Trembling with neglect, could Brenan´s historic home be converted into flats?
DERELICT and decaying with its front door bricked up and piles of rubbish strewn in its garden, this is the sorry state of the former home of one of Spain’s most famous British writers.
Tiles falling off the roof and windows kicked in, the house was to become a museum and tribute to the life of Gerald Brenan, whose books South from Granada and the Spanish Labyrinth have become huge bestsellers both here and around the world.
Visited by Ernest Hemingway and Bertrand Russell, among many famous writers, under an election promise by Málaga mayor de la Torre in 1998 it was be renovated back to its former glory.
But today, nine years after the decision was made, the house in Churriana – which is listed – is on the verge of collapse, its foundations trembling from neglect.
Now, in the ultimate insult to injury, the pretty villa – called ironically the Queen of Los Angeles – has had an ancient wooden virgin hewn out and stolen from its long-term resting place beside the side gate.
Having even survived the Spanish Civil War, when republicans infamously destroyed religious icons, in May the locked cupboard was forced open, neighbours told the Olive Press.
“The glass was smashed six months ago, then in May someone took the gate and the virgin with it,” said neighbour Francisca Montanez, who has lived opposite the house for 22 years with her sister Mercedes.
“It is a complete disgrace. This place has been allowed to go to wrack and ruin and it is now in danger of falling down. What sort of way is this to treat the memory of a great writer and friend to Spain?”
Godson of Brenan, Carlos Pranger agrees: “We have always had problems with Málaga, which I am not sure appreciates the significance of the house. This was one of the most important places to visit during the 1950 and 1960s, with Hemingway, Cyril Connolly and Bertrand Russell visiting.”
Olive Press writer Pranger, who has been researching the history of his godfather, added: “The mayor promised me in June last year that there was a project for a museum, but in Spain you know what politicians are like.”
He added: “It would be a scandal if it was to collapse. It would be an appalling loss to Malaga’s heritage and would show a lack of culture and knowledge.”
It has been a slow sorry decent for one of Churriana’s prettiest buildings since being sold by Brenan for three million pesetas in 1969, when he moved up to Alhaurin el Grande.
It was at first owned by an American sculptor, who rarely visited, and was eventually sold to a Spaniard, who – despite the promises of the town hall – put forward plans in 2000 to knock it down to build a block of flats.
Finally overruled by the town hall, who in 2003 bought the building in a public purchase order, it has been left to rot ever since.
Thieves long ago ransacked the place for much of its furniture and other valuables. At some point a blue plaque commemorating Brenan was removed.
“Bit by bit, things have been stolen,” said Montanez. “Someone wrenched open bars at the back of the house and stole things. Then two years ago thieves took the antique wooden front door. It is such a shame.”
But now, more alarmingly, the Olive Press has discovered, there may again be plans to convert it into blocks of flats.
On entering the house to witness the destruction, we discovered a pile of plans by a local architect to convert the building into “homes, a shop and a car park.”
“We have heard that there is discussion about turning it into flats again,” said local English constructor George Radford. “A lot of people are concerned about what is going to happen. It is a disgrace and such a shame that a house with a preservation order is being treated this way.”
Local historian Jesus Castillo said: “It is in a bad state. Something needs to be done urgently.”
Málaga town hall denied there was a plan to develop the house. “It is very much part of Churriana´s history,” said a spokesman. “This autumn it is part of our series on Brenan in Churriana and we are going to be discussing plans.”
A local teacher at the Churriana district office admitted to the Olive Press: “We are worried about its state of abandonment, but it is a question of politics.”
Bought in 1934 for just 1,200 pounds sterling, Brenan moved to the house in Calle Torremolinos after he married poet wife Gamel Woolsey and left the mountain region of la Alpujarra.
In 1943 his first book The Spanish Labyrinth about the civil war was immediately recognised as the most perceptive study of modern Spain to be published by a British writer.
In 1969 he moved up the hill to a house in Alhaurin, where he would eventually die in 1987, at the age of 93, his body being buried in the celebrated British cemetery in Málaga.
His obituary in the Times described him as “a gifted writer whose best books arose from his lifelong concern with Spain and his understanding of its ways.”
But would he understand this?