It has been one hundred and three years since the opening of the 1910 Brussels World Exhibition. It had run from April 23rd through to November 7th and had been a showcase of innovation of the day.
Image, Turismo de Tenerife
Once over, many of the exhibits and even the buildings were sold off, such was the case with one of the major exhibition halls, a 90 metre long rectangular pavilion. This edifice was purchased by Messer’s Gustavo and Guillermo Wildpret Duque, businessmen of Puerto de la Cruz, with the idea of making it into a grand hotel and leisure complex.
Don Gustavo and Don Guillermo were the sons of Swiss botanist and entrepreneur Don Herman Wildpret, of Warmbach, Germany, and Doña Luisa Duque Suarez, of Geneto, La Laguna. In 1896 they had taken over the management of several of their father’s establishments situated at No. 2 Calle Iriarte. Known as Helvetia (Switzerland) the business catered for the exclusive tourist market of the day selling such luxuries as Swiss chocolates, imported sweets and liquors, Havana cigars, and British and Turkish cigarettes.
Other shop units were dedicated to the sale of postcards and photographic materials whilst in the adjacent seed merchants, native plants, seeds and flowers were sold. At No. 4 of the same street they operated a soft drinks factory, making carbonated beverages and recharging seltzer bottles (soda siphons).
Once the purchase of the pavilion had been completed it was dismantled and shipped to Tenerife, the building was to be re-assembled and sited in, what is now, the Martinez area. The narrow streets of the town presented a problem for the transportation of the building materials but eventually everything necessary was on site and construction work began towards the end of 1911.
Six months later the project was completed and the opening of the “Thermal Palace” took place on June 24th 1912, the festival of San Juan.
The Hotel boasted its own electric generator and had a cinema theatre which could seat 400. There was a grand ballroom, a library, a billiard room and a 200 cover restaurant. In addition to its Turkish baths, with water supplied by the Martinez spring, the guests could also enjoy equestrian events which were organised on Sundays and fiestas, and even skate on the hotels own skating rink. There was also regular entertainment provided by local Canarian folk dance groups and “Lucha Canario” (Canarian Wrestling) competitions as well as musical concerts given by both municipal and military bands.
For the next two years the hotel enjoyed unprecedented popularity among the wealthy British and German tourists who wintered on the island. However, with the outbreak of the Great War, in August 1914, the boom was over. Governments involved in the conflict recommended to their various merchant shipping companies that they refrained from visiting the Canary Islands and the ensuing tourism crisis meant that there were only the permanent residents of the area left to patronise the establishment.
After the war shipping services resumed but tourism failed to reach its prewar levels.
In 1925 the Thermal Palace was eventually abandoned, due to its lack of profitability. In the 1930’s, by which time the building was in a state of ruin, the remaining structure was dismantled and moved to La Vera where a smaller edifice, known as Villa Paz, was constructed from the remaining usable material on the new site.
The former location of the Thermal Palace became the setting for the original Martinez lido complex which was inaugurated on August 26th 1940. This pool complex was later redesigned by the Canarian architect Cesar Manrique and reopened in 1977.
Herman Wildpret will be remembered in his own right as a landscape gardener who became head gardener of the Orotava Botanical Gardens of Acclimatisation in 1860 and went on to design and lay out many of the islands public parks and gardens including: The Von Humbolt Spa in Puerto de la Cruz, and the Santa Catalina Hotel gardens in Las Palmas in 1899.
The brothers Wildpret Duque will always be associated with the “Golden Days” of Tourism in Puerto de la Cruz where they had a “Portuense” street named after the family in honour of their ties to the town and the promotion of early tourism in the area.
Article by Dave Penny first published in Tenerife News
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