History of Puerto Banus
by Chris Chaplow
Although Puerto Banús marina complex maintains the illusion of being a developed old Spanish fishing village, the complex was in fact designed and built in 1970. The tourist complex comprising the marina and shopping district, together with the large residential area Nueva Andalucía, were all the vision of property developer José Banús (indeed, Puerto Banus' full name is Puerto José Banús)
Jose Banús Masdeu was born in Masó, Taragona in 1906 and left school at fourteen to work with his father, a constructor. The father-son team moved to Madrid and founded ‘Construcciones Molan y Banús’, which won a contract to build the access road to Valle de los Caidos. Their success only grew from this point, until Banús owned and promoted a whole series of large housing developments in Madrid.
In the late 1950s, he purchased the land between the Guadaliza and Verde Rivers, at the time stating he intended to use it for rearing cattle. The 1963 tourism development law opened a huge opportunity for Banús; his plans for the touristic development and promotion of the land were awarded in 1964, reportedly to build the ‘Centre of National Tourist Interest of Andalucía la Nueva (Marbella)’ and commercialise it for 99 years in the name of his company, José Banús SA. Banús commissioned architect Antonio Lamela to prepare preliminary designs for a new marina. It would be the first marina on the Costa del Sol and the first in Spain to be built with private capital.
Lamela’s designs featured a futuristic semicircle of six 16-storey tower blocks not dissimilar to his ‘Torre Colon’ project which had been underway since 1967 and was, when finished, the third tallest building in Madrid for a time. Franco himself apparently admired the design of Torre Colon so much that he visited the works several times.
On hearing of the whole project, Alfonso Hohenlohe, founder of the Marbella Club Hotel, was horrified and stated: “If this project goes ahead, I will sell my hotel and leave Marbella with all my family and friends.” A conciliatory meeting between him and Banús was orchestrated by Monseñor Rodrigo Bocanegra, after which Hohenlohe compromised by telephoning his favourite Architect Noldi Schreck in Mexico city (who had already designed his hotel’s beach club) and asking him to come to Marbella and co-develop a project with Banús by which the new buildings would not be higher than the tops of the trees.
Schreck was born in Russia to a Swiss father and aristocratic Russian mother. The family fled the Bolsheviks and Schreck was schooled in Switzerland. After World War II, he travelled Italy, France and Great Britain to study architecture. He emigrated to New York and went in search of Frank Lloyd Wright but discovered one had to pay to be a Frank Lloyd Wright assistant. Undeterred, he secured his first job as a set designer for Paramount Studios in Los Angeles. He was influenced by the Hotel Bel-Air and the ‘Spanish’ style homes of the wealthy, which were inspired in turn by the old ‘Franciscan Missions’ of the last century, which formed a chain from present day Northern California all the way down to Baja California (now Mexico). Schreck moved his office to Mexico city and was responsible for many works in the trendy Zona Rosa in the 1950; works that Hohenlohe had admired on his travels.
Schreck assumed responsibility for the designs of Banús’s new project. He appointed Marcos Sainz as assistant architect. Their initial designs were very similar to the Puerto Banús we see today, though perhaps a little more eccentric, the Venetian-style canals discounted. The housing was all modelled on the classic designs of Andalusian villages, while the marina was influenced by Port Pierre-Canto, Cannes France and Porto Cervo in Italy.
Lamela, true to the style for which he was famous, proposed a futuristic model, but it was populist architecture (especially a pyramidal structure whereby each floor of a building has a smaller plan as it ascends) that prevailed in the designs.
Construction of Puerto Banús began in 1965 with substantial land clearance and the fabrication of hundreds of concrete blocks needed for the port’s breakwater. These were laid out in their hundreds prior to being stacked in the water. The heavy civil engineering was completed by 1968. The marina was built by French contractor Spada, using rock mined in the Nagüales quarry and transported in French Berliet lorries each carrying between 45 and 75 tonnes. A special haul road was built along the west bank of the Rio Verde to facilitate this major operation. Schreck appointed Pierre Canto (promotor of Port Pierre-Canto, Cannes, France opened in 1966) to design the marina’s village. The apartments were to be 70m², bigger than Lamela’s 60m² but designed with the latest open American styles. The larger three-bedroom apartments were 160m². Construction of the village started after the marina was opened.
Construction of the "Andalucía la Nueva" urbanisation (now called Nueva Andalucía) had actually begun in 1964, and the Hotel Andalucía Plaza (2022 Hard Rock Hotel) was opened in 1970, however, the sale of apartments and properties was focused on during the seventies, with advertising campaigns such as those published in the ABC of Madrid in 1975.
Puerto Banus Opens
Puerto Banús had two inaugurations in 1970, an institutional inauguration with civic authorities on 18th May 1970, and the much more publicised opening party on 2nd August, attended by 1,700 people headed by Prince Reiner of Monaco and Grace Kelly ('Godparents' of Port Pierre-Canto, Cannes), Shāh Karim al-Husayni (Aga Khan IV) creator of Porto Cebo in Italy and international celebrities including Hugh Heftner who had purchased 120 acres of land in Los Monteros but never obtained permisions for his 'Cuidad Playboy' project. Hefner arrived at Malaga airport in his private Boeing 707 with Playboy bunnies and Roman Polanski. Liza Minnelli also attended and she returned as an Oscar winner to sing 'Cabaret' in the Nueva Andalucia bullring for four nights in 1974. Dr Christian Barnard attended. A young Julio Iglesias sang ‘Gwendolyne’, the song which had represented Spain in the Eurovision Song Contest earlier that year (Iglesias came ninth in 1970, the year that Dana of Ireland won with ‘All kinds of everything’). The Princes of Asturias, Juan Carlos, and his wife Sofia (future King and Queen) are often incorectly reported as guests; they visited Puerto Banus and Marbella in 1972.
