- Streets Zurbano, the pinnacle of elegance for ‘The New York Times’
Was the short street of Preciados predestined for an intensely commercial future, with that name of the Preciado brothers and with the trade they both held? This is what we could deduce from what Pedro de Répide told us in the first quarter of the 20th century, when that road was already almost totally occupied by various stores. But the decisive step would still take a few decades to arrive, and therefore does not appear in the streets of Madrid. And it is a historical step that has to do with the most exotic: Asturias, Cuba and the United States.
The street that connects the Puerta del Sol and the Plaza de Callao was surrounded by the Quinta Real, “the pleasure residence of the monarchs of Castile”, and Répide tells us: “Two brothers, whose last name was Preciado, they acquired these lands and worked their houses on them, where they established the royal peso, because they were tenants of the town’s almotacenía ». The RAE tells us that the almotacén was the “public employee who contrasted weights and measures”, and Répide pointed out: “They fulfilled their job wonderfully, scrupulously recognizing weights and measures, imposing the 12 maravedises of fines on merchants who had faults the weights and getting some vendors who defrauded the buyer to get flogged. ‘
Neighbors appreciated that severity and that is why the precious name of “Los Preciados” was left to a street that thus found, with the successive constructions of buildings, its commercial vocation, which grew when in the mid-nineteenth century it was widened: just imagine how narrow it must have been …
Commerce, after so many centuries, has not been the only thing that has happened in such a central Madrid street, of course: at the corner of Callejón de la Ternera and Preciados, Luis Daoiz died on May 2, 1808 (and Ernest Hemingway would go to eat and drink at the tavern in that alley regularly a century and a half later), and at the end of the reign of Fernando VII there lived at number 7 a young lawyer who in the 19th century would be a fiery liberal leader: Salustiano Olózaga.
As early as 1890 A tailor shop called El Corte Inglés was opened in Preciados on the corner of Carmen, of a certain reputation, which would be, in the days of the Second Republic, the embryo of one of the two commercial emporiums unparalleled in the history of Spain that would be born precisely in Preciados and indelibly marked the street until today.
It is not necessary to remember it much, because the story is well known: some Asturian emigrants to Cuba, Pepín Fernández and his cousin César Rodríguez, together with his nephew, Ramón Areces, return to Spain after having worked at El Encanto, the department store in Havana based on the model of those in New York, a concept unknown then here. They look at an intensely commercial street in Madrid, and Preciados is the one chosen to start their businesses. In fact, Fernández began in Carretas, on the other side of Puerta del Sol, founding Sederías Carretas, to soon make the leap to Galerías Preciados. And Rodríguez buys El Corte Inglés, run since 1936 by Areces.
The big competition was underway, and for decades Galerías Preciados was seen as more aggressive and fast-growing than its rival, but El Corte Inglés maintained prudent family control while Galerías fell into debt and ended up falling victim to that calamity called Rumasa. And in 1995 El Corte Inglés absorbed its competitor, in suspension of payments, occupied its buildings -one of which passed to the FNAC- and left it in oblivion. But this feverish stage of the last 80 years, which Répide saw born but did not review, marked forever the character of this street today pedestrianized and crowded with Christmas shoppers.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism