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Biagio D’Amato’s Hotel Universal: A Landmark of La Línea’s History

Soraya Fernández | Photos: Alberto Velasco & Fran Montes, ReachExtra

The Hotel Universal fills a significant chapter in the history of La Línea de la Concepción. Rising near the bullring along the Calle Clavel, the hotel was well known in the world of bullfighting and was renowned throughout Andalucía. Today, the building contains apartments and a private clinic but continues to serve as a reminder of La Línea’s history.

Hotel Universal Biagio D’Amato La Linea de la concepcion bullfight
Hotel Universal, La Linea | Alberto Velasco: La Linea a través del tiempo

Scattered throughout La Línea, you can find stately buildings which remind of the importance that the city once had. One such is the “Universal” building which is now used for residential purposes and a private medical clinic of the same name. In its day, it was one of the most famous hotels in Andalucía – Hotel Universal.

Like many historical buildings in La Línea, the Hotel Universal was the brainchild of Maltese born businessman Biagio D’Amato who run several businesses in Gibraltar.

He moved to La Línea and in 1939 bought the dilapidated Pascualini theatre at the end of the Calle Clavel which he renovated and made his home – it became known as the Chalé D’Amato. Today, this building is the head office of the Menéndez Pelayo International University.

D’Amato continued to buy up land in the area and constructed some of the most advanced buildings of the time. In 1947, after acquiring and demolishing what was known as the Patio Quiñones, which had been an alcohol distillery, he started work on the Hotel Universal, which was part-sponsored by the National Tourist Board.

Hotel Universal Biagio D’Amato La Linea de la concepcion bullfight
Hotel Universal 2021 | Fran Montes, ReachExtra

ReachExtra was given access to a publication of the time by Jose Martínez Téllez, the municipal archivist of La Línea, which states that the hotel stands on a “huge footprint” between Clavel, Sagunto and Paseo 18 de Julio streets.

“Due to its lavishness, size and ideal location, it can be said that it is one of the best hotels in the province of Cádiz, and perhaps even in Andalucía”, the publication proclaimed.

It was said that around 150 builders worked without interruption on the construction: “The hotel was planned to have 5 floors – in fact, there were four – to cater for two categories so that guests of all social classes can stay in it”, it added.

Hotel Universal, La Linea | Alberto Velasco: La Linea a través del tiempo

The hotel boasted 100 rooms, most of them with en suite bathrooms, a spacious conference room, telephones, “opulent furniture, excellent upholstery and service worthy of this hotel” according to the publication.

It ended: “With this building, La Línea now has sufficient hotel capacity for visitors, which was lacking before. It will be managed by a company which, in collaboration with the owner, will dedicate the utmost attention to providing the proper conditions, comfort and convenience”.

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The Hotel Universal was inaugurated on the July 9th, 1948 and was a roaring success from the start. Its proximity to the bull ring made it the venue of choice for bullfighters and their friends and hosted some of the most famous bullfighters of the time.

To get a glimpse of the atmosphere of the area at the time, we consulted an article published in 2014 by María Jesús García Granja in the Almoraima magazine of the Instituto de Estudios Campogibraltareños, under the title “Notes on rationalist architecture in the Campo de Gibraltar. Rationalist construction in La Línea de la Concepción”.

Hotel Universal Biagio D’Amato La Linea de la concepcion bullfight
Hotel Universal 2021 | Fran Montes, ReachExtra

The author states that the population boom between 1900 and 2006 in the Bay of Gibraltar was higher than the average for Andalucía. In fact, according to that publication, La Línea went from 330 registered residents and 2,506 actual inhabitants in 1870 (when the segregation from San Roque took place), to a population of 11,884 in 1900 and 61,078 residents in 1920 – Its population multiplied by 25 in just 50 years!

Hotel Universal Biagio D’Amato La Linea de la concepcion bullfight
Hotel Universal, La Linea | Alberto Velasco: La Linea a través del tiempo

Regarding the Universal Hotel building, she explains that the building, aside from its construction density it has the composition of its three clearly rationalist façades on each of Teatro Street, Paseo Universal and Clavel Street, and that the main façade on Clavel Street is marked by the regionalist style of the enclosures, Sevillian tiling and lattices.

“It seems that despite having the same designers as the rest of D’Amato’s developments, on this occasion they sought to get closer to the popular Andalusian style, given the clients for which the hotel was intended”.

Hotel Universal, La Linea | Alberto Velasco: La Linea a través del tiempo

The author also highlights the important role that Biagio D’Amato played in the urban growth of La Línea de la Concepción, and because of whose initiative is because the city “has several important buildings that stood out in their time above the average height of the houses in La Linea, and how such construction helped to alleviate the very serious housing shortage in La Línea at that time”.

Hotel Universal, La Linea | Alberto Velasco: La Linea a través del tiempo

Biagio D’Amato chose to build his residence as well as this hotel on one of the main arteries of La Línea. Pepe Martínez refers to this in an article published some years ago in the Architecture of La Linea section in the now-defunct newspaper La Verdad del Campo de Gibraltar:

“El chalet D´ Amato, is now the headquarters of the Menéndez Pelayo International University in La Línea de la Concepción is the most unique of the single-family buildings of the rationalist style in our municipality. Architecturally, we could say that thanks to Mr. D´ Amato, Clavel street is where a large part of the buildings of this style are concentrated, mostly financed by him”.

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