Hal Braxton Hayes came to Mexico in 1960. In less than one year he established a successful nightclub in the port of Acapulco, and he built a nine-story building in record-breaking time with hundreds of laborers working day and night. He planned on building an international club for businessmen that would rise to the height of 21 floors over a cliff on Cerro de la Mira. The project would be amazing; it would have three swimming pools, one of them extending 15 meters over the Pacific Ocean from which divers would parachute down in a in free-fall towards La Quebrada. 145 rooms, 15 kitchens, 42 lounges … the height of luxury for that era. However, authorities stopped the project fearing that the construction might fall to any future earthquakes. It goes without saying that at the time there were no online resources with which to learn who this “gringo loco” was.
Hal was born in 1911, in North Carolina, where he grew up in a small town called Lenoir. When his father –a builder– started struggling during the Great Depression, Hal travelled to California looking for opportunities. He started working as timekeeper by trade and rose in the ranks until he decided to start his own business. From a young age he showed signs of great creative skill by developing hundreds of inventions that have since been patented, among which, the Jib Crane stands out, being used worldwide to raise structures surpassing eight floors in height. In the middle of the United States’ economic crisis, Hal had the foresight to cutting construction prices down. In his endeavor, he became an expert in handling concrete and designed a production line to build homes in a very short time, which earned him the nickname, “the Ford of construction”. In 1945, Life Magazine published an article showing the construction of a house in just 34 minutes, ready for living, fully furnished and equipped with water, gas and electricity services. The house’s owner was James Sadler who was proud to lay claim to a famous home on Lexington Avenue in the city of El Cerrito, California. Newspapers were filled with reports from this quickly built, cheap house in a time when people needed to economize. Hayes populated cities with thousands of houses that stand out from the others, and which people started to recognize for their “Hayes style.” When he reached his thirties, his profits had reached up to one million dollars.
Hal also earned the title of the “miracle concrete man.” With World War II approaching he focused on the study and development of said material to produce navy ships. In 1943 he presented the prototype of a submarine ship, which he called Lektron. Measuring 125 feet in length and shaped like a cigar, the ship reached a speed of 20 knots (37 km/h) at San Francisco’s harbor and the word spread in the newspapers and local and national magazines. The inventor promised a ship that would reach 75 knots (138.9 km/h), a speed unheard of for this type of ship; however, at that point the war was over, and with it, support for the project’s development.
The end of the war brought a new market niche for the businessman. The two world superpowers started the technological race that sought paths to space and the development of the most lethal bombs that the world had ever seen. On April 22, 1952 the testing of an atomic bomb in the Desert of Nevada was broadcasted in the USA, to which the Federal Government invited Hayes as a witness. The builder not only accepted the invitation, but also proposed testing one of his nuclear shelters. He was so confident that he volunteered himself to remain inside the construction and prove to the world that a human being would be perfectly safe in his bombproof hideout. The government denied the request. Nevertheless, the explosion submerged all citizens in a general panic that made them seek effective protection. It was then that the popularity of nuclear bunkers rose. Hayes wrote several articles in which he gave advice to the population regarding cheap and effective ways to protect their homes without having to undergo new construction, and he urged the government to impose strict regulations that would guarantee protection against nuclear disaster in newly built buildings. Although the government ignored his recommendations, the builder focused on offering bombproof houses.
With his own resources, the millionaire built the “house of his dreams” in 1953 on Sierra Alta, Beverly Hills. His mansion was ad-hoc to the extravagance of Hollywood; it included a series of mechanisms that protected it from any nuclear bombing. With just one button, floor mats rose to the windows to protect the glass and prevent the glass shards from flying out due to the explosion, and these mats even protected against gamma rays and neutrons. The swimming pool, which was both inside and outside, covered the entrance to a secret hideout filled with oxygen tanks. Hal thought that people could wash off nuclear radiation by submerging in water. He also included a nuclear shelter in the lower part of the house and inside a mountain, totally bombproof. But the bon vivant included other particularities to his home that had little to do with safety. The kitchen was equipped with faucets that served Champagne, Scotch Whiskey and Bourbon, as he usually threw parties for great celebrities from that neighborhood and the rest of world. A tree was trapped in the construction of three floors and rises to date over the roof. In one of the rooms, the TV was incorporated into the tree trunk and received reception. Cars parked on two metal rails to save space, according to the mastermind. Doubtless, it looked spectacular as well. On one side of the stairs of this six-story mansion, Hayes included a pair of his own concrete sculptures, one represented Death; the other, a dying athlete after fighting his final battle whose face was the artist’s own. The pictures remained as the record of these statues, portraying a style that later would remain in his artistic work. Furthermore, the interior of the house is distinguished by a particular design, as it seeks to simulate the external environment with plant and tree forms that seem to tangle in and emerge from the walls.