Oil Crisis, 1973
The oil crisis of 1973 had a major effect on Puerto Banús and its successful operation as it began to lose money. Shortly after Franco died, the prohibition on gambling in Spain was revoked and, in July 1978, Banús opened the second Casino in Spain in Torre del Duque, complete with restaurant, swimming pools and Beach Club.
The Casino alone was not enough to remedy the port’s losses. In 1980, Banús travelled to Saudi Arbaia to sell large parts of Nueva Andalucía and Puerto Banús to King Fahd . This led to the construction of the Benabolá complex, headed again by futurist architect Lamela, who followed Schreck’s style.
In 1981, Banús sold Las Brisas Golf and the eastern half of Nuevo Andalucía to prevent foreclosure from bank loans. He also sold the Torre del Duque complex and relocated the casino over the road into the west wing of Hotel Andalucía Plaza and sold the operating rights. This domino effect continued until Banús died aged 78 in a clinic in Madrid in 1984, without children. His wife died in 1992; the inheritance passed to the family of his brother Juan, whose children have since been in dispute with each other over the distribution of the inheritance.
Alberto Vidiella Tudores became the President and majority shareholder of the Puerto José Banús SA company, but by this point, he seemed to be taking over a run-down port. Any visitor to Puerto Banús in the late 1980s might have questioned the glamorous reputation of the Marbella Jet Set.
In 1991, Vidiella had to face the attempts of then-mayor Jesús Gil to take over the port by taking advantage of a debt that another group company, Banús Andalucía la Nueva SA, had with the City Council. Telephone hacks carried out in an anti-mafia investigation by the Italian police would later reveal Gil’s true dubious intentions. In the end, Tudores managed to win in court and thwart Gil's plans. He is credited with attracting big commercial brands to the port in the late 1990s. With the arrival of the new millennium came a whole new contingent of visitors in line with the marina's expanded retail zone, headed by El Corte Inglés and Marina Marbella, with a host of shops around Plaza Antonio Banderas.
With increased commercialisation came increased income, and in 2006 the Junta de Andalucía increased the canon payable on the concession from 120,000 € to 1,100,000 € per year. Tudores challenged this in court, leading to the increases being scaled between 2006 and 2012. Following the economic downturn in 2007, many retail establishments closed and or relocated. The management of Puerto Banús had to work hard to attract visitors and brands to its front and second line outlets. The recovery was slow but helped by the publicity from TV shows like The Only Way is Essex and events like Marbella Luxury Weekend, Marbella Fashion Week. Marbella Motor Show and Marbella Film Festival.
Eventually, Puerto Banús secured an identity as the place to be in Spain, with the most luxury brands per square metre of any luxury Spanish district. The complex was recorded as receiving 4.9 million visitors a year, twice that of the Alhambra, while the cost of berths in the port was recorded as the fourth most expensive in Europe.
Alberto Vidiella Tudores died in February 2016, aged 82, and the baton was passed to his sons, José and Rubén Vidiella Salgado, who became joint vice-presidents.
Back in 1988, under ‘la Ley de Costas’ (coastal law), all private beaches and marinas were declared public, and ownership changed to time-based concessions. In the case of marinas, this was 30 years; marinas in Spain have since existed in a state of uncertainty popularly termed the ‘2018 effect’. Sotogrande marina lost a court case in 2016 to have their 30-year concession reclassified to 75 years. In 2020, the Andalusian Regional Government passed a law to framework incumbent concessions for up to 50 years, dependent on the port owners’ expansion, investment and management efficiency. More recently, there have been rumoured offers to purchase the exploitation rights of Puerto Banús. According to press reports, a Chinese-Swiss consortium led by Credit Suisse has put in such an offer. Naturally, the value of such a purchase depends on the length and prospective expansion of the port’s concession.
2020 was the 50th anniversary of Puerto Banús. Marbella Town Hall commissioned a 350,000 € video and promotional campaign to celebrate the anniversary. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the anniversary passed largely unnoticed.
The make-up of Puerto Banus has changed continually over time. Some venues, like Sinatra’s, Salduba, Joys Live (formerly Old Joys), Patrick’s 19th, Tango, Donna Sheesh Kebab and Los Bandidos, are still present and have stood the test of time, while others such as Joe’s Bar, Espartaco Santoni's Latin Quarter, Comedia, Mel’s, Spirit of Ecstasy, Websters and Khans are long gone.
The luxury status of Puerto Banús has survived to this day, but throughout the 2010s, its popularity amongst British stag and hen crews also grew, with bars such a Linekers and Pangea opened to cater for them. Some question whether this growing presence of a distinctly loud touristic demographic could compromise the long-term sustainability of Puerto Banús but, after all, the Puerto Banús has shown itself capable of repeated reinvention and survival in its 50-year history. While some might say that the port has outgrown itself and become a web of congestion and parking difficulties in the summer months, the popularity of Puerto Banús on the international tourist stage cannot be denied – and after all, the post-pandemic era offers ample opportunity for Puerto Banús SA and the Town Hall to effect a reset of this now iconic Spanish hotspot.