Santa Engracia

An Act passed on the 13th July 1882 authorising the demolition of the Royal Carpet Factory and the transfer of the land over to the Spanish National Trust; however it was not until 1905 that the urban problems affecting this land were resolved.

The widow of Adanero, Doña Josefa Fernández Durán y Caballero, who lived in the heart of Madrid’s historic quarter – in the Palace belonging to her father, the Marquis of Perales – acquired a piece of land in 1910 for sixteen pesetas “per square foot”, which turned out to be too small for the project she had in mind, and so another smaller plot of land was added that same year, giving a total area of 1667.2 square metres.

The contract was awarded to Don Joaquín Saldaña, a highly fashionable architect at that time, who had already built other "hotel-palaces" – the term used at the time – for the Marchioness of Hinojosa and the Duke of Hijar, and went on to build residences for the Count of Santa Coloma, the Duke of Plasencia, the Duke of Tamames and the Duchess of Andría. Designed with a view to achieving a kind of showy eclecticism, he introduced popular features in Madrid architecture at the time, but also impressed upon the Adanero Palace a formal and deliberate equilibrium that bestows an unmistakable and outstanding impression of gravitas.

Since he was unable to attend to the construction personally, in accordance with Saldaña’s instructions, the project was led by the architect and engineer Mariano Carderera, who was reaching the end of his professional career, during which he had created some of Madrid’s most significant buildings, such as the Retiro Civil Engineering College and the facade of the Casón del Buen Retiro.

The mansion was designed to house “three main rooms” – which we would now call apartments – as well as the housekeeper’s and servants’ quarters. Saldaña placed particular emphasis on the design of the interior decor, as we can see today in the superb quality of the hard wood floors, the plasterwork, the mouldings, the splendid fireplaces and the magnificent wrought ironwork on the main staircase.

The lines were marked out for the building in May 1911 but the municipal licence could not be requested until 52 months later; the ‘Health and Hygiene Licence’, an essential requirement to inhabit the building, was issued at the start of 1914. The land was valued at 400,000 pesetas and the construction at a million pesetas.

In relation to the furniture, suffice it to say the Adanero collection of paintings was one of the most important private art collections of its day, thanks to the legacy of the Count of Adanero, Don Gonzalo de Ulloa y Calderón (the husband of Doña Josefa, who he made his heir, along with his children, when he died after falling from a horse). There were also some exceptional La Granja and Bohemian glassware lamps, some of which have survived into the present day, and which were acquired by the Local Government Institute of Studies (IEAL) in 1941 for the sum of 47,000 pesetas.

During the Civil War, it was used to store valuable objects that had been requisitioned, and it is said that Dolores Ibarruri set up her office there. After the conflict, the widowed Countess of Adanero, who had scarcely lived in the Palace, signed a lease contract in 1940 with the Metal Production Regulatory Commission, which later changed its name to the National Metal Trade Union.

That same year, the Local Government Institute of Studies (IEAL) was created, and in view of the need for premises to house this Institute, the Ministry of Government launched a tender competition, which did not yield the desired result.

The widowed Countess of Adanero offered her Palace in Santa Engracia and, having met all the basic legal requirements, signed the contract to sell the property for a total of 3,500,000 pesetas on the 12th August 1941.

After the necessary remodelling work had been carried out on the building, the IEAL began to operate out of Santa Engracia in the autumn of 1942. Years later, in 1959, Santa Engracia underwent major work; the stables and coach houses were demolished and a new building was constructed to house the National School of Local Government.

Santa Engracia became known for its training courses for local civil servants and the publication of specialist local journals; however, after the IEAL’s legal status was amended in 1967, a tremendous boost was given to relations with Latin America and publications, setting up specialist centres such as the centre for ‘Urban Studies’. Because public exams were held here to gain access to professorships in Administrative Law – the brilliance of certain professorships made them points of reference for generations to come – and the site also housed a magnificent library specialising in this subject, it was considered exemplary for aspiring professors in this area.

In April 1979, Santa Engracia became the headquarters for the Ministry of Local and Regional Government, led by Antonio Fontán, until the need for more space led the Ministry to relocate to the former headquarters of the General Directorate of Health in the Plaza de España, midway through 1980. It shared premises with the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces, which remained there until 1987. Both these events increased the profile of Santa Engracia in Spanish political life.

Very few modifications were made to the structure of the building, although the layout was changed and maintenance work was carried out. The recent installation of the MAP Library and Documentation Services in 2002 received a great deal of media coverage, and this elegant and famous specialist library was finally opened.

Santa Engracia also currently houses the Directorate General of Regional Politics, in charge of supervising the transfer of powers to the Autonomous Regions.

Bibliography: La recuperación del Hospital de San Carlos del INAP (MAP 1991) - el INAP y el palacio de la condesa de Adanero: pp. 187 to 205, by Pedro Navascués Palacio and pp. 207 to 224, by Enrique Orduña.