Gibraltar City Hall by Gibraltar Rock Tours
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The building was a private mansion built in 1819 by Aaron Cardozo, a prosperous merchant of Jewish Portuguese descent who had settled in Gibraltar, it was his family home. It was the grandest private mansion ever seen in Gibraltar. The three-storey house dominated John Mackintosh Square.
It was erected on the site of the old hospital and chapel of La Santa Misericordia (the English translation is The Holy Mercy) and later as a prison. Aaron Cardozo was a non-protestant so was not legally allowed to own property in Gibraltar. However, as he had been a close friend of Lord Nelson and had supplied his fleet, he was eventually granted a site to build a house in the Alameda ( now known as John Mackintosh square) on the condition that it be “an ornament” to the square and in exchange for a property in Market Lane which he had conceded to the Government in 1793. Also in 1798, he had exposed a dangerous conspiracy to give up the Fortress to the Enemy.
It’s a shame that the architect is unknown, but it is thought that the exchange and commercial library (now Parliament house) on the opposite side of the square, which was erected in 1817, was built to mirror the Cardoso House in style and structure. I am sure that another blog on the Parliament Building will be due soon……..
Cardozo’s wife had died in 1820, and he spent less and less time in Gibraltar after that, living in Portugal or London, where he died.
By that time, the building, administered by his nephew and heir, Isaac Cardozo, was let to the Gibraltar Garrison Club as their club-house. Over the next few years, Balls and meetings of various societies were held there, including the Scientific Society which later announced the discovery of the Gibraltar Skull.
In 1839, Isaac let the building again. It became the Club House Hotel, and Gibraltar’s leading hotel, run initially by a widow, Mrs Crosbie. Balls continued to be held there, as well as concerts. By 1844, however, it had deteriorated, and Thackeray, English Novelist, who stayed there, called it “mouldy and decrepit”, but it improved under later owners and housed many eminent guests, including Prince Adalbert of Prussia, who had been wounded when his ship, the Dantzig, had been fired upon off the coast of Morocco.
In 1868 the hotel was leased to John Ansaldo. At that time it was being used by sporting clubs for their meetings, including the Calpe Hunt, the Jockey Club, and the Garrison Cricket Club.
In 1875, Ansaldo gave up the hotel, and Isaac sold the building to Pablo Antonio Larios, a businessman of Spanish origin. Pablo promptly made it available to Queen Victoria’s third son, the Duke of Connaught, who was on a tour of duty on the Rock. The Duke lived there for some months. When he left, Pablo Antonio Larios moved in with his family.
Pablo Larios spared no expense renovating and improving the property, even installing running hot and cold water, which was practically unheard of in those times. He erected marble and alabaster fireplaces and decorated the ceilings with medallions of roman emperors. The building boasts neo-classical architectural features and detailed mouldings on doorways and ceilings.
When Pablo Antonio died, after a riding accident, his son Pablo inherited the building, by now known as Connaught House. Finding it too small for his needs, he erected an extension to the north.
In 1920, Larios, by now the Marques de Marzales, had fallen on hard times, and sold the building to the Government for £39,500. Although he was living on the top floors until he moved out in 1922.The intention was to convert the building to a general post office, but funds were lacking, and only the ground floor housed a parcels post office.
In 1923, the then Governor of Gibraltar Sir Charles Munro suggested that the building be named City Hall.
In September 1924, the first City Council was elected, and Cardozo’s building became the City Hall, by which name it is still known today. Following the Constitution order of 1969, the City Council was dissolved and The Gibraltar House of Assembly moved to Parliament house (Opposite).
Nowadays, it houses the Mayor‘s Parlour , (restored a few years ago by the Gibraltar Heritage Trust) which hosts the Mayor’s and Civic Receptions, It also Houses Government departments such as the Ministry of Housing and now the Ministry of Culture, Media, Youth and Sport and of course the Mario Finlayson Art Gallery, which I wrote about in the last Gibraltar Rock Tours Blog, so check it out if you haven’t had the chance yet.
Thanks for taking the time to read !