By Christopher Clover, Owner and Managing Director of Panorama Properties, Marbella’s longest established real estate agency.
As a preface to the story of Panorama’s first years in Marbella, I would like first to provide some insight into why Marbella became so attractive to us in the first place back in 1970 that we decided to open an office here.
It was 1946, The Spanish Civil War had ended some seven years before. Marbella was a village with less than 10,000 inhabitants and with a very interesting history. In the middle of the village there was (and remains) an old Moorish castle dating back to the 9th Century and Roman ruins throughout the municipality. La Concha mountain towered in the back-ground, creating a unique micro-climate, giving Marbella the best weather of any village in Europe.
The larger tracts of land at the time were owned by five families: Juan and Enrique Belón, Juan Lavigne and Juan Lima, all from Marbella, Elvira Tallefer and her husband Salvador Guerrero from Málaga (Elviria was named after her) and Norberto Goizueta from Navarra (the founder of Guadalmina). The land was mostly tended by tenant farmers. The industry of the time was mostly agriculture, and iron ore and graphite mining.
With the above seed elements, Marbella evolved to become one of the most high profile resort cities on the entire Mediterranean. But not without a lot of help along the way: Torremolinos, and many other towns along the Spanish Coast, were beautiful villages then also, and look at what happened to them!
Marbella’s original promoter was the versatile, multifaceted Spanish aristocrat Ricardo Soriano Sholtz von Hermensdorff, Marquis of Ivanrey who in 1943 purchased a finca called El Rodeo measuring 220,000 m2
(22 hectares) from his friend Norberto Goizueto who owned an immense tract of land of 350 hectares in the area. Over the next two years Ricardo built and opened Marbella’s first bungalow hotel in 1945, the Hotel El Rodeo, and enticed his many friends to visit the area.
In 1946 he invited his nephew Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe, and Alfonso’s father Prince Maximilian Egon von Hohenlohe-Langenburg, to see and experience Marbella first hand. Alfonso was the son of a well-known German aristocrat, whose family dated back to the 6th century. His mother, the Marquesa de Belvís de las Navas, was equally well-known in Spain. His godfather was Spain’s King Alfonso XIII. This lineage, coupled with Uncle Ricardo’s pioneering vision for Marbella, made it very easy for Alfonso to follow and continue Ricardo Soriano’s path.
Marbella was then about two hours’ drive from Málaga, along a terrible two lane coastal road, and Alfonso and his father showed up in an old Rolls Royce with a motor powered by a charcoal burning conversion kit, due to the shortage of gasoline in those post-war years. Upon their arrival in Marbella, while waiting for Uncle Ricardo’s return from a fishing trip, they had a picnic lunch under the umbrella pine trees of the beautiful Finca Santa Margarita adjacent to the sea just west of the village. They fell so in love with Marbella, and with this finca especially, that they returned the following year and bought the property.
Alfonso and his father built a beautiful, new home on their land, and encouraged their friends to come and visit them. The original farmhouse of the Finca Santa Margarita was converted into a bar-restaurant-social club for those who were living in the area, and in this manner the “Marbella Club” was born. These were the first moments of the awakening of Marbella as a major tourist destination.
Through Alfonso, his father, his mother, and his Uncle Ricardo’s contacts, so many people started visiting the area (and the Marbella Club), that many were unable to find accommodation. Such an influx of people made it inevitable that in 1953, Alfonso decided to build a small hotel with 18 rooms adjacent to the converted farmhouse, surrounding a courtyard, much like the motels he had recently seen in the United States. He decided to call it the Marbella Club Hotel. The hotel opened its doors to the public in 1954 and immediately became a magnet for quality tourism. Count Rudi von Schönburg, a relative of Alfonso, who had recently graduated from the Swiss Hotel Management University in Lausanne, joined Alfonso in 1955 as the Hotel’s Director, and remains associated with the Marbella Club today (read his wonderful article “The Beginnings of the Marbella Club”).
