Bringing Down the House (literally)


Before the storm. Casa Rana is a 100 year old Adobe in the central part of Puerto Vallarta. It was the 7th house in PV to be put on an electric meter. We bought it in the summer of 2010 and before you could say "home sweet home" KR was thinking about how to make it sweeter


Much of this story will be hard to believe.   For starters, our sanity has been  repeatedly questioned by many for even buying a house (check that, we have two places in Mexico now) during the worst narco wars in our lifetime.   Then we bought a really old house with no view, no pool, and located in a “mixed” neighborhood (read a neighborhood of Mexicans and Gringos).   “What’s wrong with a view and a pool?” many of you were thinking.  Unfortunately, KR asked the same question after we bought the place without either.

And now we’ve embarked on a bit of remodeling of the aforementioned house, in a country not known for quality nor timeliness.  In the spirit of “It’s no fun if you can’t share the pain,” we invite you along for a different kind of ride than our normal.

The Before:  Casa Rana

We bought what was then called Casa Rana in the summer of 2010.  Although about a 100 years old, it’d been recently remodeled to a wonderful combination of the old with new.  Rana was about 2100 sq. ft. with two bedrooms, two baths, an office, a bodega and a small courtyard in the center.  While modern inside, it was missing things like air conditioning, noise-proof windows, and said pool with view.

Manuel, one of our neighbors, washes the Iron Duke at least once a week. He also serves as on-site mechanic.

Located in the heart of the El Cerro Colonia of PV, Casa Rana is about four blocks from the beach, up in the hills.  El Cerro is a wonderful neighborhood, with just the right mix of Mexican families, having lived there for generations, mixed in with Gringos, Canadians, and the occasional European.  It feels like a neighborhood, not a tourist destination;  people go to work in the morning, children play int he street, and old women sit together on the sidewalk just around the corner from the old men hanging together.   KR has gotten to know all of our neighbors, even though most don’t speak English and she doesn’t speak Spanish.  KR’s friends with several “year rounders” as well, and despite not having Her Man around all the time, seems to have lots of people to keep her busy.

Living in Casa Rana has its challenges, as KR soon found out.   Because the street is RIGHT THERE, next to the living room and bedroom , there was no way to dampen the noise from passing cars/horses/party’rs/gas trucks/ice cream trucks/garbage trucks, etc.  The street is so close and narrow that it’s impossible to keep Rana’s walls and roof from being damaged.  Living there year round presented a whole new set of challenges as it gets incredibly hot in the summer (remember no air conditioning) and pours rain every afternoon/night (can’t get to the office without getting drenched).

Being an X-advertising guy, I’ve been focused on branding and the Identity Package.  I hated the name — who wants to live in the Frog House anyway — so we started to refer to it as “Corona” or “Casa Corona” or “La Corona” since it’s located at the corner or Corona and Miramar.

The Goal: Transforming Casa Rana into La Corona

First step in remodeling Casa Rana was finding an architect/designer, in Mexico no less.  This, as it turned out, was a pretty easy decision as the person we bought the house from was also its designer.  We loved the feel and design of Casa Rana, KR just wanted MORE.  So Jim was brought on board to serve as designer.  Since Jim isn’t an architect, we hired an engineer to serve as General Contractor and Engineer,  Isidro Javier Torres Gomez.  Isidro previously served as PV’s City Engineer, at least guaranteeing that he knew how to get the permits (and what financial incentives were required.)

The Four Horsemen of Planning: Jim, architect; Fred, supplier of money; Isidro, GC, and Father Time in a holiday mood. Planning process took about four months with at least a half-dozen significant design approaches.

The remodel goals changed as we (read KR) thought more about what we (read KR) wanted.  We started out with a simple “let’s add a pool and get a view” thought.  This lasted all of 10 minutes before KR realized that even if we put a pool on the second floor, it wouldn’t be high enough to see over the neighbor’s three story Gringo Condo.  “Well, let’s add a living room, kitchen, dining room, and master suite to the second floor and put the pool on top of that!” suggested Jim.  If I had been in town, I would have hit him.

Clearly, two stories weren’t enough, so we started thinking three.   And how about an “observation deck” for the fourth floor!  And let’s add another kitchen up top.  And if we put the pool on the third floor we can….. just hit me in the face and get it over with.  Please!  Four months and a half dozen design  changes later, we are doing the following:

Typical design session. Chuck -- in the middle -- tells FW "Why are you messing around? Just put a two car garage where the kitchen is and go up four floors." Since Chuck is an architect, I take his advice literally.

