History of Hotel Pez Espada
by Tony Bryant
Although many locals laughed at the seemingly bizarre idea of building a five-star hotel on the beach in a small fishing village, the luxurious Hotel Pez Espada opened for business on Sunday 31 May 1959. The history of the Costa del Sol, and especially the history of Torremolinos, would be incomplete without referring to the hotel, for it became renowned for its famous guests and its illustrious galas and parties.
Designed by architects, Juan Jáuregui Briales and Manuel Muñoz Monasterio, the hotel marked a watershed in tourism and helped turn Torremolinos into the first tourist resort on the Costa del Sol. In the six years prior to its inauguration, just six hotels were opened in Torremolinos; in the six years following, more than 50 sprouted up in the area.
Because of the hotel's excellent position and its luxurious design, it soon began to attract Hollywood stars and celebrities from around the world: some had come to lap up the sun on the new 'Cóte d'Azur', while others based themselves at the hotel while filming in the area.
The list of guests includes Dirk Bogarde and John Mills, who stayed at the hotel while filming scenes for 'The Singer not the Song' in Alhaurín El Grande in 1961.George Segal and Anthony Quinn booked in to the hotel while working on the 'Lost Command' in Málaga and Almería in 1966. On one occasion during his stay, Anthony Quinn, a competent saxophonist, got up on stage to perform with the house orchestra.
Other star guests included Ingrid Bergman, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Sean Connery, and Raquel Welch. The award-winning actress was in Torremolinos in 1967 to film 'Fathom', although the famous yellow bikini scene was shot in Nerja and not in Torremolinos, as is often thought.
However, it was Frank Sinatra who put the Hotel Pez Espada firmly on the map in 1964.
Sinatra's name has become synonymous with the hotel and his image has been used to promote it ever since his visit, even though his stay had a rather unsavoury conclusion.
Sinatra, who was filming the final scenes of one of his most popular films,'Von Ryan's Express', in Caminito del Rey, El Chorro, was the centre of a scandal that resulted in his arrest and a fine of 25,000 pesetas.
Testimonies claim that Sinatra and his crew had retired to the hotel bar just after midnight, following a dinner held in the Belgium consulate in Malaga. A few minutes later, Cañibano Ondina, a young aspiring Cuban actress, arrived in the bar and went to speak with Sinatra. She is said to have slid her arm around the actor, to which he objected. The situation elevated when a paparazzi appeared (Juan F Avellaneda) and snapped the couple in a seemingly romantic embrace. Sinatra was outraged, claiming that no one could take his photograph without permission. One of his party snatched the camera from the photographer, removed the film, and then smashed the camera on the floor.
Ondina is said to have slapped the face of Sinatra, who retaliated by pushing her away with considerable force. The hotel manager intervened and evicted the actress and photographer. A few hours later, by which time Sinatra had retired to his room, the police arrived. The Cuban actress had made a complaint to the police, in which she stated that Sinatra had attacked, and threatened to kill her. Sinatra was arrested and taken to the cells in Malaga police station. He was questioned about the incident for several hours, but continually insisted his innocence. He was eventually released after paying the fine, but he is said to have made matters far worse by telling the police they were 'exactly the same as the gestapo'. He was forbidden to return to the hotel to collect his belongings and was escorted straight to the airport, where he is recorded as saying: "I will never return to this dammed country."
Sinatra never did return, but the hotel is still proud to promote him as one of their most extinguished guests, even though he branded the Spanish as 'filthy fascist bastards'.
However, this incident did not deter the jet-set from visiting, because throughout the 1960s,70s and 80s, the register continued to record the names of the world's most fashionable people.
The hotel would host spectacular gala dinners and open air barbecue nights to entertain its famous visitors. The entertainment at these events would be supplied some of Spain's own illustrious celebrities, including crooners, Julio Iglésias and Rafael; Eurovision winner, Massiel and flamenco dancer, Antonio Gádes.
Today, the famous Hollywood stars no longer visit the Hotel Pez Espada, as their playgrounds have moved further along the coast over the years, but it is still one of the most iconic hotels on the Costa del Sol. The characteristic façade and entrance of the original section of the hotel has remained unchanged and stands today like a monument to the golden years of Torremolinos.
Hotel Pez Espada
Avenida Salvador Allende, 11
952 38 03 00