The original farmhouse has survived up to the present day as the main bar and restaurant.
The wonderful microclimate of Marbella, its strategic location, the relative ease to get here, and the warmth of its people made Marbella a magnet for those looking for a new, special location for their holidays. Alfonso was certainly not demure in inviting everyone belonging to the jet-set of the time to the Costa del Sol’s first luxury hotel and, in no time, Marbella was The “In” Place of Europe. By the ‘60’s, there were many regular “famous” visitors to Marbella and the Marbella Club and a large number bought land to build their homes, sometimes from Alfonso himself. Some of these “big names” included: José Banús, who came to Marbella in 1962 and acquired the land of what is today Puerto Banús, and Nueva Andalucía (many called his vision “crazy” at the time!), Jaime de Mora, Manolo Lapique, Ignacio Coca, the founder of Los Monteros and the Río Real Golf courses, and other big names such as the von Thyssens, Princess von Bismark, the Füstenberg family, Mel Ferrer and Audrey Hepburn, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Prince Rainer of Monaco with Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, Laurence Olivier, Guy de Rothschild, Terry von Pantz, Deborah Kerr, Jimmy Stewart, Teddy Kennedy, Jean Negelesco, and many others. To read more about Puerto Banús, please click here.
Alfonso had successfully taken the seat of his Uncle Ricardo as the prime promoter of Marbella. Marbella had become a “special place for special people”, which was Panorama’s slogan in our early years.
As a result of Alfonso’s promotion, together with that of his many friends who built new homes and developments in the area, the official population of the municipality surged from 12,156 in 1960 to 29,253 in 1970, but when Panorama arrived here in the early ‘70’s, there was still a “village feeling” about Marbella, a small town full of interesting and friendly people. The key locations at the time – apart from the Old Town – were the Marbella Club, Puerto Banús, Nueva Andalucía, Los Monteros and Guadalmina; the last three with their respective golf clubs, all of which were built with their owners betting on the future of residential tourism (tourists who own properties and live in them part of the year).
By the late 1960’s, Marbella had most of the ingredients to eventually become a major, quality holiday and residential tourist destination with a 12-month season, rather than simply a summer holiday resort.
However, for a town to be open year-round, with enough business for luxury shops, boutiques, restaurants, nightspots, leisure and amusement facilities, a minimum nucleus population in the winter “off-season” was required of around 150,000 inhabitants, between registered residents and the “floating population” of residential tourism. This figure was not achieved until around 1996, when the “off-season” took on a life of its own, transforming Marbella into the only resort city on the Mediterranean Basin with a year-round season. Today there are between 275,000 and 300,000 residents in the low season in Marbella.
The popularity of Marbella had already spread overseas. My father, Bill Clover, a successful real estate broker in Charlottesville, Virginia since 1952 (like his father, B.B. Clover, had been in Chicago since 1904), decided to add to his business by purchasing an international real estate agency in 1968 called Panorama International Ltd, with headquarters in Washington D.C., about a two hours’ drive north of his home in Charlottesville. A French associate of his at the time, René Frank, suggested that Marbella had become the most important new jet set destination in Europe and that we should seriously consider opening an office there. And so we did, in early 1970, along with offices in Mallorca and Mexico City shortly thereafter (the latter, headed by my brother Bill). Panorama was the first international real estate agency in Marbella, and the first real estate agency to bring inspection flights to the area.
The Marbella office was briefly headed by a retired English Captain, Phil Kelly, followed shortly thereafter by G. Bland Hoke, who had worked before in sales in our Washington D.C. office and today a highly successful real estate broker in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Bland’s principal job, with his sales team of five, was to receive the regular inspection flights of clients sent by Panorama’s D.C. office and start laying the groundwork for listing and selling resale and investment properties.
In February 1973, Bland returned home and my first wife Kirsten and I set off to Marbella for what was only meant to be a year overseas to re-organise the office, but resulted in our staying permanently.
