In 1947 Tijuana, Mexico huge crowds gathered downtown, all eager to witness jai alai, or “pelota vasca” (Basque ball). El Foro Antiguo Palacio Jai Alai was constructed to quench the thirst of the masses who couldn’t get enough of one of the fastest-paced sports in the world.
Throughout the middle of the 20th Century, audiences throughout the Western were catching on to a sport that populations today may have never even heard of. Jai alai – a sport played with a wicker basket used to fling a ball off walled spaces at seemingly impossible speeds – was all the rage. Such was the case in Mexico, and Tijuana was no exception. El Palacio was the American Southwest’s premiere destination to catch the sport’s professionals at the top of their game, drawing audiences from both sides of the borders. In the plaza outside the main entry of the arena (or “frontón” as it’s called in jai alai), a full-color statue of a player, mid-leap, was erected to depict the vitality of the sport whose appeal seemed to have finally conquered the world.
Yet as popularity steadily waned after mid-century, like many other Jai Alai frontóns around the world, El Palacio fell in disrepair. By 2002, the frontón was closed due to lack of draw, and an inability to pay for much needed repairs.
The following year, investors raised funds needed to preserve this piece of historic Tijuana, albeit in a slightly altered form. After completing much needed renovations to El Palacio’s interior and structure, the building reopened as a concert hall. As testament to El Palacio’s bygone days, the classic jai alai player, perched atop his globe, still stands outside of the concert hall’s entrance along la Avenida Revolución.
Similarly, in tribute to the sport that brought El Palacio to the city in the first place, renovations preserved the building’s original façade, which continues to shout “jai alai” in bold red neon, even if international touring acts now conquer the stage inside.
Know Before You Go
If you like walking, it's roughly a 25-minute amble from the San Ysidro (San Diego, CA) border. However, if you fill up on churros before embarking, it'll seem a lot longer.