The Monument that Resists Death

"This house has the same cataloging as the Giralda: monument." / NATALIA TAMAYO

Casa Grande del Pumarejo houses an entire neighborhood; even though there are only three ladies left, it is the home of all those who struggle so that the City Hall, owner of the property, does not let it fall down by deterioration. Four years after our publication visited the house for the first time, we return to find out what has become of its inhabitants and their struggle.

It is one o’clock in the afternoon and doña Felisa comes in at her own pace, dictated by the 85 years she’s been around. She carries four plastic bags with groceries and medicine and walks with caution; leaning on an umbrella for one step, a cane for the other, and so on. The asphalt, soaked by the rain, makes her steps even more cautious and measured.

Luis Hornillo, her neighbor, hastily rushes forward to ease the weight of the bags and holds the door for her; the door of a house that, for 17 years, has been the place where an entire neighborhood lives even though it is not where they sleep. The journalist attempts to help her take the step crossing the wooden door but doña Felisa asks her: “What are you doing?” and firmly states, “No miarma, I can do it on my own”.

Felisa García Moreno lives by herself and is the last ‘old’ neighbor in Casa Grande del Pumarejo since she resisted an eviction attempt in 2000 that was motivated by urban speculation.

Felisa García Moreno by the entrance to her home in Casa Grande del Pumarejo / NATALIA TAMAYO

“In 2000, there were 11 neighbors, two of whom died, and the others, tired of the fact that the owners did not pay attention to them, decided to leave,” says Manolo Pedrinazi, son of Felisa and a member of the neighborhood collective. In 2011, there were still nine of them. Today, in all the 21 flats available, there only remains Rosa, who is over 70 years old, Rosario, 50 years old, and the honorable president, which is how Felisa is known within both the neighborhood collective and the Association Casa del Pumarejo.

The future of casa palacio

After years of struggle, on June 26th, 2003 by order from the Ministry of Culture of the Andalusian Government, Casa Palacio del Pumarejo was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest, which afforded the protection of both its architectonic elements and its ethnological value, and shield it against the possibility of privatization.

In the process of collecting information, which the Platform for Casa del Pumarejo carried out with historians and researchers, other uses of the property were discovered. Salvador García, who is not from the neighborhood but feels as if he did since he joined the consolidation three years after its foundation, is a former employee of Renfe, the national railways company, and a tireless member of the collective. According to García, Casa del Pumarejo is more than just a palace from the last third of the 18th century, built as a home by Count Pedro de Pumarejo, a merchant who found wealth in America.

García says that the Count, who wanted to live up to his noble title, bought about 70 flats in the San Julián neighborhood –the northern part of Seville’s Old Quarter– in order to demolish them and erect the 2,693 square meter mudéjarstyle palace that would be named after him from the year 1775 and would become the heart of the new square that was baptized by its presence.

In 1785 the Pumarejo family sold the house, which became municipal property and had various uses, including the school of Toribios for orphans for 50 years during the 19th century. Afterwards, during the War of Independence against the French (1808-1814), it became a prison. In 1892, after having already been turned into a neighborhood house, it served as refuge for some of the families that were affected by the overflow of the Guadalquivir River. From then until its decay in the 1980s, the top floor housed small apartments and the bottom floor workshops and stores.

Today, a bar on the side of Fray Diego de Cádiz street, the three neighbors and the whole collective of Casa Grande del Pumarejo – as they call it – have managed to redefine the ways of inhabiting the old palace. It is more than walls, columns, tiles and two floors spread over almost an entire block and is, according to Salvador García, “a living being, a cell as a whole, an ecosystem that protects itself and expels from its membrane what does not work well.”

The central patio which is one of the meeting place for all the neighbors / NATALIA TAMAYO

A house, a family, a struggle

“What I remember most is my childhood. This was a playground. There were 36 boys and girls, all the same age; it looked like a school. We lived together through fights and laughter. There were no locks on the doors. The celebrations were during Semana Santa and Christmas, birthdays and first communions. We were all a family and the patio was the core where we all met,” recalls Manolo -or Lolo, as his mother, Doña Felisa, calls him-, one of the forerunners of the platform Casa del Pumarejo, established by the Predinazi brothers, Pepe y Lolo, David Gómez, an activist and neighbor, and Luis Hornillo, self-proclaimed ‘illegal writer’, to stop the eviction from the house.