When we arrived, Marbella was still a small town. To make an international call in those days, one had to book a “slot” through the Málaga operator, and sometimes wait for hours to get a connection. Our trusty second-hand telex machine, with technology dating back to the 1930’s, was our only reliable link to the outside world. Donkeys were still present in the streets as a means of transporting goods, along with a lot of Seat 600s and the box-like Seat 124 sedan. The main two-lane highway to the airport passed through the centres of Fuengirola and Benalmádena Costa, and was known then as the “Highway of Death”. In general terms, the infrastructure was deficient and unreliable, with power cuts sometimes several times a month, with this being somewhat understandable when you look at the population multiplying by two and a half times over the prior decade.
We lived under the dictatorship of the Generalísimo Francisco Franco. On Franco’s last trip to Marbella in the spring of 1973, to inaugurate the new Clínica Incosol, as the story goes, he noticed the towers of the Hilton Hotel and the studio-apartment hotel next door (now known as the Hotel Don Carlos), and also the Torre Real, in front of Incosol, and was absolutely horrified, and gave the order that never again should such tall buildings scar the skyline of Marbella, in the manner that had already literally ruined Torremolinos and Benalmádena Costa.
Franco’s perspective coincided with the low-rise, low-density vision of quality development and growth, already begun by Marbella’s “founders”, starting with Ricardo Soriano himself, who discouraged his friends from building more than one floor homes, and encouraged them to maintain the traditional Andalusian style. This style was followed by Prince Alfonso, José Banús, Norberto Goizueta and others. Franco’s opinion only helped strengthen the local authorities’ will to maintain this tradition, and not one tower building has been built in Marbella since 1973. It is only due to the strong, lasting influence of these people that Marbella has been able to remain a city with a high level of luxury and quality development, compared to the concrete jungle to the east of the municipality and most other resort cities along the Mediterranean Coast.
There was only one notary at the time in Marbella, Don Luis Oliver Sacristan. Even when he was younger he seemed an old man to me, with a raucous voice, but he greeted Spaniards and foreigners alike in a warm and friendly manner. When he retired in 1985 he came up to me at a social gathering and said, “Clover, you are the man I want to work with in my retirement!” How honoured I felt by those words from this important member of the community!
Shortly thereafter, Don Jaime de Mora said the same thing to me and, in fact, we worked together on several deals.
The delightfully friendly and good-natured character of the Andalusian people ensured that non-Spanish speakers could always make their way around Marbella, even if it meant using sign language. Their straightforwardness and goodness stems to a great degree from the importance they attached to traditional values of family, church, hard work and generous hospitality. When you look at the professionals in Marbella today, the lawyers, architects, bankers, hoteliers, or store owners who were born in the city, it is amazing to see how many of them were brought up not only with these values, but also with excellent university education given to them by their parents in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, who obviously had an eye on the future that was being built at the time, and how almost all of them learnt to speak English.
At that time it was very easy to meet people, and make new acquaintances and friends. There were no more than six or seven estate agencies in Marbella in those early years, and there was a lot of curiosity about Panorama. We met most of who were considered the crème de la crème of Marbella at the time just by going to the Marbella Club once or twice a week, making friends who introduced me to their friends. Not only did it bring us business, but the application of well-learned American real estate principles passed down by my father and grandfather made it a lot easier to earn the confidence of new clients for a start-up business such as ours. The Marbella Club was then, and has remained, my favourite bar and restaurant: warm and romantic, classy, great service and food, great people.
The salary I allocated to myself when I arrived in Marbella was 25,000 pesetas per month, which was the equivalent at the time of about $420, and with which we were able to live very decently.
