The Lis House
Lis House is an urban mansion nestled on the former city wall and which was built by order of Don Miguel de Lis (1855-1909). The responsible for carrying out this project was Joaquin de Vargas y Aguirre (1857-1935), born in Jerez de la Frontera and settled in Salamanca to hold the post of municipal architect. Don Miguel de Lis owned a tannery that he had inherited from his father and which he managed to adapt to the then new production systems during the last decade of the 19th century. This prosperous business brought him a comfortable economical situation, so that Don Miguel was, at the time his new urban mansion was being built, one of the one hundred contributors to the city. Defined as a skilful hard-working businessman, his modern nature can be seen in the conception of his new housing.
D. Miguel de Lis and his wife, Dolores Primo at their house: Lis House.
Photo: Gombau Archive. Regional Film Library of Castile and Leon.
The characteristics of the lot on which Casa Lis is built (irregular, nestled on a city wall with a marked unevenness of the terrain at the South) may have been limiting factors at first, but are masterfully resolved by Joaquin de Vargas, who organizes the whole structure of the building around an inner courtyard that distributes the rooms of the house. He designed a facade made with iron and glass in accordance with the precepts of the industrial architecture. To solve the mentioned unevenness of the ground with access to the Rector Esperabe Street, he devised a staircase as a tool towards the creation of garden terraces and a grotto covered in rockery that lightens the whole. The result is one of the few examples of industrial architecture used for residential purposes, unique for its spectacular and bold architecture that Vargas used to resolve the initial factors of the project.
But the Lis House keeps one more surprise: Its North facade is one of the few examples of modernist architecture that can be found in Salamanca. Built in stone and brick, its access door stands out, as well as the organic movement of the iron gates with the exquisite delicacy of Art Nouveau. The construction of the Casa Lis might have been quick: its North facade is rebuilt in 1905 and the house is inaugurated in 1906. Inside the house, there were rooms to be used during the summer, those on the ground floor, and rooms to be used during the winter, those on the first floor. Other rooms were offices, dinning rooms, an oratory, bathrooms with cold and hot water, several lounges and halls and a greenhouse. The house was lit with electric light and the decoration was modernist in style, with stained glass windows in the courtyard gallery, the doors and the skylights of the main staircase.
This mansion had a change of ownership in 1917 when Don Enrique Esperabe de Arteaga (1869-1966), who would become Dean of the University of Salamanca, settled in Salamanca along with his family. The Lis House had been previously occupied by various tenants until it started a period of decay and abandonment in the 70s, since it was closed and not used. The once splendorous house would have turned into ruins were it not for the fact that the City of Salamanca, in 1981 and aware of the value of the property, began the expropriation proceedings that managed to save it from disappearing.
Currently, the building houses the Art Nouveau and Art Déco Museum, and along its halls and rooms a portion of the funds donated by Don Manuel Ramos Andrade (1944-1998) are exhibited. Don Manuel was an antiquary and collector from Salamanca who witnessed the reopening of the Lis House in 1995, gleaming in renewed splendour, this time to exhibit his unique collections in Spain. Nowadays, a large stained glass window, made by Villaplana workshop according to Don Manuel Ramos Andrade’s design, covers the inner courtyard. The skylights and enclosures made by the same workshop have recovered the stained glass windows that adorned Don Miguel de Lis’ house back in 1906, and the South facade, with its delightful and rich colour range, has now turned into one of the most representative images of Salamanca.
Translation: Beatriz Hernández Gómez