Las Pozas (“the Pools”) is a sculpture garden built by Edward James, more than 2,000 feet above sea level, in a tropical rain forest in the mountains of Mexico. It includes more than 80 acres of natural waterfalls and pools interlaced with towering Surrealist sculptures in concrete.
Las Pozas is near the village of Xilitla, San Luis Potosí, a seven-hour drive north of Mexico City. In the early 1940s, James went to Los Angeles
, and then decided that he “wanted a Garden of Eden set up . . . and I saw that Mexico was far more romantic” and had “far more room than there is in crowded Southern California.” In Cuernavaca, he hired Plutarco Gastelum, then a young manager of a telegraph office, as a guide. The two found Xilitla in November 1945.
In Xilitla, Plutarco married a local woman and had four children. They all lived with “Uncle Edward”, as the children called James, in a house Plutarco had built, a mock-Gothic cement castle, now a hotel – La Posada El Castillo.
Between 1949 and 1984, James built thirty-six concrete follies – palaces, temples and pagodas, including the House on Three Floors Which Will in Fact Have Five or Four or Six, the House with a Roof like a Whale, and the Staircase to Heaven. There were also plantings and beds full of tropical plants, including orchids – there were, apparently, 29,000 at Las Pozas at one time – and a variety of small casas (homes), niches, and pens that held exotic birds and wild animals from the world over. Massive sculptures up to four stories tall punctuate the site. The many trails throughout the garden site are composed of steps, ramps, bridges and narrow, winding walkways that traverse the valley walls. Construction of Las Pozas cost more than $5 million. To pay for it, James sold his collection of Surrealist art at auction.