Monday, June 26, 2017

The Death Of An Architect

Josep Ferragut Pou is one of the more important Mallorcans of the twentieth century. His architectural legacy is still very much with us, even if some of it is crumbling and on the point of demolition. Ferragut was the municipal architect in Alcudia. He worked on the old power station and on the Poblat GESA opposite. The Poblat is to be redeveloped as luxury properties (in all likelihood). Endesa, inheritors of GESA real estate, want the power station to be totally demolished. Purchasers of luxury accommodation don't want such a rusting, abandoned edifice and sight blocking the view. They will probably have to get used to the view of at least part of it.

Ferragut was also involved with the City of Lakes project in Alcudia. It was he who basically mapped out the canals, the lakes and the urban development on which the likes of Bellevue were to rise. Prior to his work in Alcudia, he had worked with another architect, Gabriel Alomar, on the project to redefine the centre of Palma. This involved, for example, the creation of the Jaume III avenue, the Passeig Mallorca and a new municipal market (Mercat de l'Olivar). The Plaça Major was completed as were the steps to connect it to La Rambla.

After the work in Alcudia, Ferragut was responsible for Palma's GESA building and the Església de Nostra Senyora dels Àngels de la Porciúncula, better known as the Glass Church of Playa de Palma. The church was consecrated on 6 October 1968. Ferragut didn't live to experience the moment.

He was active at the time when Mallorca was experiencing its tourism boom. Ferragut is generally characterised as an architect who took issue with uncontrolled development and the corruption that went hand in hand with it. He was also for a time the municipal architect in Pollensa and had fought against high-rise in Puerto Pollensa. His advice was initially heeded, but factors beyond his control were to mean that the recommendation wasn't totally adhered to.

In Alcudia, it might be argued that his work with the City of Lakes contradicted his desire for there to be control. However, it wasn't Ferragut who was responsible for what later emerged, such as the Reinas (now Club Mac). He had been dead for a few years when the Bellvista Urbanisation took shape: what became Bellevue and the Siestas. In fact, Ferragut's vision had been for a development with low population density and abundant green areas.

Another Josep Ferragut - Josep Ferragut Canals - is a nephew. Also an architect, he took over the studio in Palma that his uncle had used. He has said that his relative was a cultured person with one foot firmly in Mallorca's traditions. He had an ethical view of his work. When he was hired by Pollensa town hall, he vowed not to take on any "personal commissions".

The impression formed, therefore, is of an essentially honest man, a rare breed in those days. He recognised the architectural conflicts of modernity and tradition and sought to find ways of reconciling them. But this personal stance was to bring him into conflict with members of the College of Architects, the professional institute, and with the Provincial Deputation's urban planning commission. There was, however, something else that caused conflict. Ferragut was a homosexual.

On 21 February 1968, a body was found along the Bunyola road, a few kilometres from Palma. The press was to refer to his face having been horribly smashed in. Josep Ferragut had been bludgeoned to death with a stone. He was 56 at the time, and according to police he had met two men - one 20, the other 26 - the night before. The two were arrested. In July the following year, they were released due to a lack of evidence. The case was not reopened.

Just after Ferragut's murder, the poet and novelist Jaume Vidal Alcover had been due to give a lecture at what was then the University of Palma. He didn't show up. Instead, he had left Mallorca on the ferry to Barcelona. The historian Damià Ferrà-Ponç has said that Vidal hadn't wanted to appear because of the indiscriminate arrests of Mallorcan homosexuals.

Homophobic paranoia was as rampant as corruption. Ferragut had the misfortune to have been a homosexual in such an atmosphere, while he was adamant in his disapproval of the corruption that had led to uncontrolled development and continued to. It is unlikely that the truth behind his murder will ever be known. The press had portrayed the two who were arrested as "blackmail specialists", but then the press wrote what it was told to or what was wise to report. If there had been a need to silence Ferragut - by then at real loggerheads with the professional body and the government - it would have been simple enough, rather than for him to have been killed, to have blackmailed him. Although he was discreet, enough was known about his homosexuality. However, there were all sorts of interests and a great deal of money at stake.

The version of his murder that was allowed to prevail was that he had been the victim of two male prostitutes, though they were of course never convicted. The other is that he was killed because his ethics frustrated developments. The Ferragut  family hired a private detective. He focused on Pollensa and Alcudia, which were where Ferragut had been at his most outraged. He referred to "barbarities" in Puerto Pollensa and was against the exploitation of unspoiled areas, especially in Alcudia, even if he was partially responsible for what was to transpire. The detective concluded that, although there was no specific evidence, there were enemies who had conspired against Ferragut, angered about his denouncing of corruption.

A work by novelist Guillem Frontera was published two years ago. Its title is Sicília Sense Morts, Sicily Without The Dead (or corpses). Frontera alludes to an epigram that has become distorted: its actual wording is "Mallorca es como Sicilia, pero sin muertos". There is debate as to who originally coined it - either of the journalists Andreu Manresa or Matias Vallés - but it is now mistakenly expressed as Sicily without the guns. Regardless of this, the expression is pertinent. In 1969, Frontera wrote a novel entitled Cada Día Que Calles (roughly Every Day That Remains Silent). It is taken to have been about the murder of Ferragut.

The murder was scandalous, not least because no one was ever convicted and the case was closed. It could well be that Ferragut was killed by the two men and that it was therefore a form of gay scandal that the Francoist regime preferred to hush up. But there was the other possibility. Mallorca is like Sicily and it has the corpses - one at any rate.

* Tomorrow evening at Bellver Castle, there is the premiere showing of the documentary Vida i mort d’un arquitecte. It is the opening gala for the Atlàntida Film Fest and is the work of Miguel Eek. It will be broadcast simultaneously on IB3. It is about the life and death of Josep Ferragut.

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