The most luxurious sports car made in Spain was the Seat 124 Sport, in fact it was a Fiat model assembled in Spain until 1975, but with a Spanish engine and transmission, which cost around 350,000 Pesetas or about $5,800 at the prevalent exchange rate, a fortune in those days. I bought one second- hand in 1978 and still have it! Of the Spanish made cars of the day, the best that one would see on the road was the Dodge 3700 GT (made by Chrysler España) – a real sign that you had money if you drove one! The purchase of imported cars from Germany, America or England was virtually prohibitive due to exorbitant import taxes which literally doubled the cost of an already expensive luxury car. In fact, until the mid-80’s there was a certain “social stigma” attached to making an extravagant exhibition of wealth, which was associated not only to driving a “Spanish” Dodge, but also any type of Mercedes or other imported luxury automobiles.
Spain was incredibly cheap in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, and even well into the ‘90’s due, in part, to the peseta being devalued six times between 1977 and 1993, enabling the economy to remain competitive with respect to its exports, and tourism to keep growing every year. However, with the Euro becoming legal tender in Spain in January 1999, and the peseta eliminated at the end of 2001, this economic tool is no longer available and is now having to be substituted by severe belt-tightening by the municipal, regional and national governments along with labour reforms, which will eventually result in a more competitive economy.
Property prices were also very cheap in the early ‘70’s, as was the cost of living, as mentioned before. Our agency was the first agency to bring in charter flights of clients from the United States, to sell villas for $12,000 to $20,000, and apartments in Nueva Andalucía from $5,000 to $15,000!
The “investment factor” gave a major impetus to the number of properties sold in those days to clients of all nationalities. Of course, the Magic of Marbella itself was the fundamental catalyst. When our mother agency in Washington D.C. closed its doors in early 1975 due to the strong recession at that time, Panorama became an independent Marbella real estate agency.
The Saudi and Pan-Arabian market
The first important success in our business here took place after Panorama became the property administrator for David Shamoon in 1974 (and remained so for 33 years). David, who passed away in July 2013, was originally from Iraq and moved to London in 1952, and had been very successful in real estate and other businesses. In 1974, he was the owner of a beautiful, palatial villa located just opposite El Ancón on the Golden Mile which he had bought from Mara Lane, sister of Prince Alfonso’s wife Jackie Lane, and sold it a few years later to the late King Fahd (then Crown Prince Fahd). In the mid-90’s, David bought the Marbella Club and the Puente Romano Hotels, along with several other hotels in other countries, now in the capable hands of his children Daniel and Jennica.
David treated me as a special friend and not only became our most important buyer client at the time, through his purchase of several significant properties, but he also introduced me to some key people who introduced me to others. It is in large part thanks to him that we sold a great number of the properties to the Saudi Royal Family and other Middle Easterners in the mid-to-late 70’s, giving Panorama a real boost at a critical time in
During those years we became administrators for Akram Ojjeh, the founder of the TAG group of companies; of Prince Salman, the brother of then Crown Prince Fahad, and today, King of Saudi Arabia, through his right hand man in Spain, Eyad Kayali; and of Prince Fahad’s eldest son, Prince Faisal Bin Fahad, among others.
Other important business opportunities arose years afterwards, thanks to relationships made during the ‘70’s, including a number of transactions made through my close friend Mohamed Bashir Kurdi. As the Saudi Consul in Málaga at the time, Bashir commissioned me to negotiate the purchase of a parcel of land in Málaga on which the new Islamic Cultural Centre was to be built. When he was nominated in the mid-‘90’s as the future Saudi Ambassador in Japan, he asked me to be his buyer’s agent and to find for his government a new, representative building for the Saudi Embassy in Tokyo. One and a half years later, we successfully closed a deal for the purchase of an 11-storey, brand-new building in Roppongi, central Tokyo, incorporating a duplex penthouse for the Ambassador. Today, it remains the most beautiful Saudi embassy building in the world.
