La Casita Blanca
La Casita Blanca
Last week one of Barcelona’s most legendary institutions closed its doors forever. True to form, La Casita Blanca closed with absolute discretion, not a word was slipped out to the press until after the fateful day. After 100 years of discreet, personalised service, Barcelona’s prime refuge for clandestine lovers will perish at the hands of the Council’s demolition mob.
You dear reader, may not have heard of La Casita Blanca nor know what it was and why it occupied such a place in popular imagination, so in a few lines…
A hundred years ago, there was a small restaurant, just by Plaça Lesseps, where they served seafood. After a large lunch, diners could pop upstairs and stretch out on a clean, fresh bed for the afternoon siesta in one of several rooms available. This quickly became popular and more and more couples began to frequent the restaurant, cursorily grab a quick bite and then rent the bedrooms for their afternoon “nap”.
In fact, the service was soon so popular that when the old building was knocked down and the current one –due for demolition this spring– was built in 1912, a chap from Vilafranca called Sendra bought it and devoted it wholly to renting out furnished rooms for couples. In fine Catalan tradition, the business has remained in the family until this week. Thus, the famous Barcelona meublé was born – a furnished room rented out for people to have sex in. I suppose using a cod French word made it sound a bit finer.
While many of these popped up in seedy areas and were used mostly by professionals and their clients, La Casita Blanca, famous for its absolute discretion and exemplary cleanliness, was a popular place for unmarried couples and clandestine lovers.
The place got its name from the bold advertising strategy it used. The freshly washed and spotlessly clean bed sheets were hung out to dry rooftop terrace. In days when people were rightly terrified of contagion, this public policy gave the place its name, and a good one at that.
Despite its fame and popularity, for years La Casita Blanca was a completely safe haven for those navigating the rocky waters of extramarital sex.
During the early part of the last century, extramarital sex was regarded much as corruption and venality is viewed by today’s politicians and businessmen –the only sin involved is that of being discovered.
Means were needed to avoid public exposure of a popular pursuit.
During Franco’s time, a couple could not check into an hotel together without showing their “Family Book” and ID to prove they were a married couple.
Where to go was the question on everyone’s minds.
Friends’ flats were not always an answer. The live-in doorkeepers, peering from behind lace curtains in their cubicles, kept a close eye on the toing and froing in the bourgeois buildings of the Eixample and were notorious police informers.
Women were especially vulnerable of course. Discovery for a man might be embarrassing, problematical and might even affect his career, but would not often be catastrophic.
On the other hand, discovery and public exposure of a clandestine affair could easily mean a woman’s total ruin and make her an outcast.
So, as market leader with a fine business head and sense of purpose, Mr Sendra set up an effective system for protecting La Casita Blanca clients’ privacy.
Both entry and exit was organised in such a way that no two clients ever bumped into each other. The garage, by means of an ingenious traffic light system, ensured that no two cars or taxis ever crossed paths and, once inside, were literally blanketed off from each other by moveable orange hangings.
Inside the labyrinthine corridors and hallways, strategically placed doors made a couple certain of complete discretion and no two clients ever suffered the embarrassment of meeting face to face inside the 2000 m2 building.
To leave the room, clients would ring the bell marked “S” if they wished to leave on foot, or “T” if they required a taxi to pick them up in the garage. “C” brought the highly trained (more than a year’s apprenticeship was required) and trustworthy waiter…
All transactions were done in cash; no cheques or later credit cards were accepted as part of the policy of discretion. (Because of this one unsuccessful attempt at robbery was made some twelve years ago.)
Part of the service was a post-match briefing for married men. On leaving the room, a man who had “popped out to see the match” was given a run down on the game’s highlights and could see the day’s scores displayed on a blackboard. Armed with this information, the disloyal and deceitful husband was sure of not putting his foot in it when, on entering the lift with his lawfully-wedded, he was greeted by a cheery neighbour with comments on the extraordinary events of yesterday’s encounter.
La Casita Blanca was strictly traditional in its approach. Only mixed couples over 23 years old were accepted, thus avoiding possible prosecution under the “social danger” laws directed at homosexuals or accusations of corruption of minors.
Rooms were traditional, too. Not for La Casita Blanca the oriental extravagances of the common brothel. The 43 rooms were done out in classical kitsch style, dark woods, red plush hearts, mirrors everywhere…
These days when kisses of all kinds are no longer clandestine, when youngsters ask who Franco was and gape at the stories their elders tell of fighting (often in the streets) for the right to love freely, La Casita Blanca was until last Monday, providing food for 30 families and pleasure for uncounted multitudes.
The council of course is on record as laughing –literally laughing aloud during a plenary session– in the face of the staff spokesman who officially asked for a reprieve; this is quite typical of the now (thankfully) previous council's behaviour towards the citizens of Barcelona…
Needless to say, while La Casita Blanca is being torn down at this very moment, funding is no longer avialable for the old council's pharaonic redevelopment plan and another key piece of Barcelona character has been needlessly sacrificed to the vanity of the council.
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