Paseo de la Castellana
History of the Palace
In 1885, Don Ignacio de Figueroa, the Marquis of Villamejor, lived in the historic quarter of Madrid in an enormous mansion close to the Plaza del Progreso, in the street then known as Calle de Barrio Nuevo, and now called Conde de Romanones. Like many other nobles in the Court circle, he decided to move to the outskirts of Madrid, specifically the Paseo de la Castellana, the most privileged area of the city, where land had acquired greater value and boasted good communication links with both the centre of Madrid and the hippodrome; he acquired the land where the Panorama Nacional was located, which had been sold at public auction after it went bankrupt following the scant success of the show.
In September 1885, he ordered the lines to be marked out for the new construction. One month later, the municipal architect Enrique Sánchez y Rodríguez marked out all the lines as requested, but the building permit was not applied for until two years later.
The plans for the Palace submitted to the city council were signed by José Purkiss as the architect even though he was the master builder. The building had three facades: the main one set back from the Paseo de la Castellana to allow carriages to pass; the second facade looked out onto Alcalá Galiano and the third one left a passage between the palace and the Hotel Ametller facing the coach house located in the basement.
The Palace contained a cellar, which ran entire length and breadth of the building, a ground floor set back from the street with an entrance stairway, and a first and second floor as well as an attic.
The dismantling process and passage for carriages were begun in April of that same year, and upon completion, construction work commenced on the Palace itself, which was not finished until December 1893.
Until now, this building was attributed to the master builder José Purkiss, and understandably so since the plans stored in the Madrid Archive were signed by him. However, Luis Mª Cabello Lapiedra, when issuing the building completion certificate, states that the building work: "... has been planned and directed successively by the master builder Don José Purkiss and the architect Don Pascual Herraiz...".
Analysis of the buildings and plans of both these men indicates that the Palace may well have been the work of Herraiz, since there is a clear continuity with the buildings he designed this period.
However, since he was not yet a fully qualified architect when the building permit was requested, the Marquis of Villamejor may have asked Purkiss to present the plans and collaborate in the construction. There is another fact that corroborates this conclusion: according to Vicente García Cabrera, "Pascual Herraiz was the architect for Don Ignacio de Figueroa until the latter’s death". Purkiss’ usual architectural style was a far cry from the eclectic classicism of this building.
In 1899, the Marquis of Villamejor died and his widow, Doña Ana de Torres Córdoba y Sotomayor, continued to live in the Palace until she died six years later, leaving the palace to her children: Rodrigo de Figueroa y Torres, Duke of Tovar and Francisca de Figueroa y Torres, Countess of Almodovar, who sold the palace to the Infante of Spain and widowed Prince of Asturias, Don Carlos de Borbón y Borbón, according to the Property Register, on the 11th May 1906.
The palace was remodelled as a residence for the new owner, who had acquired the property shortly before he wedded his second wife, Doña Mª Luisa de Orleans. They lived there from 1907 until 1914, and the couple’s daughters Dolores, María de las Mercedes and Esperanza were also born there. Doña María was the mother of the present King of Spain Juan Carlos I.
The Property Register contains no record of any sale; Don Carlos signed the building over to the Government of Alfonso XIII, for the Prime Minister’s and Cabinet offices. However, Government Archives contain no documentation that mentions this transfer. However, a Law was passed on the 30th June 1914 authorising its acquisition and approving a loan for two million pesetas, specifying that 1,900,000 pesetas were to be used for the acquisition of the Palace.
The remodelling work was carried out by José de Espelius y Anduaga, the Prime Minister’s architect. The ground and first floor were adapted to house the Prime Minister’s Office and the second floor was occupied by the Civil Inspection of the Army and Navy and the Protectorate of Morocco. The stables were knocked down and replaced with the archive and other buildings.
There are few references until after the Civil War, but in 1921, the Ministry of Employment was set up on the first floor and, later on, led by Primo de Rivera, the Military Directorate occupied a section of the Palace.
The Cabinet Meetings held by Manuel Azaña in the Cabinet Office have since become legendary. During this period, the rooms were renovated to extreme levels of luxury; swathed in silk and decorated with chandeliers, paintings and furniture were brought in from the Riofrío Palace.
It was Colonel Galarza who reopened this building as the headquarters of the Prime Minister’s Sub-Secretariat, replaced in 1941 by Don Luis Carrero Blanco.
The architect Diego Méndez was commissioned to renovate and maintain the Prime Minister’s Offices after 1955. His first task was to carry out a series of repairs, but in subsequent years he undertook various renovation jobs without touching the main rooms.
Approval was gained to add another floor to the building but the project did not go ahead; ten years later, the issue of extending the building once again emerged owing to the lack of space.
Méndez designed a pavilion to be attached to the south side, taking over part of the garden of the former Egaña Palace, at No. 29 Génova, to expand the Library and Archive; however this project was similarly not put into effect.
However, the idea was taken up again in the latter years of Carrero Blanco’s term as Deputy Prime Minister, and a cafeteria was installed in the new pavilion. The functions of the Prime Minister’s Office had grown to such an extent that it gradually took over other buildings, such as No. 5, Paseo de la Castellana, and part of No. 8, Alcalá Galiano, in addition to other apartments nearby.
In 1976, Spain began a new period in its history and the Villamejor Palace saw different tenants come and go, giving rise to a series of reforms and modifications made inside.