The Battle for San Juan
In order for the terrorists in Justifiable Evil to take over San Juan, they must first neutralize the police station in Puerta de Tierra. Scouting the area five years ago, to determine how such an attack could be carried out (I am still amazed that nobody questioned what I was doing, roaming the police buildings and taking many photographs), I soon came to the conclusion that any kind of terrorist attempt on the police would have to start from the public housing complex that lies across the street of the police facilities. That housing complex, known as El Falansterio, is in itself a unique landmark in San Juan which requires further examination. Therefore, a little background information about El Falansterio follows.
The southwestern corner of El Falansterio
"El Falansterio had been the offspring of the Great Depression. Trying to stimulate the collapsed economy, President Franklin Roosevelt had signed into law the 'Federal Emergency Relief Act', which assigned millionaire federal funding to projects that promoted the creation of new infrastructure throughout the country. Puerto Rico was no exception. Fueled by the New Deal, the island embarked in a brand new experiment to improve living conditions for indigent families, and in 1937 finished the construction of the first public housing project in its history, El Falansterio." Justifiable Evil, Chapter XIII, page 145.
Aerial view of El Falansterio
"The apartment complex spread in the shape of a large rectangle over one city block, composed of a total of eighteen, three story buildings surrounding an enormous interior courtyard. Six buildings lined each of the two longer sides of the rectangle, including the side that faced the Puerta de Tierra police station across Fernandez Juncos Avenue. Four units established the length of El Falansterio's two other shorter flanks." Justifiable Evil, Chapter XIII, page 145.
One of the front entrances to the housing complex
Sideview of El Falansterio, as seen from the Puerta de Tierra police station
Another example of El Falansterio's Art Deco architecture
"It was its Art Deco design, however, that set it apart. The housing project contained no sharp corners or angled terminations, the edges of its buildings ending in smooth, clean curves, its long balconies projecting outward with similar lines and adorned with wrought iron railings. Not surprisingly, it had soon become a central landmark in the city of San Juan." Justifiable Evil, Chapter XIII, page 146.
El Falansterio lies directly across from the main police station in Puerta de Tierra. (See photo below.) As Secretary General of the FEPI, Felipe Lebron, explains in the book to his fellow conspirators, El Falansterio literally means "...the area occupied by a phalanx, you know, with shields joined and spears overlapping, like the 300 Spartans...It comes from ancient Greece." Justifiable Evil, Chapter II, page 24.
A photo of El Falansterio to the left and the police station buildings to the right.
It was essential for the terrorists to contain the police forces in their Puerta de Tierra headquarters, in order to gain complete control over the island of San Juan. As can be seen from the photo above, anybody occupying the rooftop of El Falansterio has an unfettered and dominating view of the two police station buildings across the street and of the open space where the police vehicles are parked. To better visualize the pitched battle that erupts between the conspirators and the police authorities, a description of the police facilities follows.
The smallest, older building of the police station.
The Puerta de Tierra police station was basically composed of two structures. "The more modest of the two (buildings), the two-story structure on the right, is the original station. The picture (that the terrorists watched) displayed a squat, ugly building, painted in acrylic navy blue, with the horizontal edges between its two floors highlighted in yellow. Twin ramps rose from the opposite sides of its front entrance, meeting on a platform at the center that led to a set of open doors...During the 70's and 80's, there used to be a high rise building across the street...A drug gang used to sell drugs from there...The police could no longer ignore it and conducted a few raids. The dealers retaliated by taking periodic pot shots at the police...The police were forced to cover their windows with steel plates, to avoid getting shot. Some of those steel plates are still there..." Justifiable Evil, Chapter II, page 21-22.
A view of the Puerta de Tierra police station, facing Fernandez Juncos Avenue.
"The other building, to the left, is...much larger than the original station, and taller. Three stories high...The walls of the 'modern' station had been slapped with the same blue and canary yellow paint of its smaller counterpart. Its two upper floors were lined from one end of the building to the other with glass windows that connected waist-high concrete walls to the ceiling. The lower level had narrower windows, added to enhance the floor's interior illumination." Justifiable Evil, Chapter II, page 22.
The photo above shows how Colonel Calderon, when scouting the area, would have found the station. The picture shows the parking area in front of the main police building, where most of the police vehicles were stationed. The blue fence to the left, made of iron bars, separates the parking area from the sidewalk and Fernandez Juncos Avenue on the other side. There are two exits in the parking area, at each end of the fence. During the terrorist attack in the book, the police vehicles could only leave through either of the two exits, which were blocked by the traffic stalled in the Fernandez Juncos Avenue..
Partial back view of the main police building
"There's a narrow alley in the back of the two buildings. The larger building has two entrances in the back that lead to what seems to be a combination of an indoor garage and a mechanic's shop. The older building also has a small exit in the back. We have prepared something that will permanently seal those exits." Justifiable Evil, Chapter II, page 24.
Like the bridges (see "The Story Behind Justifiable Evil (Part 1)", posted on May 12), much has changed since I first began to do the research for the book. The smaller police building is no longer in use and has been boarded up. Even the larger building seems to be in the process of being phased out. Very few cars are parked in the open space, and hardly any police presence is seen. Nevertheless, for the purposes of the book, the police station continues too be as active as ever.
(To be continued...)