Supervisual Ode to The Grand Way: Spain’s Broadway

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Screen shot from the 1950 film “El Último Caballo”.

There is a place in the center of Spain, a center economically and geographically, that forces on passersby the genuine urban commotion of an honest to God, real-life city. There are tall buildings and countless corners of human activity, some preserved under antiquated folds of history, others merely shelters and spaces for citizens and visitors interacting with each other.  And Gran Vía is also a practical museum for early 20th century architectural eclecticism, including Plateresque, Neo-Mudéjar, Art Deco, Vienna Secession, Neo-Baroque, Beaux Arts, Churrigueresque, and Eclecticism itself.

It is a place, of course, walked by millions of people throughout modern history, and it is now a place that has successfully continued to showcase varied styles of architecture, made by creative city dwellers who have constructed buildings that reflected the human condition, mood and sensibilities of their times. Now, they are relics of ages past, and some of those relics tap into our collective consciousness, as though we lived in there and then, and it is a particular comfort to have these collections of monuments where we live, because these monuments are deeply meaningful and it would be foolish to conjure something more properly representative of what is it to live in a city.

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Photo by me, buildings by other people.
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The Edificio Telefonica, with its iconic red-lit clock, designed by Ignacio de Cárdenas, after a supposedly inspiring study of the Manhattan skyline and the work of Lewis S. Weeks. Although blatantly influenced by American architecture, he did include noticeable Churrigueresque touches on the façade. A central observatory by Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War, it was also where John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway sent their reports of the war.
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An unabashed, yet humble building of pure Art Deco.
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The iconic building which houses the Circulo de Bellas Artes. A structure that has the power of transporting an observer to the early 1900’s.
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Finished in 1910, the Edificio Metrópolis is a Beaux Arts gem, and probably one of the most eye-catching and iconic structures in Madrid. A worthy nod to the French neo-classical style, it is crowned with the Roman goddess Victoria, wings spread and watching over the city.
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Once a buzzing center of theatre activity, the plaza near Callao has unfortunately given way to more hollow, blatant appeals to capitalistic shopping frenzy. The Capitol, though, remains, set in yet another perfect example of Art Deco architecture.
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The Edificio España is a formidable neo-Baroque tower. Finished in 1953, it is currently awaiting renovation, the formalities of which, according to investors at Santander, “take time.” So many empty rooms…
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Actually located nearby on Calle Alcalá, the Edificio de la Equitativa was built in 1880 and is one of my favorites. With its sculpted elephant heads looking down at pedestrians, the narrow triangular shape is a striking work by José Grases Riera, the creator responsible for Madrid’s most significant work of Art Nouveau, the Palacio Longoria.
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Built in 1917, the Edificio Grassy is representative of the style of Eclecticism and meant to complement the Metrópolis, just across the street. The building now houses an upscale jewelry shop by the same name. At the entrance, there is a plaque saying Theophile Gautier lived in the neighborhood.
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A look across the city from the Azotea, at the Circulo de Bellas Artes.
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Also not on Gran Vía itself, this old theatre on Calle Montera is a classic display of the Spanish Plateresque architectural movement, with its festoons and draping wreaths.

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