Following the First World War, growing competition from recently developed artificial saltpeter resulted in a gradual decline of the nitrate’s commercialisation. Being Chile’s major exporter, this situation had a severe impact on the country’s economy and led to the progressive closure of the Saltpeter Works. This triggered dramatic unemployment, poverty increase, as well as the migration of thousands of men to the central and southern parts of the country.
The Santa Laura and Humberstone offices were not an exception. After their final closure in 1960, their last inhabitants abandoned the sites. In the following decades, their buildings and infrastructure started deteriorating: they were partially dismantled and their movable parts –such as signposts, door frames and furniture – were looted.