Archive for September, 2005

La Manga

On first inspection of the area, ‘Hot (but not much) Heritage’ was to be the title of this column. Like in many other parts of Spain, characterless tower-blocks are springing up like weeds on a well-kept lawn, many soon to be snapped up by sunburnt Brits.

The Mar Menor, on the Costa Calida (warm coast), is the largest salt water lagoon in Europe and is separated from the Mediterranean by the strip at La Manga, a 22km long, yet extremely narrow, peninsular. The ‘strip’ is a great place for a relaxing holiday as both the Med and the Mar Menor are seconds away. So, what is there in the way of heritage? Well not much really though there are some buildings that should be preserved for millions of years as examples of how not to build. Our ancestors will be highly confused by the villas built like castles which are as tacky as some of the gifts for sale in the local markets – sun, sand and Sussex Heights-style buildings with fake battlements and turrets. Happily, it does improve.

A journey back to and past the beginning of the strip led to the small fishing village of Cabo de Palos with its rock pools and lively markets. The old and very tall lighthouse was the first decent structure that I came across. Relatively secluded, raised on a plinth and crafted from solid stone – my kind of building. The main road then leads on to La Manga Club, which is particularly famous for its three 18 hole golf courses. It was worth the trip just for the secluded private beach though the place is excellent generally, with some amazing new properties, but not much in the way of heritage. Further along the road, Cartagena, founded by the Carthagians in 221BC, is a different story entirely. The fort ruins on the tallest point in the town centre may be the best feature but there really are too many good bits to list. Cartagena is around the same size as Brighton yet has a deep natural sea port and interestingly was used by the Germans in World War II as a submarine base. Lobster-red Brits beware!

I and my friends, Nishad, Gemma and Kerry all had a great time relaxing on the beach and I’m sure that we could have tracked down lots more heritage had we been able to drag ourselves away!


Brighton Marina

“Pure Siberian brutalism”, says Dr Antony Seldon, and I couldn’t agree more. The entrance truly is awful as is the rather uninviting car park. But all is not lost as thankfully, it does get better. The Black & White Bar, Karma and the Ebony Room exemplify what’s best about Brighton Marina. The fairly new Waterfront building, in which they are housed, was certainly built in the spirit of a continental marina – exactly what the Marina should be about. It has large gangways with great sea views, fashion outlets, clothes shops and swish bars.

The Marina was built during the 1970s from plans conceived during the 1960s based on ideas first dreamt up over 200 years ago. Marina-based Brunswick Developments Group Plc is the current freeholder of much of the development. Imaginative plans are afoot from Brunswick Developments to build around one thousand new flats in several massive new buildings, including a skyscraper, on land to be reclaimed from the sea.

On the whole, the scheme seems well thought out though much of it could be achieved on a smaller scale. I welcome plans to humanise the entrance and replace most of the uninspiring buildings to the west such as the bowling alley, cinema, car park and Asda. The addition of a bridge to connect the two outer sea walls would be a joy to anyone who has walked all the way around the long eastern arm only to discover that it leads nowhere.

The city’s tall buildings to date are awful because they were designed by people with no architectural integrity. Sussex Heights, Chartwell Court and Theobald House really are blots on the historic skyline. However, this proposal is different in that Wilkinson Eyre Architects (designers of the River Tyne’s Millenium Bridge) are involved. Despite this, I’m fundamentally opposed for two reasons. There is limited space within the great sea walls of the Marina and therefore replacing space that should be dedicated to boats with flats is a ludicrous, though undoubtedly highly lucrative, proposal. Flats can go anywhere after all, boats cannot. Secondly, I truly believe that the original agreement to limit development to below cliff height should be honoured.

Brighton has always welcomed the country’s top architects since the days of John Nash, Sir Charles Barry, Decimus Burton and Sir Gilbert Scott. It would be a great shame to waste Wilkinson Eyre on proposals based on profits over principles.