The purchase of properties by Crown Prince Fahad, and his family encouraged many others from the Middle East to also buy homes in Marbella in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. Many other Princes, along with important – even legendary – businessmen and dignitaries from every single country in the Middle East bought properties in Marbella, adding to our wonderful cosmopolitan and cultural mix. Notable among these were Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the UAE, whose family still owns a magnificent estate adjacent to Rocío de Naguëles; various members of the Al-Marzook family from Kuwait; Adnan Khashoggi and his many friends; the electronics magnate Mouffac Al Midani; Rafic Harriri, who went on to become the Prime Minister of Lebanon; H.E. Sheikh Kamal Adham and countless others.
There is a special comfort that many Middle Easterners felt and feel in Marbella and southern Spain in general. Many rivers, villages and other geographical areas bear Arabic names and there are thousands of words in the Spanish dictionary stemming directly from the Arabic language, all a result of the Moors’ 781 years occupancy of Spain from 711 to 1492. The Rif Mountains of Morocco can be seen most days of the year, with the lights of Tangiers visible many nights, past the Rock of Gibraltar, giving one a very special sense of our geography.
In the early ‘70’s, a small number of British citizens, not more than two or three thousand, had settled here either as part-time or full-time residents, many of them important personalities. There was a specific reason for the number of people being so low: Great Britain had exchange controls in the form of the infamous “dollar premium”: tight restrictions on spending money made it very difficult for people to take foreign holidays and to buy second homes overseas on a scale we now take for granted, or to buy shares in foreign companies. At one point, people could not take more than £50 cash abroad, even for an ordinary family holiday overseas. You even needed to have your passport stamped by the bank when you collected the cash!
When the late Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister in 1979 and relaxed (and shortly thereafter eliminated) the exchange controls in that same year, the demand literally exploded in a surge of buying second homes abroad, which in fact has never really abated very much since then, other than the peaks and troughs of the market in general over the last thirty-five years.
Marbella of course was a prime beneficiary of this pent-up demand, as were other parts of Spain, France, Italy, the U.S. (especially Florida), and other countries. Flights from the UK surged in number, and the Costa del Sol became a preferred holiday and residential destination for UK tourism, with Marbella as its quality capital.
Panorama marketed properties directly to UK purchasers, with advertising in The Times and The Financial Times. We sold many important properties to an affluent UK clientele, throughout the 1980’s and again in the mid-1990’s, partially due to a strong partnership at the time with Chesterton’s, a leading London estate agency, and continuing until today as an agency regulated by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
Today, the British are the largest single nationality, after of course the Spanish themselves, with a permanent or part-time residence in the Marbella area.
Amongst the many influential people we had the opportunity to meet in Panorama’s early years in Marbella was Rafael Zea. Rafael was a pioneer property developer who, among many other projects, built the Skol building in Marbella by the sea in the ‘60’s. Rafael was the Chairman of the developing company which owned Las Lomas del Marbella Club and came to Panorama in 1974 recommended by mutual friends. We got along well and he quickly agreed to give us an exclusive on the sale of their plots in Las Lomas which resulted in our selling, over the next years, most of this wonderful residential area located in the heart of Marbella’s Golden Mile. Rafael also gave me a wonderful deal on the purchase of my first villa in Marbella. I also did business with Mel Ferrer who, as a money-making pastime, built and sold inexpensive, rustic villas. Mel was a terrific person, and I remember him being both extremely polite and very down to earth.
I had the privilege to meet and become good friends with Ray Milland and his wife Mal (in 1946 Ray won an Oscar for Best Actor in Billy Wilder’s film The Lost Weekend), and Stewart Granger, one of Hollywood’s greatest stars, who was also a seller of an important estate between Marbella and Estepona. Ray Milland contacted us in 1975 from an advert in the International Herald Tribune and came down to look at beachfront homes. Since he had become a star a little before my time, I didn’t know who he was, and when I collected him at the airport, he rode in the back of my box-like Seat, and his wife in the front, and I asked him what he did for a living! After a brief silence and a long sigh, he said with some exasperation in his face… I was watching him through the mirror… “I’m in the cinema industry”. Unfortunately it got worse when I asked him what part of the industry! In the end we got along very well and we, as well as our wives, became close friends.
