Palacio de Montellano

Paseo de la Castellana, Madrid

Completed in 1904, for Felipe Falco (1859-1931), 8th Duke of Montellano, and his wife, Mexican heiress Carlota Maximiliana de Escandon y Barron (1864-1936). The Palacio de los Duques de Montellano replaced the 34-year old Palacio de Indo. It was constructed in the same year in which Felipe was appointed to the Senate, occupying an entire city block between the streets of Jenner and Fortuny and the Paseo Eduardo Dato and the Castellana. It was designed by the famous French architect Ernest-Paul Sanson and executed by two of Madrid's most celebrated architects, Juan Bautista Lázaro de Diego and Joaquín Saldaña y Lopez. Long referred to as, "the finest house in Madrid," for fourteen years it was well-known as the U.S. Embassy and the Crown Prince Juan Carlos lived here for 9-months in 1955 before razed and replaced by an office block....
Described as a three-story "modern house in the French style" it was leased to the U.S. government for $22,000/year after the fall of the Monarchy that coincided with the death of the 8th Duke in 1931. It served as the Ambassador's official residence as well as housing the embassy offices on the third floor and servants in the basement.

Not Always "Palatial"

Included in the lease were its furnishings. Aside from the obvious (French and Spanish) antique furniture it came with a collection of art among which was counted eight Goyas, four Guardias, and two Zuloagas. The first floor was dedicated to entertaining and its interiors were described as "magnificent". The circular marble entrance hall stood at the foot of the grand staircase flanked by a pair of galleries with in-built Italian mirrors and tapestries by Gobelin. The "Pompeian" Dining Room stood at one end and the ballroom at the other with smaller salons between (including the library modelled after that at Sanssouci in Potsdam), all of which opened up onto the rear terrace and gardens. But, for the American tastes of Ambassador Hayes, "the antique French chairs and settees were so dilapidated and rickety as to imperil the life and limb of anyone who sat upon them"!

While it may have been, "the finest house in Madrid," as a combined embassy and consulate it was lacking in luxury. In 1942, Hayes described the third floor as, "a bedlam of congested, badly ventilated, and poorly furnished offices... reached only by an antiquated little elevator that was more often out of commission than in, or by kitchen back stairs".

He was no less complementary of his family's quarters on the second floor: "five bedrooms, a diminutive library, and a drafty hallway" which was not quite what they expected of a "palace"! The gardens did however live up to their reputation as, "the finest and most beautiful in all Madrid". Centered by a fountain there were lines of rose bushes, rhododendrons, banana trees, a double row of horse-chestnut trees, cedars and pines. 

Civil War & World War

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Ambassador Claude Bowers offered the house as a safe haven not only to hundreds of Spanish-American refugees, but also to many pieces of fine art. Despite its immunity, the house did not escape unscathed: Bower's personal quarters on the second floor were destroyed by a bomb and another couple of bombs had embedded themselves in the gardens. Repairs were made for in time for the arrival of Ambassador Alexander Weddell (1939-1942) who preceded Carlton Hayes (1942-1945) when the the diplomats were joined by the OSS Branch of Counter Intelligence. 

Final Years

In 1944, the 9th Duke of Montellano informed the U.S. government that he would not be renewing the lease the following year, intending to raze the palace in favor of an American-style apartment hotel. The U.S. government briefly considered buying it but on being advised that it would need to be almost entirely rebuilt another location was found. The Duke's plans did not come into fruition and instead he lived here with his family until 1966, except for nine months in 1955 when he leant it to the young Crown Prince Juan Carlos before entering the Military Academy. It was demolished in 1966 and replaced by an office block for the Union & Phoenix Company but currently occupied by Madrid Mutua.

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 01/06/2021 and last updated on 07/06/2021.


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