Hotel Casino la Rabassada
The ruins of a majestic Hotel Casino bear witness to a troubled history and macabre legends
To rearrange a bit my ideas of this year that has just begun, I decide to stroll through Barcelona’s Olympic Port. I absentmindedly step in front of the famous Casino Barcelona, located just below the luxurious Hotel Arts. A real temptation for those who love to challenge fate or simply savor the thrill of gambling. A modern structure, which, as I continue the walk, gives me a doubt. Could it be the only casino that ever existed in Barcelona?
The following days my investigation over texts and web I quickly find an answer, which obviously is no! Long time ago there was another casino in Barcelona.
However, the research, albeit brief, opens a never closed door on a historical past still today rich in legend. I’m about to tell you about the Hotel Casino La Rabassada, an icon of the “Belle Époque” of Barcelona.
The Hotel Casino La Rabassada was an unprecedented fairytale place costing 2.5 million pesetas at the time. An exorbitant construction where the upper middle class, at the beginning of the 20th century, gathered for parties, shows and of course gambling. But as usual, we need to back through history for more than 100 years
A city in turmoil
Towards the end of the nineteenth century Barcelona, with an exponential demographic growth, needs new urban horizons and modernity. The Eixample project conceived by Ildefons Cerdà in 1863 and the Universal Exposition of 1888 were the witnesses of that era of growth and prosperity. The new building and artistic form of the Catalan capital was achieved thanks to architects such as Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas and obviously Antoni Gaudì.
The search for relaxation and clean air
With the construction of the Rabassada road in 1877 and the Tibidabo amusement park in 1899, the Collserola area, called Parco del Collserola in 1987, soon became the main destination of the bourgeoisie. A green area rich in flora, fauna and clean air away from the fumes and chaos of the city.
The idea of a Grand Hotel in the countryside
Politicians and businessmen have always led the development of cities. So the Collserola area, close to the urban center, aroused the attention of a renowned and respected entrepreneur Miguel Montane i Martos. With the help of French reversers, the project was to build a luxury hotel where the natural characteristics of the place could be exploited and the promote the tourist economy.
Thus it was that in 1899 the Grand Hotel La Rabassada was built. Located along the road that leads from Tibidabo to Sant Cugat del Vallès. Designed by architect Edmon Lechevalier Chevignard, the hotel for years welcomed the bourgeoisie with its renowned French cuisine, shows, ballroom and magnificent views.
A new project
Splendor and fame spread throughout Spain and far beyond the border. In 1909 a huge reform will convert the Grand Hotel la Rabassada into a casino, pride of Barcelona and great attraction for the bourgeoisie of the country. The project cost approximately 2.5 million pesetas. Josep Sabadell was the new director while the stylistic and architectural renewal was led by Andreu Puig. The extension also included attractions like a roller coaster, a hall of magic mirrors, a viewing terrace, shotting area and of course the gamble room. To guarantee access, a tram service was established that led from the city center to the casino.
A fame that did not last long
Why did the Hotel Casino La Rabassada not have as much luck as other casinos in Europe?
The inauguration of the complex soon led to premature closures, transport’s problems and above all political debates and gossips. Shortly after its opening, the casino had to close repeatedly due to the persecution of gambling during the presidency of José Canalejas Méndez (1910-12). In 1914 the imminent world war led to the low number of tourists, putting an end to the “Belle Époque” period and the death of J. Sabadell from typhus causes yet another closure and sale of the complex.
The plant was later bought by Luis Ponet. With the end of the World War, the casino reopened its doors in 1919 but without the license to play roulette. Problems with the transport service made difficult access and the meager income forced the opening only during the summer. The gambling persecutions of the Canalejas government first and of General Primo Rivera in 1923 then definitively took away the large revenues necessary for the survival and maintenance of the casino itself. Attempts by Ponet himself to reach a political agreement on the game were in vain. Only the 1929 exhibition will give a brief glimmer of popularity before finally fading with its closure in 1932.
During the Civil War (1936-39) it will be used as an air raid shelter and a squad of “carabineros” will settle down until 1938. After the war the Hotel remains in total abandonment and its dilapidated conditions lead to its demolition in the 1940.
Stories and legends
La Rabassada still continues to be talked 80 years after its demolition. During his activity he was often brought to the center of political debates for alleged corruption and breaches of the law. In fact, it seems that political and business influences made difference between a legitimate place to gamble or not. It was even cited as the main cause of the increase in loan houses in Barcelona at exorbitant rates.
The press did not lose an opportunity to add fuel to the fire regarding the recreational activities that took place inside the casino, thus giving space to popular rumors.
The game of roulette caused the loss of large sums of money leading to misery many personalities. Following the trend of the great casinos of Monte Carlo and Nice it is said that even here “the suicide room” was available. A quiet and reserved place for those who, swallowed up by shame and misery, decided to take their own lives in intimacy accompanied, as legend has it, by a bottle of fresh cava.
Among the parties and shows that were celebrated there was also the rumor, not confirmed, that the Vampira del Raval, Enriqueta Martí Ripollés, attended the casino. It is said that the woman offered sexual encounters and healing ointments to the upper class. Potions, according to her stories, made with the organs of children that she kidnapped.
In addition to popular stories, a renowned church father, Juan Tusquets Terrats, made heavy accusations and conspiracy theories about the casino. In a newspaper article he pointed out the Rabassada casino to favor meetings of the Masonic-Jewish lodge, a great enemy and danger of good Christian conduct.
Its macabre events did not end even after its closure. During the civil war he was a silent witness of several executions and assassinations including the journalist Josep Maria Planes i Martí in 24/8/1936. Even the isolated road rich in vegetation became the scene of shootings and armed assaults, even during the day.
What remains today of the Hotel Casino la Rabassada
Today only a poor facade remains of the casino and a few structures still intact including the balcony and some tunnels. The imposing staircase, the buildings, the lake and the attractions have been dismantled or destroyed, so nature not wasted time in regaining possession of this place. The vegetation and the ivy expand on the half-hidden structure just like the aura of mystery that is intertwined with its stories and legends. Although walls and rooms are no longer there, the vicissitudes of the hotel casino have still aroused the interest of researchers of paranormal events, who say they have experienced manifestations of psychophony and electromagnetism in the favorite place of gambling.
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