REAL ESTATE OPPORTUNITIES IN MEXICO are not that difficult to come by (remember the recent rash of folks snapping up old haciendas at bargain prices and refurbishing them?). But when I heard about an unusual prospect—an old mansion where Santa Anna supposedly lived was for sale—I jumped at the break to find out more. And I uncovered a beautifully renovated two-hundred-year-old home near Merida.

It is no secret that Santa Anna has been a controversial figure in Texas history—and that the Battle of the Alamo has been a hotly debated topic among historians for years. But Richard Flores, an associate professor of anthropology and Mexican American studies and the director of the Americo Paredes Center for Cultural Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, points out that while Texans tend to remember Santa Anna primarily for his role as villain at the Alamo, for Mexicans, “the Alamo is relatively minor, in terms of his reputation.” Between 1833 and 1855, Mexico’s presidency changed hands 36 times, Santa Anna taking the office on 11 of these occasions. For the first decade of his military career, he was a die-hard royalist, supporting the efforts of the King of Spain. However, the first of many political turnarounds for Santa Anna occurred in 1821. Getting caught up in the political movement of his peers, he followed them headlong into support for Agustin de Iturbide, whose goal was to win Mexico’s independence from Spain. Only two years after this, Santa Anna switched sides again. This set the pattern for the rest of his career. His political loyalties shifted so many times during his lifetime that, at different points in his career, he played both the hero and the villain for anyone in Mexican territory with political opinions. Of course, Tejas was a part of Mexican territory then, so that goes for Texans as well. Surely, such a rich figure in history—Texas history or Mexico history—arouses the interest of even the average citizen.

Enter Raymond Winston Branham, who believes the hacienda had been in ruins for at least two decades before he bought the property about five years ago. But he didn’t know of the general’s connection until previous occupants of the villa arrived to visit. They told him that Santa Anna had made this sprawling mansion his home in the 1820’s, when he had an army stationed in Merida. When Santa Anna and his garrison lived there, the grounds encompassed more square footage and there was an outside kitchen as well as private quarters for the general and his men. Branham’s interest was aroused all right, and he began the arduous task of restoring the home (although he never intended it to be exactly like it was when the general walked its halls). Branham added a second story, bathrooms, a pool, and fountains to the ancient structure. The six-thousand-square-foot villa now boasts five bedrooms, five bathrooms, five fountains, a front courtyard, and a spectacular pool. It takes a good twenty minutes to walk to the heart of Merida from the hacienda, which is surrounded by a mix of homes and shops—oh, and an iguana sanctuary. (Branham feared Merida’s rapid growth would thwart the area’s lizard population so he bought the lot behind the hacienda and transformed it into a parklike setting for the iguanas.)

About a year ago, Branham sold the hacienda to its current owner, who had every intention of turning the place into a bed-and-breakfast. But the current owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, decided running a B&B would be too demanding for a retired fellow and put the property on the market in July. The real estate firm handling the home convinced its owner that the best way to market the hacienda would be to open it up as a bed-and-breakfast and get people there to see it. The marketing strategy proved successful. The mansion is booked solid through Christmas. If you aren’t interested in forking over $825,000 to purchase the hacienda but would like to visit the home where Santa Anna once lived, make your reservation now, before this window of opportunity closes.