Made internationally famous as the title of an ersatz folk song by the Kingston Trio in 1959 (reaching Number 12 on the charts), the downtown Tijuana jail, known widely as “El Ocho” because of its location at the corner of Eighth Street and Constitución, is being shut down soon.
The fortress-like masonry structure, built in the 1940s and adjacent to a similarly constructed firehouse from the same epoch, brings to a close an era when all things governmental were located within a few blocks of one another in the downtown district known as El Centro.
Photos published recently in Tijuana’s daily Frontera show the jail’s dilapidated and decaying interior, with graffiti-scrawled walls and crumbling ceilings. The jail’s cells are a metallic maze of multi-tiered cages connected by precipitous staircases and meandering catwalks.
Municipal police still stationed at the jail will move to new headquarters in a newly constructed 9000-square-meter facility located in Ciudad Industrial Nueva Tijuana on the outskirts of town. Right now the jail is being used as a police armory; few prisoners are still incarcerated there.
What to do with “El Ocho” is a current concern of city government. Some propose a razing of the ancient leviathan, while other civic groups propose a conversion to a museum.
“There are many dark stories in this place,” says Julio Rodriguez, director general of the Fundación Entijuanarte, “and they are going to always be there…but they can be transformed into something good, just like the City of Tijuana, which is transforming itself, day by day.”