2 de febrer de 1908 — En la mort de Rafael Guastavino, una xemeneia i una basílica

Esquela publicada pel New York Times el 3 de febrer de 1908   © The New York Times

El 2 de febrer de 1908 moria Rafael Guastavino als 65 anys, a la seva casa d'estiueig de Black Mountain, un poble de muntanya de 8.000 habitants a l'àrea metropolitana de la ciutat d'Asheville, Carolina del Nord, als Estats Units. Traspassava per culpa d'un trist encostipat agafat tres setmanes abans durant una visita a Boston... ves tu quina mort tan poc èpica per a tant insigne personatge. No som res. I els arquitectes, tampoc. L'esquela que publicava el New York Times l'endemà mateix, el 3 de febrer, definia en Rafael, poca broma, com a aquella "autoritat en nous mètodes de construcció" que "havia projectat els arcs utilitzats a la xarxa de metro" de Nova York. La transcripció de l'esquela —que s'equivoca amb l'edat del difunt— diu així:

Architect Who Devised the Arch Used In the Subway

ASHEVILLE, N.C., Feb. 2.—Raphael Guastavino, the architect of New York, died to-night at his Summer home at Black Mountain, twenty-two miles from this city, as the result of a cold contracted while on a visit to Boston three weeks ago. The deceased, who was 55 years old, leaves a wife and son, the latter being now on his way from New York to Black Mountain. Raphael Guastavino was the inventor of the "Guastavino Arch," used in the construction of the New York Subway.

Mr. Guastavino was President of the firm of Guastavino, 949 Broadway. His son, R. Guastavino, Jr., is Vice President of the company. Mr. Guastavino was an authority on new methods of construction suitable for such projects as the subway. He was the author of a collection of essays on the subject of "Cohesive Construction," many of which he delivered as lectures before members of architectural clubs in New York and Boston."

Black Mountain, a l'àrea metropolitana d'Asheville, està no massa lluny de Charlotte, la ciutat més gran de Carolina del Nord

La casa on Guastavino havia passat els últims anys —si més no, els últims estius— de la seva vida es deia Rhododendron. El nom, assignat pel propi Rafael, és el d'un exuberant gènere de plantes amb flor, al qual pertany la flor nacional del Nepal. De la casa, ubicada en una clariana enmig d'una zona de bosc als afores de Black Mountain, no en queda pas més que unes quantes runes i, oh sorpresa!, una llarga xemeneia de maó, com les que queden pel Poblenou de Barcelona, Terrassa o Sabadell: un tros de la Catalunya industrial al bell mig de les muntanyes de la Carolina del Nord occidental. El març passat, la revista editada a Asheville WNC Magazine publicava un reportatge firmat per l'escriptor Jon Elliston, "Lost to time", sobre les restes de Rhododendron:

"To survey Rafael Guastavino II's greatest works, you have to travel far and wide across the Western Hemisphere. To see his final labors of love, you need only visit Western North Carolina. When Guastavino emigrated from Spain to the United States in 1881, the architectural engineer left behind many structures already noted for his signature elements: grand arches, domes, and vaults, often crafted with interlocking stone or terra cotta tiles with little evident support structure. His work stretched conventions and was mind-boggling for its day, but it found a firm foundation. Today, more than 1,000 buildings in the United States still bear his designs.

In this country, Guastavino, made his mark in quick fashion. In scarcely more than a decade, his tiled ceilings and other distinct flourishes covered parts of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., New York City's Grand Central Station, Grant's Tomb, the Boston Public Library, and hundreds of other landmark buildings. For all the fame he found in the Northeast, Guastavino was pulled to points south. In 1884, he traveled to Asheville to design elements of the Biltmore Estate, including arches inside the Lodge Gate, domed ceiling features next to the Winter Garden, and the ceiling of the mansion's indoor swimming pool.

Guastavino decided to stay in the area while his son, Rafael III, managed the family business, Guastavino Fireproof Construction Co., from New York City. In his later years, two projects consumed Guastavino: the design of the Basilica of St. Lawrence and his own estate. Today, the basilica in downtown Asheville still exhibits one of the most-renowned ceilings in Christendom, a freestanding eliptical dome, along with other exemplars of his skill. Guastavino finished plans for the church, but the construction wasn't complete until 1909, the year after his death. A crypt inside became his final resting place.

