In Spain, Californian design and a popular golf course

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


Hidden behind one of the main streets of a stormy northern Spanish city is an unlikely find: a residential complex of California-style houses built in the mid-20th century.

65 years ago, the construction of Torres de San Lamberto, a residential area for the American military families stationed at the nearby US Air Force Base, brought more than just a new concept of suburban living to Zaragoza – in the form of a cul-de-sac “garden community.” “- but also the first golf course in town.

American aviators and their families have long been gone – they left when the air base was closed in 1992, now administered by the Spanish Ministry of Defense.

The homes of Torres de San Lamberto began operating after the signing of a military alliance between the United States and Spain in 1953 aimed at ending Spain’s international isolation after World War II.

Originally thought of as subsidized homes to be rented by the US Air Force at an affordable price, today some of the properties on real estate websites sell for nearly half a million dollars each.

22 years ago, Pilar Rubio, a city council architect, bought one for $ 200,000. Even if her house could fetch twice as much in the market today, she’s not selling it.

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

She is right: public tenders for the planning and construction of housing developments were so fiercely contested here by renowned international architects. Richard Neutra, one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, famous for his work that defined the Southern California style, presented a proposal to an all-American jury. But Mr Neutra lost to a team of Spanish architects led by Luis Laorga and under the supervision of Ernest Joseph Kump, another Californian.

According to reports, Mr Neutra was so disappointed that he only returned to Spain a year before his death.

Most of the 158 Torres de San Lamberto houses were built in two-story blocks of four family units each. While they do not bear Mr. Neutra’s signature, they were undoubtedly inspired both by his belief that human wellbeing is linked to nature and by his groundbreaking modern apartment buildings.

“Back then, the concept of entering a house through the living room was only used in American films,” says Luis Franco Lahoz, professor at the Zaragoza School of Architecture. “The US air force base brought an open architecture with large glass surfaces, which was far removed from the Spanish bourgeois standard.”

The land surrounding each block was divided into four garden fields separated by low, whitewashed fences. The units are either ground floor or ground floor apartments with a size of approximately 1,200 square meters to 1,475 square meters.

To maximize sun exposure and protect from wind, one ground floor and one upper floor unit face southwest while the other two units face northeast. All four have a veranda under which the family car could be parked. Both upstairs apartments also have an outside staircase that leads to the front doors and a terrace above the porch. The windows are shielded by sliding shutters made of natural wood.

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

“The design of the six-meter-wide, open building was so innovative in post-war Spain that the builders feared the roofs might collapse,” she says, pointing with a grimace to a load-bearing wall that runs in the middle of her house.

Although not included in the plans, the wall was built by careful Spanish builders.

The original arrangement of the drains is also arbitrary by the standards of the 21st century. Ms. Rubio’s neighbor’s sewer pipe runs under her garden.

“If the neighbors have problems with the pipes, my lawn will be dug up,” she said.

But the advantages of living here outweigh the disadvantages for Ms. Rubio – especially in the last year when the positive influence of the apartments on the physical and mental well-being of her family became very clear to her.

These design elements include the cantilevered roofs, ample glass and outdoor seating that open the houses to the outside and give residents a comfortable transition from the rooms to the gardens.

“During the lockdown, we lived not only in the house, but also in the garden,” she said, pointing through the huge living room windows that open to a dining area in her well-tended kitchen garden.

8 km from the Torres de San Lamberto. removed Housing Development, the golf course designed and built by US Air Force engineers who lived here in the 1950s and 60s, has also proven its worth. Nine fairways run through a barren, windswept landscape behind the fences of the former US air force base and today’s Spanish military headquarters. (One morning most of the players were former Spanish military personnel.)

But a growing number of its members are civilians – die-hard golf enthusiasts who won’t be intimidated by Defense Department protocol or tight access controls.

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

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

The course has only nine holes. Its greens are not as neat as other local clubs. The concentration of the 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 manager, Lieutenant Pedro Luis García Ramírez, there is a civil waiting list of around three years.

One of the reasons for the square’s popularity is likely to be its proximity to the city: only 15 minutes by car from the hustle and bustle of the center, so you can enjoy the long lunch break or in the afternoon after work.

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

For Senior Master Sergeant Germán Fajardo, a 41-year-old air traffic controller, the attraction of the course lies in the reduced tariffs. He pays just under $ 200 annual fee and $ 3 each time he books a tea.

An additional bonus is the high quality of the coaching in the municipality’s golf school, which opened in 2013 and to which six of its students were sent to Spanish junior championships last year.

Sergeant Fajardo has already registered his eight-year-old daughter for autumn weekend classes.

“I’ll drop her off for a couple of hours and hopefully play a round of golf myself,” he said.

Perhaps the US Air Force engineers who designed this course over half a century ago for the pleasure of American families who lived in Torres de San Lamberto would be delighted that its creation is still a healthy family affair.


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