Paseo de la Castellana

The palace history

Don Ignacio de Figueroa, marquis of Villamejor, lived in 1885 in the ancient area of Madrid, in a huge house, close to the Plaza del Progreso, in the ancient street of Barrio Nuevo 12, today named Conde de Romanones. Like many other aristocrats settled in the court, he decided to move to the expansion area, choosing the Paseo de la Castellana, the most beautiful zone, where the land had acquired greater value and this area had good transportation, both with the centre and the hippodrome. He chose the land where stood the Panorama Nacional, which was sumitted to a public auction for bankruptcy because of the minor success of the show.

In September 1885 he iniciated the new construction. One month later, the municipal architect Enrique Sánchez and Rodríguez marked the alignments, but only two years later he asked for the licence to build it.

Paseo de Castellana, 3 - Sede Principal

The project for the Palace submitted to the city Council was signed by the architect José Purkiss who also was the master builder. The building had three facades: the main one setting back from the Paseo de la Castellana to allow carriages to pass; the second facade looking at Alcalá Galiano and the third one lefting a passage between the Palace and the Hotel Ametller facing the garage located in the basement.

The Palace has a full basement, a ground floor setting back from the street with an entrance stairway, and a first and second floor as well as a top one.

The dismantling process and the passage for carriages begun in April of that year, and upon completion, the construction of the Palace started, ending in December 1893.

Paseo de Castellana, 3 - Sede Principal

So far, this building was reasonably attributed to the master builder José Purkiss, because the plans stored in the Archive of the city of Madrid were signed by him. However, Luis Mª Cabello Lapiedra, when issuing the building completion certificate, states that the building work: "... has been planned and subsequently directed by the master builder Don José Purkiss and the architect Don Pascual Herraiz...".

As a conclusion of the analysis of the works and plans of both men  the Palace may well have been made by Herraiz, since there is a clear continuity with his works during this period.

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However, since he was not yet a fully qualified architect when thethe authorization for the works were submitted, the Marquis of Villamejor may have asked Purkiss to present the plans and collaborate in the construction. Another fact supportes this conclusion: according to Vicente García Cabrera, "Pascual Herraiz was the architect for Don Ignacio de Figueroa until the latter’s death". Purkiss’  architectural style was far 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 widowPrince of Asturias, Don Carlos de Borbón y Borbón, according to the Property Register, on the 11th May 1906.

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The Palace was restored as a residence for the new owner, who had acquired the property shortly before he widowed 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 transfer to the Government of Alfonso XIII, in order to headquarter the Prime Minister’s and Cabinet offices. However, the Archive of the Presidency of the Government contains no documentation that mentions this transfer. However, a Law was passed on June 30th 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.

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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 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.

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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.