Estate (finca) dels Guastavino al poble de Black Mountain   © North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources  [PDF]

La finca estiuenca (ara Christmount C. Assembly) estava en una espècie de Les Planes, però als Apalatxes enlloc de Collserola

Less discussed, but also dear to Guastavino, was his Black Mountain home, which he dubbed Rhododendron. The designer built the house on grounds that grew to almost 1,000 acres as he collected plots. "As much as he could afford to, he was creating his own estate," says Peter Austin, an Asheville native and librarian for Salem College in Winston-Salem. During the past 30 years, Austin's research and writings have helped revive local interest in Guastavino. "He had worked for wealthy people in Spain before he came here," Austin says. "He'd been on plenty of estates, especially ones that were agriculturally based, and that's what he wanted."

Guastavino sculpted the place as though it were his own Biltmore Estate. He rerouted streams and built dams for small ponds. He leveled terraces and charted out roads, cornfields, and a vineyard. He commissioned a house, barn, and several other outbuildings, including kilns for manufacturing bricks and tiles, some of which were shipped down the short railroad line to Biltmore and Asheville.

The house proved a major departure for Guastavino. The three-story, ramshackle construction, with some 25 rooms, was made mostly of wood. It included a chapel, billiards room, bell tower, and an adjoining wine cellar. Due to its unique design and eccentric residents, locals called it The Spanish Castle. Guastavino considered it a continuous work-in-progress, so it's fair to say it was never truly finished.

Postal de Rhododendron, mal anomenada The Spanish Castle (Catalan, collons!)   © WNC Magazine

La casa, tota de fusta, no tenia res a veure, paradoxalment, amb les típiques rajoles Guastavino   © WNC Magazine

En Rafael llegint, tranquilament, al porxo de la seva casa d'estiueig, lluny dels merders de Nova York   © WNC Magazine

Rhododendron became Guastavino's workshop and retreat, a place where he could experiment with arts both familiar and new to him. He continued to draft innovative designs for far-flung masterpieces, and found time to immerse himself in music, socializing, and winemaking. He also forged a deep bond with his second wife, Francesca, a Mexican immigrant who was 17 years younger. The couple hosted lavish gatherings at their home. One dinner guest, whose name is unrecorded, penned this paean to time spent at Rhododendron:

"The poets may sing of the feasts of Lucullus,
Of champagne, and of Tokay, and other things fine;
But give me a dish of Mr. Guastavino's paella,
And a bottle or two of his own pleasant wine."

Rhododendron witnessed far more work than play, however. At the base of the bell tower, Guastavino inscribed his motto in Latin: Labour Prima Virtus (labor is the chief virtue). Francesca marveled at how her husband, even in his semi-retirement, remained busy. "He seems to get up earlier every day; this morning it was twenty minutes to one!" she wrote in a letter to a family member. "He never seems to slow down." That work ethic continued until a quick bout of lung congestion and kidney complications killed Guastavino in 1908, at age 65.

"Labour Prima Virtus" (El treball és la principal virtut)   © WNC Magazine

Francesca was shattered by her husband's passing, and the young socialite became a recluse. "Francesca was desolate," one of the Guastavinos' grandsons later wrote. "At the time of his death she had the big clock in the tower above the house stopped. She would never allow it to run again; it was a symbol that, for her, time had stopped." The widow stayed at Rhododendron for 25 more years, until an oil fire destroyed part of the house and badly burned her. She spent the last three years of her life at a rest home in Asheville before passing away in 1946.

Una de les poques vegades que na Francesca, ja vídua, sortí de Rhododendron   © WNC Magazine

Today, the bulk of the former estate is owned by Christmount, a religious retreat run by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The church has looked after Rhododendron's remains since acquiring the property in 1948. Helen Johnson, Christmount's assistant director, is the resident Guastavino buff and often walks the trails that wind around Rhododendron's ruins. She and other staffers are committed to preserving the legacy. On a recent stroll, she identified remnants of Guastavino's time there. In one clearing surrounded by an iron fence sits a heap of bricks — the architect's dome-shaped kiln that collapsed decades ago. Standing next to it and almost intact is the kiln's 60-foot chimney.

La xemeneia de 60 peus (18,3 m) d'alçària del forn. Un tòtem cherokee-català a l'Amèrica profunda   © WNC Magazine

La xemeneia (al centre) està immersa al bell mig de les Muntanyes Apalatxianes: Modernisme a ritme de bluegrass   © Bing Maps

At a spot along the retreat's entrance, Johnson unlocks a wooden door set within brick and stone arches on a sloping hillside. Stepping inside, she points out the vaulted ceiling of the wine cellar — made with bricks that bear the architect's name. Back outside, a long, low wall of stone and brick was once the foundation of the fabled Spanish Castle. Fire and weather long ago dilapidated the structure, and its wooden elements were razed. Johnson notes the irony. "Here was a man who emphasized the benefits of building with stone and tile — of making nothing but fireproof buildings," she said. "But because of the expediency and cheap cost —he had a lot of forest to log on the property— he made his home out of wood."

