Inaugurated in 1932, Madrid Beach was the first artificial beach in Spain, created for popular enjoyment. They were 300 meters of natural sand and a flooded lake thanks to the damming of the Manzanares river in what is now the border between the districts of Moncloa and El Pardo. It was a complex with buildings of modernist inspiration and republican vocation, designed by the architect Manuel Muñoz Monasterio. The war cut short its development. With the Franco regime it ended, over the years, dried up and turned into a sports club, with tennis courts, fronton, outdoor swimming pools, a social center and extensive picnic areas. But the club has not reopened since 2014, when the last manager of the facilities, the Arturo group, of the then president of the Madrid employer’s association, Arturo Fernández, closed down owing more than 800,000 euros to the owner, National Heritage. Seven years later, the public entity intends to re-rent the land, at a rate of 4.6 million euros, for a period of 25 years, extendable for another 25 years. The problem is that the place is now practically a landfill.
In the 18.5 hectares of Playa de Madrid there is practically not a window with full glass, not a door with handles, not a plug in its place. All its buildings, some with patrimonial protection, are full of graffiti. Changing rooms and toilets, destroyed. In the office building, where the most characteristic tower rises – a print of one of Robert Capa’s photos in the Civil War – they are scattered, as if the staff had fled due to a bombing notice, even the old membership cards , spread out on the floor next to day tickets, filing cabinets, chairs and other furniture. The social center, with a plan reminiscent of the keel of a ship, is little more than a skeleton.
The small clinic, where the small wounds from the pool and tennis afternoons were treated, preserves, covered in dust, the stretcher, along with an oxygen bottle. A billiard table miraculously survives in the billiard room. In addition, the passage of the storm Filomena has meant that the trees have suffered great damage, which can be seen in the many fallen branches of the large pines and plane trees that trump the grounds. Everything seems down, except for the happy hares running around the fields.
“The place has architectural, historical and artistic value,” says the architect Alberto Tellería, a member of the Madrid Citizenship and Heritage association, who recalls particularities of the buildings, such as the fact that Muñoz Monastery himself reviewed the design of the buildings to add roofs of blackboard, in line with the “imperial” air that was required in postwar Madrid. Tellería misses a surveillance that corresponds to National Heritage, but in his opinion also to the General Directorate of Heritage of the Community of Madrid and the Tagus Hydrographic Confederation. He regrets that today it is “in a state of neglect and unbecoming ruin of an important building of pre-war architecture.”
Measures to prevent another failure
National Heritage insists on the concession model to manage the land, but this time it has added safeguards to try to avoid a new disaster. According to the specifications, applicants must demonstrate a business volume of two million euros in the three years prior to the contract, and provide a deposit of 150,000 euros, in addition to taking charge of the restoration of the protected elements. They must also sign insurance during the first year for an amount of 1.8 million. The minimum investment required to repair all the mess is three million.
The photos provided by the public entity in the tender announcement are not recent and do not reflect the latest damage. However, the facilities continue to have potential, and National Heritage continues to organize visits this week, on the edge of the deadline for submitting offers, which ends on September 30. Some of the interested parties have raised whether the buildings can be mortgaged to finance their rehabilitation – it cannot – or if they can create an ad hoc company, if they are awarded, to manage the complex – it doesn’t fit either.
Private concession or public service
The veteran ecologist Juan García Vicente, a fighter to recover the banks of the Manzanares for public enjoyment, visits the area frequently and attests to the progressive decline of the place, accelerated in recent months. “I remember in the year 95, when the club was run by Telefónica, that the wild boars came down at dusk to eat the remains that people left,” he recalls. “They are potentially extraordinary facilities, but taking them up for hire is such a large investment that I don’t know who is going to take it on,” he says.
García Vicente would prefer that the place had a public use, extreme in which he coincides with the architect Tellería. “Given that they occupy public land, a popular use should be sought. If there is the Trade Union Park, [nombre anterior del cercano parque deportivo Puerta de Hierro], which is used by the Community of Madrid, it could be done as an extension, at popular prices “, states this. Options that at least symbolically refer to the original idea, when Madrid Beach was the scene of popular dances or fashion contests to economic prices Tellería warns: “That it does not happen like with the Country Club, with prohibitive prices for normal people.”