Isla de la Torre – Tower Island in Santander

I’ve always been drawn to this building and this island. I was on the beach the other day combining the dangerous task of having a coffee and testing my shiny new camera (it’s a LUMIX GX1 for those of you that might be interested) when I set my sights on the island and was trigger happy as you can see…

Isla de la Torre Escuela de Vela 1930 Santander

The Sailing School on Tower Island off the coast of Magdalena peninsula, Santander

Isla de la Torre Magdalena Escuela de Vela 1930 Santander

The pier seems connected to the island – some reports say it was once

Isla de la Torre Magdalena Escuela de Vela 1930 Santander

It’s nice to walk out the pier and daydream – and I’m not the only one – as you can see

Isla de la Torre Magdalena Escuela de Vela 1930 Santander

When you get to the end of the pier – it seems a bit further than 150m – doesn’t it?

An island of many names
The micro-island measures just half a hectare in size. It is called Isla de la Torre (Tower Island) because of its fortification in the 18th century to protect access to the city of Santander. In 1861 it gained the additional name of Isla de la Corona (Crown Island) following the erection of a marquee on the island to please Queen Isabel II who, it is reported, enjoyed swimming. The name Crown Island stuck for a number of decades.  But it was back to being Tower Island – in 1885 – when the city’s favourite scribe Jose Maria Pereda took his characters Andres and Sotileza fishing off ‘Isla de la Torre’ in his book ‘Sotileza’. More recently, the island is called Isla de los Ratones (Mouse Island). A video (in Spanish) by the local newspaper captures a day in 2011 when the tide was low enough for a reporter to walk from the mainland to the island – under the heading ‘A Walk to Mouse Island’. [If the tide drops that low again, I’ll be out there with the camera]. Apparently the “real” Mouse Island is further over the other side of the bay. But I’m not interested in the island because of its names.

Isla de la Torre Magdalena Escuela de Vela 1930 Santander

You can see the curves I love so much – referred to as utopian-rationalism in one commentary

The design of the building

The Escuela de Vela or Sailing School is one of those curvy buildings I like so much. It was designed in 1928 and completed by 1930. Disappointingly, I couldn’t find any information about the construction of the building or the costs. I did find references to an abundance of dynamite being blasted into the Magdalena and Cerda quarries for the stone to make the pier on the island but nothing else. The design of the building is described as a perfect example of deco-rationalism in the city along with the Siboney Building (1931) on Calle Castelar. For those of you who know Santander – I was interested to learn that the architect behind these curves  – Lastra – had been working on plans for the Club Maritimo site. He didn’t get that job but put his ideas to good use here.

The architect/politician

The architect of this curvy wonder was Deogracias Mariano Lastra Lopez(1889-1955). If his first name sounds unusual to you – it does to me too. It’s from the Latin ‘Deo gratias’ meaning ‘Thanks be to God’. Lastra was from a family of stonecutters in the Trasmiera area of Cantabria. He studied architecture in Madrid and following his graduation in 1918, he moved back to Cantabria and began working in Santander with established architect Eloy Martinez del Valle who had designed the iconic Casino (1913) and was working on major projects such as the Banco de España building in the city. Lastra worked on this building and a number of private residences in the city. However, his personal style was out of sync with del Valle’s approach. Lastra favoured ‘rationalism‘. He went on to employ this style in a large number of schools in the region in the 1920 and 1930s – in addition to here on Tower Island.

Lastra’s interests also lay in politics and social change. He was president of the Ateneo Popular (a socialist libertarian association), member of the Radical Socialist Party and was elected councillor to the city’s town hall in the municipal elections of 1931. It was a time of significant change in Spain – these elections led to the proclamation of the Second Republic. Lastra was a councillor until 27 August 1937 when he exiled to France. He returned in the 1940s and worked on the restoration that took place after the fire that destroyed a section of the city in 1941. He is best known in the city for the art-deco style Ateneo Popular building (1937) – which was taken over by the Franco side just months after its opening.

What’s happening at the Sailing School?

The school is still open and teaching anybody over the age of seven who can swim how to sail. It has passed through the hands of a number of organisations and public bodies – as have other sailing institutions in the city. It is currently under the management of the Cantabrian Federation of Sailing who hold open days every now and again – in case you are interested in seeing the facilities or learning to sail. I know I am…

It’s a busy year for those involved in sailing in Santander. All public budgets are being squeezed and sponsors are being shaken down to get the city ready for the ISAF Sailing World Championships in Santander in September 2014. I’d love this building to look its best for the occasion. I’m hoping the town hall or the federation has put something aside. It would be a shame to keep this extraordinary beauty out of the limelight.

Isla de la Torre Magdalena Escuela de Vela 1930 Santander

What a location! You wouldn’t get planning permission nowadays – would you?

Isla de la Torre Magdalena Escuela de Vela 1930 Santander

I hope the building will be given a chance to shine at the Sailing World Championships next September


  1. Photos look great, looking forward to more results from the new camera (and the talented photographer!).

  2. Just read that for the ISAF Sailing World Championships this September, you can get a boat onto this island, be wined and dined and get shuttled out on another boat to the open sea to observe the competitions. Nice idea…The info is here in Spanish

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