In Spain, Californian design and a popular golf course

This article is part of our last special feature on International golf houses , about some of the best places to live and play. Tucked...


This article is part of our last special feature on International golf houses, about some of the best places to live and play.


Tucked behind one of the main roads in a bustling city in northern Spain, lies an unlikely find: a gated community of California-style homes built in the mid-20th century.

65 years ago, the construction of Torres de San Lamberto, a residential area for families of US military personnel stationed at the nearby US Air Base, not only brought a new concept of suburban living to Zaragoza – in the form of a cul-de-sac “community-garden” – but also the first golf field.

American airmen and their families are long gone – they left when the air base closed in 1992. But the appeal of cheerful, flat-roofed houses has only grown over the years, as has the popularity of the course. iconic golf course, which is now managed by the Spanish Ministry of Defense.

The Torres de San Lamberto houses were commissioned following the signing of a military alliance between the United States and Spain in 1953, which aimed to end Spain’s international isolation after World War II global.

Originally designed as subsidized homes, for rent at an affordable price by the US Air Force, some of the properties are now for sale on real estate websites for almost half a million dollars each.

Twenty-two years ago, Pilar Rubio, an architect employed by the city council, bought one for $ 200,000. Even though her house could bring in twice that amount on the market today, it is not selling.

“There is nothing else like these houses in Zaragoza,” Ms. Rubio said.

She’s right: Public tenders for the design and construction of housing estates here have never been so fiercely contested by renowned international architects. Richard Neutra, one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, famous for his work defining the style of Southern California, presented a proposal to a panel of judges, composed entirely of Americans. But Mr. Neutra lost to a team of Spanish architects, led by Luis Laorga, and supervised by Ernest Joseph Kump, another Californian.

ApparentlyMr. Neutra was so disappointed that he only returned to Spain a year before his death.

Most of the 158 houses in Torres de San Lamberto were built in two-story blocks, each comprising four family units. While not wearing Mr. Neutra’s signature style, they were undoubtedly inspired both by his belief that human well-being is linked to nature and by his modern and revolutionary multi-family housing.

“At the time, the concept of entering a house through your living room had only been seen in American films,” said Luis Franco Lahoz, professor at the Zaragoza School of Architecture. “The American air base brought an open architecture with large glazed surfaces far from the Spanish bourgeois standards.

The land surrounding each block was divided into four garden plots, separated by low whitewashed fences. The units are ground floor or first floor apartments, ranging in size from approximately 1,200 square feet to 1,475 square feet.

To maximize sunlight and provide protection from the wind, one unit on the ground floor and one unit on the upper floor face southwest, while the other two units face northeast. All four have a porch under which the family car can be parked. The two houses on the upper floor also have an external staircase leading to the entrance doors and a patio above their porch. The windows are protected by natural wood sliding shutters.

According to Ms. Rubio, Spanish builders were not used to such architectural concepts.

“The design of six-meter-wide open buildings was so innovative in post-war Spain that builders feared the roofs would collapse,” she said, pointing a load-bearing wall with a grimace. that crosses the middle. from his house.

Although not included in the plans, the wall was erected by suspicious Spanish builders.

The original arrangement of the drains is also hit and miss by 21st century standards. Mrs. Rubio’s neighbor’s sewage pipe runs under her garden.

“If the neighbors have plumbing problems, my lawn will be dug up,” she says.

But the advantages of living here outweigh the disadvantages for Ms. Rubio – especially last year, when the positive influence of homes on her family’s physical and emotional well-being became very clear to her.

Some of these design elements include overhanging roofs, abundant glassware, and outdoor seating areas, which open homes to the outdoors and allow locals to easily transition from bedrooms to gardens.

“During the lockdown, we lived not only in the house, but in the garden,” she said, pointing to the large living room windows, which open to a dining area in her manicured vegetable patch.

Eight kilometers from Torres de San Lamberto Subdivision, the golf course which was designed and built by US Air Force engineers who first lived here in the 1950s and 1960s has also stood the test of time. Nine fairways crisscross a barren, windswept landscape behind the fences of what was once the US airbase and now a Spanish military headquarters. (On a recent morning, most of the players were retired Spanish servicemen.)

But a growing quota of members are civilians – hardy golf enthusiasts who aren’t deterred by Department of Defense protocol or strict access controls.

Juan José Martínez, 40, salesman of dental implants, has been a member of the club for three years.

“I’m used to it,” he said, referring to the armed soldiers at the barricades. “But when I invite guests, they can be surprised, especially if they are asked to show their car papers.”

The course has only nine holes. Its greens are not as neat as at other local clubs. The concentration of players is often interrupted by the roar of low-flying F-18 fighter jets. But membership is coveted by locals like Mr. Martínez.

According to the director, Lieutenant Pedro Luis García Ramírez, there is a civilian waiting list of around three years.

One of the reasons for the course’s popularity could be its proximity to the city: just a 15-minute drive from the hustle and bustle of the center, making it easy to fit in a round of golf during a long lunch break or in the city. afternoon after work.

“I always keep my clubs in the trunk of my car,” Martínez said. “In case.”

For Staff Sergeant Germán Fajardo, a 41-year-old air traffic controller, the appeal of the course lies in its reduced rates. He pays an annual fee of just under $ 200 and $ 3 each time he books a tee.

An added bonus is the high quality of training at the community’s golf school, which opened in 2013 and last year sent six of its students to the Spanish Junior Championships.

Master Master Sergeant Fajardo has already enrolled his eight-year-old daughter for weekend classes in the fall.

“I’m going to put her down for a few hours and hope to get myself into a round of golf,” he said.

Perhaps the Air Force engineers who designed this course over half a century ago for the enjoyment of American families who lived in Torres de San Lamberto would be delighted if their creation was still a matter of healthy family.

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