Goldsmid

The council ward of Goldsmid stretches from Sackville to Dyke Road but the original land-holding, dating back to the 1700s, was much larger. The different styles of architecture, from the Art Deco Furze Croft block to Victorian Gothic mansions on The Drive, make Goldsmid a highly interesting place to stroll.
 
The Wick Estate was a large plot of land that was owned by the Rev. Thomas Scutt whose family had been the owners for several generations. Brunswick Town, to the east, was the first substantial development to take place. Charles Augustin Busby and Amon Wilds, who had recently started the construction of Kemp Town, were behind much of the design and building work. Most of it was complete by 1834, costing over £1/2 million, which was a huge sum in those days.
 
The remainder of the Wick Estate, including St. Ann’s Well Gardens and the Chalybeate Spa, was purchased in 1830 by Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid. Work began that same year on a new development consisting of Palmeira Square and Adelaide Crescent to the west of Brunswick Town. The architect was Decimus Burton, who had recently been responsible for planning Hyde Park in London. Palmeira Square commemorates Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, who was the first Jewish baronet and also held the title Baron de Goldsmide da Palmeira that was granted to him by Portugal after settling a dispute between that country and Brazil. Adelaide Crescent of course commemorates Queen Adelaide. Burton also completed the original Wick Hall for the Baron in 1838. Look out for ‘Baron Goldsmid’ on the front of Bus 850 around town.
 
Quite a number of the roads in the eastern part of Hove are named after those close to the Baron and the Jewish community is still well represented in this area. Montefiore Road, Davigdor Road, Julian Road and Osmond Road were named after Jacob Motefiore, Count Henry D’Avigdor, Sir Julian Goldsmid and Sir Osmond Elim D’Avigdor-Goldsmid respectively. The original Wick Hall was demolished after the council were not imaginative enough to find a suitable use.
 
From my political and property dealings, boy could I tell a few stories about this area. I wouldn’t dare to bring up the tale of the property surveyor caught frolicking naked in the grounds of the present day Wick Hall with one of the leaseholders by other residents – probably because his firm is one of this magazine’s biggest clients!
 


Barcelona

In the second ‘Hot Heritage Abroad’ this year, I compare Spain’s biggest seaside city, Barcelona, with England’s most exciting seaside resort, Brighton.
 
The general plan was to fly out, stay two nights, see as many as buildings as possible then fly back. I felt that I was off to a good start after booking £100 flights (return) from Gatwick and a £58 per night double room (3*) over the internet. Things started to go wrong when we arrived at the hotel only to be told that our room was not available as the air-conditioning was being fixed. A free upgrade to a nearby 4* soon sorted that.
 
I’ve always loved the song ‘Barcelona’, sung by Freddie Mercury & Monserrat Caballe, so it was great to finally see ‘such a beautiful horizon’. The city’s greatest asset and most visible building as viewed from the surrounding hills is certainly La Sagrada Familia. The inspiration for the building came from Pope Pius IX’s call for a renewal of devotion to Jesus, Mary and Joseph – the Holy Family or La Sagrada Familia. The church’s first stone was laid in 1882 but was redesigned in 1884 after Antoni Gaudi stepped in to take over the project. Like many of Gaudi’s buildings, its structural and aesthetic features are influenced by nature. Its principle features are the various facades, cavernous interior (to seat 13,000) and eight towers, 100m high. After taking over the project, Gaudi became obsessed with religion. He was so ragged and poor when he died after being run over by a tram that initially no-one recognised him. There are still nine more 100m towers and a central 170m tower to be added along with the grand entrance façade.
 
Both Brighton and Barcelona are blessed with a wealth of historic buildings. Both are surrounded by sea and hills though the scenery around Barcelona is certainly not green. It’s not until going abroad that one appreciates the beauty of the English countryside. Both are soulful, exciting, vibrant, compact and friendly. Sadly, both (in places) are dirty and smelly. Brighton obviously has the superior football team.
 
Barcelona has a population of 1.6 million, so it is perhaps really an unfair comparison though there are many similarities. Exciting projects are on the go in both places such as La Sagrada Familia, which just might be finished by 2040. And we complain that the West Pier is taking ages!