Citizen action was awakened when two of the owners sold their inheritance to the Quo Hoteles Integrales hotel chain, which sought to build a luxury hotel in a section of the house. This was in line with city hall’s desire to strengthen other alternatives in the city’s historic center for tourists to visit, such as calle San Luis, which leads to plaza del Pumarejo.

Antonio Muñoz, current delegate of the Area of Urban Habitat, Culture and Tourism of the municipal government, knows the work of the Platform. “During a time where there was a boom in real estate and construction, there have been many actions, and I’m not just talking about Seville; I´m talking about many countries where there has been risk and where a lot of heritage has been lost, significantly altering their architectural and historical DNA,” Muñoz explains. “I understand that the Platform, which faces those risks, has tried to raise its voice and call for citizen awareness to prevent the Pumarejo from being lost,” thinks the delegate.

That citizens’ voice understood the nature of the house as a center of resistance for the neighborhood. Among the achievements of the platform is the acquisition of the building by city hall on February 14th, 2003, which avoided the eviction of more neighbors. That same year, it was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest and since then, with the four political parties that have held municipal power –Partido Popular, Partido Socialista, Izquierda Unida and Partido Andalucista–, they have demanded the restoration of the uninhabited spaces of the house.

According to several members of the group, what city hall has done is placing metallic props to prevent the collapse of certain sections of the house while at the same time close certain unused spaces down. “I don’t care; I go in and fix things. I don´t give a damn. The house deserves it,” explains Marco Mainas, an Italian who came to Pumarejo to lend his knowledge about plumbing, electricity and carpentry.

Marco Mainas and Manolo Pedrinazi doing the restoaration of one of the columns / NATALIA TAMAYO

The neighborhood struggle has enabled art and culture to become perpetuators of the house’s life, which today has a library with several thousand books, classes of capoeira and contact, and philosophy and Italian workshops. A space is also being remodeled into a theater, and in the meantime, the neighbors and collective members are opening their doors to any proposals for events or artistic manifestations. In addition to this, they provide legal advice on mortgages through the Liga de Inquilinos. They are constantly reinventing themselves and responding to the needs that arise. The house is a living being that intends to continue living despite the silence and administrative denials.

Antonio Muñoz, a delegate from the Seville City Hall, is directly in charge of everything that affects Casa Pumarejo, and he expresses interest, although the neighbors are critical of the scarcity of the results. “There is a permanent and stable relationship to address the various issues. There is a fluid dialogue. From time to time, whenever my schedule allows me and there is a meeting like the last one, I come to be with the neighborhood representatives,” says the delegate.

However, Luis Hornillo and Salvador García affirm that for a year and a half they have not seen the representatives of the Monitoring Commission, the government group in charge with the Action Plan for the house. Therefore, the goal of the 3Rs- to recover, rehabilitate and revitalize, has had to be carried out on their own account through crowdfunding and a system of the exchanging of favors that has brought about the Puma Currency, a local and autonomous social currency system of the historical center in the north of Seville.

This year promises to be, since the year 2000, the moment in which city hall finally responds to the requests of tenants and neighbors. “This is the first time that the Pumarejo label appears in the budget annexes item, it did not exist before,” Muñoz reveals. This information is still not known in the House, as a visitor, who went to admire what has been preserved from the old palace of the Count of Pumarejo, tells a skeptical Marco, “They already accepted the budget for the house; soon, soon they will restore it. That’s what I heard.”

Meanwhile, the collective is still open to talking with the administration officials to cover the needs of the house, to continue with its social and cultural activity that is a national and international model, to ensure that this living being continues to breathe, survive, and perhaps to disguise the palace, so that the promises of the local administration are fulfilled more quickly. “Pepe, I’m going to give you a little college girl’s skirt and you can get yourself a wig to see if they listen to you,” jokes Salvador while drinking his morning coffee, which boosts his energy so that he can live another day in opposition of the death of the monument of Pumarejo. •