Thursday, July 7

The urgency of San Gabriel blue-collar housing

San Gabriel in 1929. Flight of Ruiz de Alda.

San Gabriel in 1929. Flight of Ruiz de Alda.

Today we start this new section in which we will visit not only the center of the city, but also the different neighborhoods, departures and districts of Alicante. We begin with the popular neighborhood of the Twelve Bridges that has survived to this day, maintaining its physiognomy and idiosyncrasy almost intact.

To know the origins of San Gabriel we must go back to the first decades of the 19th century. Investigating the Provincial Historical Archive, we find in several notarial protocols from the 1830s the constitution of the extensive Torre Gadea estate after the acquisition by Francisco García López of several smaller parcels. The farm named in the documents as Diana or Torre de Gadea reached 36 hectares, this being its maximum historical extension.

Homes of Los Cincuenta and El Porvenir del Obrero. INFORMATION

At the end of the 19th century, the farm belonged to Isidro Gozálbez, who had acquired it from the Guillén family in 1882. At that time it had 19 hectares. It was this owner who began to sell small plots of land to build the first houses in the neighborhood, among the buyers is Ramón Soler de Santa Ana who acquired land in 1906, quite possibly to build the Casa Colorà, considered by the neighbors as the first neighborhood house still located today on the corner of Pego and Rafael Escolano streets. He named this house San Gabriel in honor of his son, something very common in those years when it came to baptizing farms and recreational chalets.

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Another of the buyers was Ramón Gómez Sempere, who the following year acquired a plot of land on the Bacarot road through which the farm (today Rafael Escolano street) was accessed to build a house. Over time he would become the mayor of Babel and later the mayor of the San Gabriel neighborhood.

Without a doubt it would be its next owner, Enrique López Vidal, who would mark the future of the then departure from Babel after acquiring the Torre Gadea estate in 1907, to which the nearby Lo Ferrer estate would be added years later. Vidal continued to sell small parcels of land and in 1914 promoted the construction of the first group of eight houses on his own behalf in the current Calle del Racing de San Gabriel.

Current view of the San Gabriel neighborhood, with El Palmeral park in the background. ALEX DOMÍNGUEZ

At the same time, more houses had been built than we have found documentary references, such as those that form the current Cocentaina street, the true old quarter of the neighborhood and a misaligned road with respect to the almost orthogonal layout of the rest of the streets. Its particular shape gave it the nickname of carrer de la Corbella to recall the agricultural instrument of that name.

The need for cheap housing in Alicante was pressing in those early years of the 20th century. On the beach of Babel the Gilles canning factory, the fertilizer factory of the Sociedad Anónima Cros, the superphosphate factory of the Spanish Union, the Fourcade and Provôt (electricity, oil, bags and ice) or the one that, Over the years, it would become a Prakol glue factory in the very interior of the neighborhood and the last one to close at the end of the 20th century. To all this should be added the proximity of the port and the Andalusian Railroad station in Benalúa.

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Since then, Vidal will become the alma mater of all the construction projects of the necessary housing for workers in San Gabriel. In 1920 he was part of the Board of Directors of the Los Cincuenta Society, which promoted the construction of such a number of houses on land he owned. Later in 1928 he became part of another company, El Porvenir del Obrero, which doubled the number of houses to be built. In all these promotions, Enrique López Vidal reserved the corners of the blocks for his property, something similar to what the Sociedad Anónima Los Diez Amigos did at the time in the Benalúa neighborhood.

The third company, unknown to many, was El Hogar del Obrero, established in 1935 and intended to build 130 more homes on Vidal’s land. The start of the Civil War prevented this construction entity from starting work, also temporarily paralyzing the construction of the hundred houses in El Porvenir del Obrero.

These three companies shared headquarters -Torre Gadea or La Torreta- cabinet to file documentation, telephone, architect -Juan Vidal Ramos- and had Vidal among their members. For all this it is not surprising that the main square of the neighborhood bears the name of Enrique López Vidal surely after requesting it one of these societies.

The last example of a worker cooperative, already under the Francoist umbrella, is found at the end of 1960, at which time the San Gabriel Arcángel Housing Union Cooperative was established, chaired by Salvador Pomares Sempere. In the lower part of the neighborhood, this working-class society built 310 limited-income homes with 16 stores, now in the form of modern apartment blocks.

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San Gabriel, as you can see, gives for several spin offs, which we would say today, so we promise to visit this neighborhood again later.

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