The Millands ended up purchasing a jewel of a beachfront home in the El Ancón development, on Marbella’s Golden Mile which belonged to a Mr. Brown. Along the front line in El Ancón there were 4 other houses next to Mr. Brown’s: two on the right and two on the left. The first at the end, on the right, belonged to John Green, the original developer of the estate. The second belonged to the well-known industrialist, Gordon White. On the left was Mr. Black and, at the other end, Warren Gold. Incredible but true! We called it “Rainbow Row”!
John Green, brother of the art gallery owner Richard Green, is a highly creative and successful property developer, not only for his projects in Marbella but also in London. He went on after his project El Ancón to develop, from 1981 to 1985, another beautiful, gated community in the hills just opposite El Ancón, which was called El Ancón Sierra. I was involved in selling him the land, selling most of the homes there, and was a member of his company’s Board of Directors. John and his wife Jacqui remain close friends, and we both own homes in El Ancón Sierra today.
Another personality among the many people we were close to at the time and who remained so well into the ‘90’s, until her death, was the Baroness Teresa (Terry) von Pantz, heiress to the Avon perfume fortune. She inherited her fortune through one of her previous husbands, and she lovingly called her last husband, Baron Hubert von Pantz, “Hubert the Fifth” as she had out-lived her prior four husbands. Hubert himself had a well-publicised affair with the French designer Coco Chanel in his youth. They were both very generous people and loved giving lavish parties for their many friends and acquaintances: Terry was known for over three decades in Marbella as “the hostess with the mostess”. Her favourite hobby was designing and building houses, a real estate agent’s dream client. Wonderful, open, interesting people, incredibly polite to absolutely everyone and, for many years, they were among our most important clients.
In the late ‘70’s we met Elizabeth and David Brockman, who, with their partner Connie Muneman, and his family, owned the most beautiful development site in Marbella, which is now known as the Urbanización Sierra Blanca. A little known story is that a Kuwaiti client of ours contracted to buy the entire land, subject to the approval of a partial plan by the municipal government. However, due to the delays caused to the plan approval by ecologists at the time, our client got cold feet and backed out of the deal a year and a half later. The purchase price for the entire site (of course before infrastructure) was $3,000,000! The Brockmans later found another partner, the highly successful, high quality property developer Pedro Rodriguez, (Sierra Blanca Estates) who made his first investment in Marbella in the Brockmans’ company and proceeded with the installation of infrastructure and subsequent sale of plots.
Other wonderful people who opened their doors to us in our first years in Marbella, were Miguel Gomez Verdun, the owner with his wife Antonia, of the Gomez and Molina jewelry boutiques. Miguel was at the time also Director of the Hotel El Rodeo; the late Archie and Cathy McNair – Archie was the Chairman of Quant which he co-founded with Mary Quant in the 1950’s; the late Bill Genske and his wife Silvia, the developers of Lomas del Marbella Club Pueblo; Nielson Sanchez Stewart with his wife Alicia, who was and remains an active lawyer and good friend.
The late Rafael Cruz-Conde became a close friend and our main lawyer in the late 1970’s, and his job with Panorama (and friendship with me) is continued through his son Mauro and daughter Alejandra today. Count Hans Larisch and his wife, María, the Marquesa de Salamanca, also became good friends.
Perhaps my oldest close friend is Patrick Op de Beeck, the well-known insurance broker, whose office was next to ours when we arrived.
Looking back, we were fortunate that, by the end of the ‘70’s, I had met most of the influential people of the day along with hundreds of other wonderful people, many of whom remain good friends today. How grateful I am to have had such a beautiful start to our new life in Spain, with the kindness, support and friendship offered by so many people during those years.
How grateful we are for such a beautiful start to our new life in Spain, with the kindness, support and friendship offered by so many people during those years.