There was a time when jai alai, the sport of the top basket, brought together the pinnacle of glamor. Hollywood actors, millionaires, aristocrats, livelihoods … To be someone, in many places you had to be seen on a fronton. It was fashionable in Spain, but also in Mexico, China, Italy, Cuba, Egypt, the Philippines or the United States, among other countries. And at that time the Recoletos fronton was built in Madrid, one of the capitals of the world of this sport; a building called to be the epicenter of Basque pelota, and also of the new architecture. History passed him by.
The Recoletos fronton was one of the most avant-garde constructions of its time. It was designed by the engineer Eduardo Torroja – grandfather of the Mecano singer, Ana Torroja – and the Bilbao architect Secundino Zuazo. They conceived an unparalleled work, in which they used reinforced concrete to put up a structure that seemed to float in the air.
The ceiling was formed by two barrel vaults, divided longitudinally. One of them made of glass, so that the place had natural light. The cantilevered boxes and stands accommodated 2,200 people. The architectural solutions of Zuazo and Torroja are still being studied. It was a multifunctional building: elegant social club with restaurant, tearoom, Turkish baths … and gambling establishments. The inauguration was an event, but they chose a bad year: 1936.
The premises closed a few months after the outbreak of the Civil War and became a blood hospital for the anarchists of the FAI. During the siege of the capital, it was hit by Francoist howitzers and suffered structural damage. After the war, the building was renovated and reopened to the public, becoming a regular scene for boxing matches, wrestling and even a basketball court, as it was one of the spaces where Real Madrid played. But the urban needs of the capital put an end to him. Located on Valenzuela street, near the National Library, it was demolished in 1973 to build houses.
Jai alai in Cairo
Time also ended the days of jai alai as a global sporting event. Changes in social habits, suspicions of betting fixes, and a three-year baseball strike in the United States in the 1980s buried the fascination of the top basket.
One of the characters who most helped export jai alai was Marga D’Andurain, a French Basque adventurer with an obscure role in World War II. She had a hotel in Palmyra where Agatha Christie stayed and was locked up in a harem for trying to visit Mecca. In 1948 she disappeared on her yacht, off Tangier, killed by her crew. According to the pelotari and popularizer Juan Ignacio Zulaika, this lady contributed to the spread of the tip basket in Egypt, where she had traveled with her husband and her lover, a retired pelotari whom she promoted in his businesses.