Inside the retreat's main office building is a library featuring rare historic photos from the Guastavinos' heyday, along with samples of bricks, bottles, tiles, and glazes crafted by Guastavino and his son. In 1989, the former estate was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

As time and the elements take their toll, Rhododendron's physical presence slowly fades. But the place still offers a lasting testament to Guastavino's life and work. "There weren't that many people who came from Spain to the U.S. at the time he did, and certainly not many of them came to this part of the country," Austin says. "Guastavino wanted to live in Western North Carolina. His estate gives us a way to connect to other cultures and other ways of doing things."

Arc i porta d'entrada al celler de Rhododendron: pedra i, ara sí, maó ceràmic   © WNC Magazine

La porta d'entrada al celler, des de dins del susdit   © WNC Magazine

Antic celler de la casa d'estiueig dels Guastavino: l'única "cambra" de Rhododendron que encara aguanta dempeus   © WNC Magazine

La finca, doncs, on hi havia la residència dels Guastavinos ara està ocupada, pel que es veu, per una d'aquestes sectes religioses estrambòtiques —en aquest cas cristiana, cosa que no la fa pas menys estrambòtica— que hi ha escampades per tot arreu dels Estats Units, anomenada oficialment Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) o, senzillament, Els Deixebles. No consta, però, i valgui la ironia, que cap membre de la secta en qüestió sigui realment deixeble d'en Rafael i encara menys que sàpiga dissenyar una simple volta catalana amb maó de pla. Al lloc web de la seu d'aquesta colla, el Christmount Retreat, Camp and Conference Center, hom hi troba diverses rutes per fer excursions muntanyenques al voltant de l'àrea on hi havia Rhododendron.

De fet, el poble de Black Mountain està als peus del pic més alt —el Mont Mitchell (2.037 m)— de les mítiques Appalachian Mountains, gran serralada on va néixer, precisament durant tot el segle XIX i en vida de Guastavino, la música tradicional apalatxiana que acabaria donant origen els anys 1920s a la música country i al bluegrass. D'acord amb el què explica l'article de WNC Magazine —"[Guastavino] found time to immerse himself in music, socializing, and winemaking"—, més d'un banjo degué sentir en Rafael durant els seus estius a Black Mountain, uns quants anys abans que aparegués un altre notori North Caroliner, Earl Scruggs:

Earl Scruggs tocant "Ground Speed"   © YouTube

Una de les rutes que proposa la gent de Christmount és l'Old Cemetery Trail. La ruta surt de la part meridional de la finca i segueix un sinuós creek —un rierol— que s'enfila i porta fins a un antic cementiri. Diuen: "This is an old graveyard discovered by Christmount staff. There are about a dozen graves, with a sign telling who is buried there." Així doncs, hi ha una dotzena de tombes. La part curiosa és que al susdit "sign" hi apareix el cognom Guastavino: "Here lies. Circa 1890: (...) Two Washingtons Guastavino's Help". Potser (pura especulació) un parell d'antics servents ("help") de la finca dels Guastavino, morts pels volts de 1890, reposen en aquest antic cementiri perdut pel mig del bosc.

L'esmentat "sign telling who is buried there"   © Flickr

En Rafael, però, era un personatge massa important per enterrar-lo en aquest petit cementiri de muntanya. Ell està enterrat a una cripta de la Basílica de St. Lawrence d'Asheville, la ciutat que, situada a uns 24 km de Black Mountain, funciona com a centre neuràlgic de tota aquesta zona. De fet, la basílica feia poc que l'havia projectada i començada a construir ell mateix amb l'ajuda d'un amic seu, l'arquitecte d'Asheville Richard Sharp Smith, tot i que no l'arribà a veure enllestida perquè en Rafael morí el 1908 i la basílica no es completà —sota la direcció de Smith— fins el 1909.

