A photo of the hotel in 1963, taken from the beach
This apart-hotel introduced the concept of a buffet restaurant to Spain
Its services included an ice maker, its own bakery and a shopping gallery
It is no longer a tourism establishment but apartments can still be rented
Lola Flores soaks up the sun in the garden; a young and beautiful Brigitte Bardot is there with her friends; José Luis López Vázquez is enjoying the company of three young ladies, among them Gracita Morales who is playing her role as a woman with a complicated life in ‘Operación Cabaretera’. The photographs that hang on the walls of the Skol building in Marbella speak of the golden era of a tourism establishment that was a pioneer in Spain and which revolutionised the concept of service to the foreigners who were arriving in droves on the Costa del Sol in the 1960s.
“It was a hotbed of ideas and of professional people” recalled Luis Callejón, the first manager of this apart-hotel which has become a model for residential tourism in the area thanks to the initiative of Madrid developer Rafael Zea. “He was one of those visionaries (among whom are also José Banús and Salvador Guerrero) whose private initiative changed the history of the town”, said his daughter Silvia Zea, during the recent celebrations to commemorate the building’s half a century of existence.
It was 21st September 1963 when Marbella’s first big hotel opened its doors. Its 338 rooms were divided among three buildings. Years before, the Marbella Club had been inaugurated but it only had 18 rooms. “This new concept of an apart-hotel that was created by Rafael Zea was revolutionary, it ended up transforming the town and making Marbella the emblem for excellence in tourism that it still is today”, says Luis Callejón.
It was a revolutionary tourism establishment with the most modern services and features that had never been seen before in the Spanish hotel business. It was the first in Spain to offer its clients a buffet restaurant. The menus also changed: instead of four courses, there were three. “The Skol changed the philosophy about food in hotels. A desire to innovate and the need to save money in times of crisis led us to eliminate the traditional combination: first, second, third and dessert, and offer just three courses. And that is the same today” explains the hotel’s first manager.
Architect Manuel Jaén’s design for the building was different and unusual; he followed the guidelines of the Modern Movement in architecture, but disregarded town planning regulations of the time.
Artists and the curious
Beauty salon, shopping gallery, ice maker and even its own bakery. The innovations offered by the Skol Marbella made it a focus of attention for Spanish and international personalities and artists. But many people came to try the running buffet. Víctor Martínez, the present administrator of the building - which since 1991 has been a community of owners - remembers the conference held by the Formica España company at the Skol in 1968. “They told me they chose the hotel because they wanted to find out what the running buffet was”, he says.
Former workers, residents and family and friends of Rafael Zea came to Marbella again this week for a double tribute. A street has been named after the developer, and a cocktail party was held inthe garden of this legendary establishment which still has an air of nostalgia of its golden years. “It has changed a great deal, but in August about 1,400 people a day passed through here” says Juan Manuel Cintrano, who has been the head of maintenance for the past 39 years.
At present about 50 per cent of the apartments are owned by Europeans. The rest belong to executives who, decades ago, saw a business opportunity and who are still making a profit from renting out the apartments. “I always say that this establishment created a triangleof benefit: the tourist, who is also an owner, and is also an investor who is making money from his property”, says Víctor Martínez.