azúcar is to realize that maintenance is a job never complete.

Luckily, they have La Virgen on their side!

My wacky tacky spirits are lifted by the serenity of La Casa de Azúcar.  And while the welfare of my eternal soul is in great question, I can yet find some earthly comfort in the faith, dedication, and artistry of a man on a makeover mission.  If his "House of Sugar" is not registered as a sacred site of the Catholic Church or at the very least an historic landmark, then it darn well ought to be.

This placard, placed unceremoniously in the back alley leads me to believe
that, as of now, La Casa de Azúcar's historic status is rather on the unofficial side.

Don't be scared away by our "Holy Rollin'" adventures; we are certainly not in the business of Bible-thumping.  For we probably feel even closer to the Divine in a sunburnt, El Paso housing tract than we might in the peace of a quiet chapel.  Smitten with one man's mission to honor his beliefs, his geography, and his wacky tacky artistry, I can say that, "Out in the West Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a Mexican [house]."  I feel a song coming on.

"El Paso" - Marty Robbins

La Casa de Azúcar
4301 Leavell Ave
El Paso, TX


Mr. Tiny


  1. what a beautiful place! thanks for sharing it, that is one roadside beauty i haven't heard of.

    1. Thanks, Rae! I love it so much!!! It is so much more spectacular than I was able to capture; if you're ever in El Paso, you must go!

  2. HOLY SMOKES that is some eccentric architecture! Why isn't there more in LA? I saw a totally weird asymetrical building in Spain called the Sagrada Familia and it is so cool. If all houses were polka dotted and neon purple, I would love it. I often wonder why everything has to be so neutral and bland and then when we see something colorful it is treated as an oddity and we have to search for art at museums.

    1. I went to La Sagrada Familia too!!! It was so wild and wonderful. I guess the only good part about bland architecture is that it makes the cool stuff all the more special!