  • Building a two-car garage on the first floor where the dining room/kitchen use to be
  • Adding another small kitchen so the two guest rooms on the first floor can get some munchies at night
  • The second floor now includes:  kitchen, bodega, dining room, living room
  • The third floor now includes:  master suite, swimming pool, patio
  • The  fourth floor now includes:  observation deck with dining room, outdoor kitchen, bar, etc.
  • Total square feet:  who the h___ knows.  Certainly more than double
  • No of kitchens:  three
  • No of bathrooms:  five

Lilly is on the street too. "Just tell me where I can sleep, will ya?"

The (Progress) Plan

Karen has rented a room across the street from La Corona in order to supervise construction.   Isidro assures us it will be “done” by mid-May and judging by his progress during the first couple of weeks it looks doable.  I will fly down every month or so and check on progress and… write the checks.

The deconstruction of Casa Rana shortly followed (hopefully) by the construction of La Corona is turning out to be quite the neighborhood event.  Next door neighbor Eduardo (see last post) and one of his sons are already employed at the site. Every passerby has an opinion on whether tearing down a local landmark is a capital crime or normal progress.   It’s not unusual to see folks sitting on the sidewalk across the street watching the hustle of 15-20 workers  in constant motion.   One of our neighbors is so impressed with how hard everyone is working, that he brings Cokes to the team every day.  Isidro’s reputation is growing exponentially as people can’t believe the speed at which things are happening.  He’s already gotten two new referrals from just the first couple of weeks…


Step One: Remove the 100 year old roof tile and store it away for use later.



Step Two: take all the tile/cement off the roof. Save the old wood for later use as well.


This is what use to be the dining room and will eventually be FW's Man Cave/garage



View from KR's new apartment. Roof has been removed, the front walls are mostly down to make room for the garage door and new front entrance, the old kitchen is gone as is the living room.

On any given day, there are between 10 and 20 workers on the site. And these guys are moving so fast that they've become a local attraction.


Isidro explains to me how he's going to structurally support three stories, a pool, etc.


"How high up are we going?"


This big of a project requires daily meetings. Crew listens intently to Mario (black T-shirt), the on-site Foreman.


Yes, this is a SCHEDULE created in excel by Isidro. After one month we're about a week behind. Isidro assures me he's going to make it up in the next phase. Call me crazy, but I believe him.


The Design Team watches their vision rise.


KR calls this "our" dump truck. Several times a day this monster rumbles up/down our street and deposits a load of sand in the street. Obviously, traffic is halted for long periods.


Sand is then put in plastic buckets and carried to the cement mixer. These guys pick up these 50 lb buckets and literally run up the plank to deposit the sand.

Making cement columns the old fashioned way.


This re-bar column was so long, it had to be made around the corner and then carried here.


KR inspecting a neighbor's pool. "I want one of these!"


"Honey, imagine just six months from now you'll be able to see the ocean from your 4th floor observation deck..."


All things look good with a cocktail at La Palapa. This was my first weekend trip to see progress. All visits begin at La Palapa.



10 replies
  1. Debbie Hundoble says:

    OMG! I thought you were adding on not rebuilding your casa. Surprised that Artemio isn’t there with Pamela to haul sand;) A very exciting project, can’t wait to hang out at the pool with a cocktail to celebrate your new home. Lots of love…Debbie and Dennis

  2. Sam and Jill says:

    When we were down there, listening to Jim and Isidro, we had our doubts it would ever happen. But KR’s pictures are astounding. Tell us again why you didn’t just spend all that money to buy a new beautiful Pacific facing/air conditioned/big underground garage/rooftop pool condo that you’re trying to build high enough to see over? …never mind. Just DO it! Love J & S

  3. Harriet says:

    What a project! I didn’t even know you had that much land.

    The castle will look great when it is finished.

    You realize you are going to delay retirement a little longer?

  4. Bob Wilson says:

    William Randolph Hearst did this with Hearst Castle. Just keep building and rebuilding. Built a great pool with an ocean view. I am sure I will enjoy the updates; thanks for sharing. Bob

  5. Greg says:

    You are way ahead of our project in Nepal, but the building process —the old fashioned way including greasing the wheels for permits— is the same. Cheers

  6. Gary Wescott says:

    My God Fred, what have you & KR created?? As we here in Nevada City somewhat frantically begin to see what what needs to be done before leaving our comfy home and driving around the world again for three years, we do have some vague idea os what KR is doing in a different way. We may not get to visit until we are actually on the road and headed to an undetermined East Coast port. Maybe then, the dust will have settled in all our lives and we can park The Turtle V at an airport and zip down for week. How did we all get so busy? It’s a crime. Our very estimated departure is May.
    Gary & Monika

  7. Judy Rhoden says:

    Karen, you are a busy girl. I can’t wait to see the finished project. Looks like it will be magnificent. We should be returning April/May sometime. Good luck and keep sending the updates.

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