Barrio de la Cruz

Gurutze Auzoa

La Cruz neighborhood

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The first project to have recourse to the Cheap Housing Law in Biscay was in the Calzadas de Mallona, where the La Cruz Neighborhood arose, a project dating from the year 1909. This was realized through the Fundación Católica de Escuelas y Patronato de Obreros de San Vicente de Paúl (Catholic Foundation of Workers’ Schools and Trustees of San Vicente de Paúl), an institution that considered housing to be an instrument for combining the family, morality and religion.

In 1909 members of the Catholic movement acquired a large part of the shares of the Cheap Buildings Society, which depended on the abovementioned Foundation that was responsible for the project. To fund the construction and development of the neighborhood, 250 shares were issued at 500 pesetas. In this way the Cheap Buildings Society was constituted with an initial capital of 125,000 pesetas. Nearly 5,000 m2 (64,000 square feet) of land were then purchased from Daniel Aresti and the works began with a capital increase of a further 250,000 pesetas. The project was by the architect Enrique Epalza, who designed 81 apartments distributed amongst 16 buildings with a ground floor, two stories and a covered story. These were freestanding buildings, without patios, smooth walls, without projecting elements, or salient volumes on the floor plans. They were functional buildings, based on an economy of materials and without any adornment. They had simple facades with no other elements than the windows and the lines of imposts marking the height of the stories. There were galleries with windows on the rear façade, with access to the galleries through the kitchen, and a WC at one end that formed part of the home’s interior. This was a novel element, but it was isolated from the rest with an exterior volume on the façade. In fact, Epalza integrated it into the terrace.

These were to be rented apartments and they were well received due to the low rent (16-20 pesetas a month) and the demand for workers’ housing. This led to a second and third phase of housing with the same premises. In total there were 232 apartments with small dimensions (40-45 m2) facing in two directions. These were outward facing apartments with light, air and sunshine. Mortgages were emitted at 3 or 4% per year, made available by banks and saving banks. There were also grants from the state.

This was a trump card of Catholicism against the workers’ movement. Schools, laundries, a shop, a water deposit, a holding wall and several cisterns were built next to the apartments. These services were for use by the neighborhood’s new inhabitants.  The buildings were organized in parallel lines situated on high ground that was connected to the Old Town and the Basilica of Begoña by steps. The interior of the residences consisted of a kitchen, dining room, three bedrooms, WC, pantry and gallery. They were notable due to their simplicity, sobriety, formal austerity and an economy of space put to maximum use, which together with hygienic aspects were their hallmark.

The apartments were allocated to families of good Christian conduct who participated in the activities of the Foundation and met other requirements, such as number of children, low income, and fulfilling internal regulations of behavior for tenants. In front of the five longitudinal blocks some allotments were laid out. These were arranged in small lots of 2 or 3 meters and were intended to remind the tenants of their rural past or the virtues of the workers’ vegetable allotment as postulated by the Brothers of the Order of San Vicente de Paúl. The model of one family, owning one house and an allotment, was transformed into blocks of rented apartments with a tiny allotment in a neighborhood built on high ground. The name “La Cruz [The Cross]” had its origin in the victory of the Holy Cross in the battle of the Navas de Tolosa, a battle in which the seigneurs of Biscay, Diego López de Haro and his sons, took part.

Luis Bilbao


    DOMINGO HERNANDEZ, M.M. Las casas baratas en Vizcaya 1911-1936. Bilbao: Fundación BBK, 2008. p. 132;AZPIRI, A. Urbanismo en Bilbao 1900-1930. Vitoria-Gasteiz: Servicio de Publicaciones del Gobierno Vasco, 2000;GÓMEZ, A.J., RUIZ, J. Las Casas Baratas de Bilbao. Bilbao: COAVN, Bizkaia, 2004. p. 147;GÓMEZ, A.J., RUIZ, J., RUIZ, L.A. Casas Baratas de Bizkaia 1911-1936. Nueva imagen de la ciudad. Bilbao: Diputación Foral de Bizkaia, 2010. p. 90.