Saving concrete memories: the Palacio de Bellas Artes in San Sebastián

In our imagination we all have images of our grandparents, black and white pictures of people wearing different clothes and using different means of transportation. Think of an older time, a time gone by, enlivened by the music and dances of Swing, the Charleston and Dixieland Jazz. If you’re imagining something like The Great Gatsby, you’re not totally wrong.

The Fine Arts Theater (Palacio de Bellas Artes) of San Sebastian was built during 1913 and inaugurated on September 13, 1914, and has been for long time considered one of the oldest buildings in the Basque Country built as a cinema. Imagine your parents or grandparents going to one of the very first cinemas out there, the Fine Arts Theater of San Sebastián may be a perfect example.

Palacio de Bellas Artes | Source: Wikipedia

Built in a retro architectonic style designed by Ramón de Cortázar, who designed the whole urban expansion of the Guipuzcoan area of San Sabasitan, The Fine Arts Theater consists of a ground floor, parterre floor and amphitheater or galleries. The chamfered body of the façade shows a different development from the rest of the building resulting in two different roofs. The corner of the chamfer is a flat wall whose only projections are the cornice lines and the sill of the balconette. It also has a hanging element: the marquee that shelters the entrance, giving it a more commercial image, instead of the monumental style until now used in other buildings. This same idea was reproduced in Madrid in the cinemas Real Cinema (1920) and Pavón (1925), by the architect Teodoro de Anasagasti. The Bellas Artes building is one of the best examples of the eclectic architecture in San Sebastian.

In 1943 the Palace of Fine Arts underwent a major interior renovation with the objective of updating its facilities, under the responsibility of the architect Ignacio Mendizábal. The services, lighting and decoration of the whole room were also renewed according to a modernized rationalist style.

Palacio de Bellas ArtesSource Cine Invisible

The Fine Arts building maintained its original double use as a cinema and the seat of the Orfeón Donostiarra until 1977. In 1982 the last movie was screened, thus ceasing its use as a commercial hall. Later it hosted the Euskadi Symphony Orchestra until 1989. Since then, the building has remained closed, serving as a simple warehouse.

Within its walls are the echoes of old films, laughs, kisses and the history of a community protective of its cultural heritage.

Protecting or demolishing: the ICOMOS International Alert

In 2014 the International Council of Monuments and Sites International Scientific Committee of 20th Century Heritage (ICOMOS ISC20C) prepared a Heritage Alert to call attention to the impending threat to the building. Rather than issue the full Heritage Alert, letters were written by the President of the ICOMOS ISC20C and the President of all of ICOMOS, requesting the assurances for the protection of the building by the Spanish authorities. The importance of the building was acknowledged, and the Basque government agreed to protect the site with the highest level in Spain as, “BIC-Bien de Interés Cultural”. It appeared that the building had been saved. Unfortunately, the building owner, Sociedad Anónima de Deportes y Espectáculos (SADE), has since requested permission from the City Council of San Sebastian to demolish the dome at the top of the building which was granted. Not only was this one of the building’s most important character defining features, but it is now feared that this is only the beginning of the total demolition of the building. Therefore, the ICOMOS ISC20C and ICOMOS Spain issued the Heritage Alert requesting the authorities protect and conserve this invaluable landmark of Spain. ICOMOS Spain and the ICOMOS ISC20C are requesting that the authorities of San Sebastian and the Basque Country honour their previous acknowledgement of the importance of the Palacio Bellas Artes building and work to protect and restore it.

And you? What do you think about this building? Are you for or against demolition? Give us your opinion!

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