Hayes’ dreams knew no limits. Another of his inventions was a house on wheels that could be folded and unfolded in seconds. Made with concrete, it included a swimming pool and a chimney, which was a luxury for some, and economic housing for others. In 1954 he promised the construction of the first totally bombproof city that would rise on a land field near Minneapolis. A dream he never achieved.
Not everything in his life was invention and construction. Some magazines described him as a Hollywood Playboy and he boasted of socializing with great celebrities and beautiful women like Barbara Hutton and Grace Kelly. The Hungarian movie star Zsa Zsa Gabor almost married him twice. The first failed attempt happened in 1956; but in 1959 the engagement seemed solid when he gave her a 45-karat solid blue diamond ring that was so heavy that people say the actress could not raise her hand and she would only use her free hand to gesticulate. But their marriage never happened. Hayes exchanged the glamour of Beverly Hills for the Acapulcan landscape, which he modified with his “Tower of Babel”, as some of the locals called his great building. The work was stopped for almost three decades, accumulating myths and legends.
Many of us live with our minds filled with dreams, promises that we make for the future and yet barely achieve: “when I have the time, I’ll become a writer”, “when I retire, I’ll be a painter” … dreams that help us continue on the path of the illusion of self-realization. By the end of the eighties Hal Hayes focused his creative skills and entrepreneurship on accomplishing one more endeavor: becoming an artist. He came back to the newspapers and magazines, this time locally and nationally in Mexico. In 1987, at the Guerreran Port, with great pomp and splendor after 18 years of absence, he arrived at the 12th World Review of the Film Festivals of Acapulco. The reopened festival sought to cover other artistic expressions. Hal Braxton Hayes took the opportunity to present his work in the fields of painting and sculptures in bronze.
Maybe it was because his works were kept for so long in the closet of his dreams that the pieces seem to emerge from a fantasy universe. These were figures that could be distinguished as discrete beings, but could not be recognized as anything other than “essences” of animals and men. The creative process of the American artist had its origin in a self-hypnosis session; having broken the dream, the artist made sketches so he wouldn’t forget his ideas. The challenge was the carrying out of his dreams. Without a doubt, while contemplating his work one feels transported to a dream world. The author describes his work as abstract, grotesque and frames it in a style that he has called sculp-art. Hayes said that among the celebrities he knew in his lifetime were Pablo Picasso, which he introduced to the king and queen of England thanks to the socialite Barbara Hutton. The work of the Spanish artist has a major influence on the work of the American artist, which is most evident in two pieces: “La pieta”, which seems to have emerged from the Guernica and the Demoiselle with inspiration from the Young Ladies of Avignon, masterpieces from the Malagenean genius.
Hal impressed the Mexican newspapers, magazines and TV shows with his pieces, creativity and personality. Several newspapers recorded his painting and sculpture exhibitions, which he presented at the Convention Center of Acapulco, and were visited by the Latin-American presidents of the time. Hayes attracted all the attention, arriving in a limousine, with his pet leopard and in the company of the actress Sonia Infante. The pieces showed tags with prices in the millions of dollars. Months later, Hal presented other work which was more attractive. He remodeled the building at La Mira hill and decorated it with his sculptures and creations, making it one big, elaborate sculpture. On the stone and concrete walls he hung his bronze frames. On the roof, the sculpture of a giant outlined face rose, weighing many tons. On one side of the building, on the floor that would have contained the pool extending 15 meters over the Pacific Ocean, Braxton —as he signed his pieces— made an installation out of his limousine which was hung with the wheels on top and which rotated in any position thanks to five axes that held it up. As well as his Hollywood mansion, the sumptuous car had details that could have only been called a luxury, such as a fridge, bed and television. This work drew so much attention that an American production team called “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” came to record his life and his work with bronze.
Eccentric, charismatic, miraculous, innovative … Hayes has been described with hundreds of adjectives that magnify him; some would say that he was a man out of this world. As though his death would honor as well his misterious aura, Hayes died the night before death is celebrated in the US, on October 30, 1993. But without a doubt, what made him unique was his ability to realize his dreams, of bringing to the material world that fantastic universe that inhabited his mind. He put his creativity to the service of science and art equally. But having knowledge of him as a man that roamed this earth, as one of us, rising from less favorable circumstances, invites us to feel great admiration, but above all, it inspires us to test our own creative and productive skills. This inspiring skill permeates all of his work that conveys his skill to whomever looks upon it.