Tuesday, 7 November 2023
Pedro Guerrero Gil enters the Casino de Marbella and greets the photographer effusively. It is 4pm and time for his regular game of dominoes or cards. Pedro, 82, orders a coffee and sits down in an armchair. The former first salesman of Hotel El Fuerte remembers Marbella before the tourists. He was a child during Spain's post-war period who, like many, experienced hunger and he has witnessed Marbella’s transformation from a small fishing village to a popular coastal resort.
Among the many errands he had to run at El Fuerte one of the most unusual was walking Pluto, Walt Disney's dog. "I started working at the El Fuerte hotel in 1957. Unfortunately, I started working very young. I started at La Jaula, next to the bus stop, when I was nearly nine years old. I washed dishes and ran the errands they asked me to do. I went on to work at El Comercial hotel when it opened and I was there for quite a long time," Pedro explains, adding: "In the afternoons Doña María used to comb my hair, because it was very unruly. She would put some hairspray on it."
Pedro then went to work at El Puerto bar near Verdaguer chemist's. "It was the best restaurant there was. It was taken over by the then head chef of the Marbella Club. His son was at El Rodeíto, which belonged to the second Marquis of Ivanrey, the one with the motorbikes.” Pedro says, referring to the tourism promoter and mechanical engineer Ricardo Soriano, who was famous for his designs of sports and aeronautical cars. "They rented it for a year and I was with them. As a kid I used to serve up to 50 breakfasts by myself to the French," he explains with a smile.
"At El Fuerte I started with Don José Luque who was at the time renovating Doña Elvira Vidal’s house. She was well-known as one of the first tourism promoters in Marbella. For financial reasons after the death of her husband she had to convert her large estate into a guesthouse," Pedro explains.
"Alfonso de Hohenloe, Jean Cocteau and Edgar Neville and all the intellectual and artistic bohemians who were beginning to discover Marbella stayed there," he points out.
"José Luque wanted to build a four-star hotel. He was from Estepa [and] he was very intelligent. If he heard that someone could show him something, he would go and look for them. He would come to El Puerto in the afternoons to have a drink and talk to Carlos and give him a hand in the kitchen. I already knew him from when he was in El Comercial,” Pedro explains.
“He saw me when I was 14 years old and said to Carlos: I have to take this boy to El Fuerte. In the end, Don José hired me and that's when it all started". Pedro became a bellboy and every afternoon he would go outside to look for guests for the hotel as they drove into Marbella. Many would have driven from French Morocco, so they were tired after the journey and wanted somewhere to stay. Pedro says, “His son José Luque always reminds me that I was the first salesman at El Fuerte".
Walt Disney stayed at the hotel for a week in 1958 and requested a bellboy to walk his dog, Pluto. "I got to room 208 and he gave me the dog. I would take him along the beach to the fishing port. When I came back, he would give me a 50 peseta note. In 1958, that was a lot of money. I lived near the Museo del Grabado and I would take it to my mother and the poor thing would cry her eyes out. The dog was the best-trained thing I've ever seen in my life. If I let go of the leash, he would grab it with his mouth and bite me", Pedro remembers.
Shortly shortly afterwards Walt Disney moved to Villa Coneja, opposite the Marbella Club. "If any mail came in, I would rent a bicycle and take it to him. He wouldn't give me any money but he would sit me under a pergola and feed me. Pain and glory…I was so hungry, things were very bad,” Pedro recalls.
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