Naturalment, aquesta església també té una gran volta made-in-Guastavino, feta amb el mateix sistema de construcció i les mateixes famoses rajoles —les Guastavino tiles— que decoren una immensa quantitat d'edificis de la Costa Est dels Estats Units. I no és una volta qualsevol: hom assegura que és la volta el·líptica sense suports auxiliars ("freestanding") més gran de tots els Estats Units! ... El web oficial de la basílica diu:

"Entering the vestibule, which is separated from the church proper by screens of leather and stained glass, one notes the solidity of the structure; the very steps to the organ loft are without wood or nails. The vestibule window to the right is Bishop Haid's coat of arms; the one to the left is the coat of arms of Pope St. Pius X. From the foot of the main aisle, inside the church proper, one can realize the beauty of the ellipse and the wonder of the dome. It has a clear span of 58 x 82 feet and is reputed to be the largest freestanding elliptical dome in North America.

[...] To the left of the main altar is the Chapel of Our Lady. The white marble statue depicts Our Lady of the Assumption. (...) At the rear of the chapel is the crypt of the architect, Signor Rafael Guastavino. The door is of lustre-glazed tiles framed in bronze. The lustre-glaze process was discovered by Rafael Guastavino, Jr. during ceramic experiments conducted at the Guastavino tile factory in Woburn, Massachusetts."

Basílica de St. Lawrence (1905-09). Maó per tot arreu i coure per cobrir la gran volta   © Flickr

Estil colonial de gust dubtós   © Flickr

Xapa de coure, junta alçada. Maó, maó... maons de tots colors   © Flickr

Esquena de la basílica, base de pedra   © Flickr

Interior del temple, sota la gran volta el·líptica i mirant cap a l'altar   © Flickr

Dalt de l'altar i mirant cap a la porta d'entrada principal i l'orgue   © Flickr

L'enorme el·lipse, tota coberta amb Guastavino tiles   © Flickr

Detall dels rajols, jocs de sanefes per tot arreu   © Flickr

Planta de St. Lawrence. La cripta d'en Rafael està al punt taronja   © Basilica Preservation Fund, Inc.  [PDF]

La basílica té problemes de conservació: aquesta dona, de la fundació que la preserva, els comenta   © Basilica Preservation Fund, Inc.

Per acabar —i sortint del reialme dels vius per entrar a ves-a-saber-on (estil Professor De Debò, de La Competència, i els seus misteris)— cal recordar que Asheville, com qualsevol ciutat, té les seves pròpies llegendes i històries-per-no-dormir locals. Una d'aquestes, explicada al simpàtic (per infantil i/o estúpid) llibre de Ken Traylor i Delas M. House Asheville: Ghosts and Legends, publicat per Haunted America el 2006, porta per títol "The Legend of the Basilica of St. Lawrence" i té a veure amb el lloc on havia de descansar per sempre més no només en Rafael sinó tota la seva família... Només els grans arquitectes, com Guillem Bofill o Rafael Guastavino, tenen llegendes sobre la seva mort, un reconeixement sociohistòric (sobretot social) molt més gran que una medalla Pritzker. La d'en Rafael diu així:

"There stands in Asheville a most beautiful place of worship: the Basilica of St. Lawrence, a Roman Catholic church in Spanish Renaissance style. The primary architect and builder of the structure was Rafael Guastavino. (...) The church was completed in 1909; however, as Guastavino died in 1908, he did not see its completion. Guastavino's son completed the church per his father's wishes. The architect had two other wishes that he conveyed to his son from his deathbed. The first was that he be buried in a tomb within the walls of St. Lawrence, and the second that it be built large enough for the remains of his wife and daughter to be buried alongside him upon their passing.

His wishes were followed, and upon completion he was interred in the tomb. Some years later the city of Asheville passed an ordinance stating that no one could be buried upon private or public property, only in regulated cemeteries. Guastavino's wife and daughter lived the balance of their lives in Asheville, but due to the ordinance, they were buried in Riverside Cemetery about a half mile from the church.

Tombes de la filla —Genevieve, † 1910— i la dona —Francisca, † 1946— d'en Rafael al Cementiri Riverside d'Asheville   © Find a Grave

Many believe to this day that the spirits of both Guastavino's wife and daughter have moved from the cemetery to the church to be with their dearly beloved husband and father. There are numerous reports from staff, parishioners and visitors alike as to feeling of cold patches within the structure for no obvious reason, lights turning off and on and doors opening and shutting with no one in sight."

Porta de la cripta de St. Lawrence...   © Flickr

... l'obrim i trobem, encaixonat dins de les parets de la basílica...   © Flickr

... el sarcòfag on hi ha les restes d'un tal...   © Find a Grave

... Signor Rafael Guastavino, Architect   © Flickr

La mateixa dona del vídeo d'abans fa un tour per la basílica i obre la cripta d'en Rafael   © YouTube

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