Unusual architecture, a ghost story, and an assassination

I’m working on a signage project in Madrid, in the very historical neighborhood of Chueca and to get to the building sometimes I take the metro to Tribunal and walk over to Hortaleza. I was walking there one day and looked up at this super narrow building and thought, no, could it be? Then I looked closer and zoomed in with the camera and saw giant lizards holding up the cornices of the building. This is the lizard house. (Mejía Lequerica, 1)

It’s a rare example in Madrid of the Vienna Secession architecture movement, with simple geometry and symmetric decorative elements, and the building is eleven times longer than it is wide. From either San Mateo or Hortaleza you can see that it’s only five meters wide. Designed by Benito González to hold rented apartments, there are only two on each floor, so every room in each has lots of windows and light.

Not too far away is the wedding cake building.

There are not many buildings of this kind of Gaudi-esque opulence in Madrid (or any really). It houses the Sociedad General de Autores y Editores and sadly it’s not open to the public but I would LOVE to get a peek inside. (Calle de Fernando VI, 4)

Closer to the Gran Via on this side of town, you’ll pass an old mansion with freestanding columns in front of it. Raise your eyes a little higher and you’ll see that on top of the 16th Century structure are seven cylindrical chimneys. It’s known locally as La Casa de las Siete Chimeneas and is now the offices of the Culture Ministry. (Calle de las Infantas 31 – beside Plaza del Rey) There’s a persistent ghost story that is associated with this building, that dates back to the time when it was first built.

The mansion was built by a huntsman in the court of King Carlos V for his daughter Elena. She was rumored to be a mistress of Carlos V’s son, later King Felipe II. Soon after the completion of the house she married an army captain, who was soon deployed and tragically died in the line of duty. Elena became grief-stricken at this point and this is the part that gets a little tricky. She ended up dying, but it’s possible that she was murdered, and it’s also possible that she gave birth to a baby girl just before she died. The scandalous part is that her body disappeared so no investigation could be done. Of course instead of Felipe being implicated as an attempt to cover up their amorous involvement, her father was accused and interrogated. Shortly thereafter the broken old man’s body was found hanging from a wooden beam in the House of the Seven Chimneys.

For many months after her mysterious death, multiple people saw a specter of a pale woman in a gauzy white dress holding a torch and moving amongst the seven chimneys. It would kneel down, pound her chest in grief and then point westward towards the Royal Palace, where Felipe, now crowned King, was living. Then the figure would mysteriously vanish. The rumor was that it was Elena’s ghost condemning the king for having her murdered and hiding her body instead of allowing a proper Christian burial.

In the 19th Century the Banco de Castilla bought the property and did major renovations in the basement. When they removed the floor to install new plumbing they found the bones of a female human skeleton. Even more curious was that the bones were buried with several gold coins dating from the 16th Century.

A chilling side note on the seven chimneys: The theory is that because the house was built on the outskirts of old Madrid, the chimneys represented the seven deadly sins.

Ok, one more story before bedtime. This one is about the assassination of Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco on December 20, 1973. He was prime minister and designated successor of Franco. After he attended mass on Sunday morning, driving up Claudio Coello, 100 kilos of explosives buried in the sidewalk blasted his car up and all the way over the building to land in the interior garden.

Cracks in the road surface and damage on the cornice of the building from where the car struck it are still visible.

The ETA had been planning the attacks for months. The basement of the building had been rented by a supposed “sculptor”, which justified the noise of drilling and comings and goings to excavate the tunnel under the sidewalk, and somehow hadn’t aroused the neighbors suspicions. A stone plaque now rests on the side of the building to memorialize the event.

Published by Elizabeth Pizzuti

Design, art, and cats mostly

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