The Old Customs Building is located on the east side of Santo Domingo Plaza between Republica de Venezuela and Luis Gonzalez Obregon Streets just to the north of the Zócalo. The Royal Customs office was in charge of the regulation of merchandise imported into New Spain and taxing the same, becoming the largest source of revenue for the government.
The land here originally belonged to several nobles, including the Marquis of Villamayor. The office was at the time located on 5 de febrero Street but was moved into the Villamayor house in 1676 because of its location next to Santo Domingo Plaza.
The government bought the house and rebuilt it in 1730, constructing the building that survives today. Eventually, the Customs office in Mexico City closed and was taken over by the Secretariat of Public Education in the early part of the 20th century. Today it houses the offices of this government agency.
As the colony of New Spain developed, foreign trade, especially with the Philippines, other Spanish colonies and Spain itself became a fundamental branch of the economy and the main source of tax income for the Crown, making the Royal Customs Office an important institution from the colonial period until the 19th century.
It was originally located on 5 de febrero Street. It remained there until 1676, when it was moved to the houses of the Marquis of Villamayor. This family rented the property to the government for 400 pesos a year while they lived in Spain. Despite its condition, the site was chosen because of its space and location next to Santo Domingo Plaza, which provided a place for people to wait.
In 1723, it was estimated that the cost of rebuilding the house would be about 40,000 pesos, and Pedro Arrieta was put in charge of the project. Construction of the building, which survives to this day, began in 1729 and finished in 1731. Structural problems with the new construction started soon after it was completed. Today, only the exterior, main stairs and columns in the patios are originals, with the rest eventually replaced under a number of repairs.
After the Mexican War of Independence, the Customs building remained a tax collection centre, although it was reorganised in 1825. In 1887, President Porfirio Díaz held a grand banquet and ball here to celebrate his third term in office. The building was decorated with carpets, tropical plants, bronze sculptures, fountains and coloured lights. However, shortly after this, internal customs fees were abolished and later this building would house the Federal District Treasury. This led to the building’s current name, which is “Vieja Aduana”, or Old Customs.
Due to the continued growth of Secretariat of Public Education in the early 20th century, the old Customs building was annexed to the agency along with a number of adjoining houses. This is how all of the buildings on this block came to be joined together in the 1930s. About ten years later, the main stairwell was painted. The building saw another round of restoration and remodelling work in 1991.