THE GOLDEN YEARS OF ONCE FAMOUS PLAZA GOMILA. HOME TO THE STARSBy ANDREW VALENTE
WHEN you stop in Plaza Gomila these days and look at the sad desolated scene round about you, it's hard to believe that this was once the hub of Majorca's entertainment and social scene. From the late 50s to the 70s, Terreno and Plaza Gomila were like a magnet that irresistibly attracted visitors from all over the island. The international celebrities who visited Majorca always spent at least one night in Plaza Gomila mainly to dine at El Patio restaurant, see the show at Tito's night club and then dance the night away under the stars, with a spectacular view over the Bay of Palma. Some celebrities actually spent their stay in Terreno at Palma's two great hotels, the Victoria and the Mediterráneo.
The Victoria, Terreno's first luxury hotel, is still there, but the Mediterráneo is now a block of flats.
There are still many Englishspeaking residents around who were living in Palma then and who have happy (and sometimes delirious) memories of those intoxicating days. Intoxicating is the key word here because Terreno was full of AngloAmerican bars which catered for the big foreign resident population up the hill, as well as the thousands who poured in from all over the island. Just about everyone in those days was a big drinker and the bars and outdoor cafés were always packed.
Not one of those AngloAmerican bars exists (even El Patio and Tito's have long since gone) but at least one former bar owner still lives a few minutes' walk away from Plaza Gomila. She is Maureen Rowland (known as Big Mo to readers of Riki's page) who hung on to the Africa Bar in Calle Robert Graves until as recently as four years ago. Maureen is a walking history book of those days when it was a common occurrence to see people like Peter Ustinov (he wasn't Sir then) buying the daily papers at the Plaza Gomila newsstand, or film actor George Sanders having a quiet coffee in the square as he did a crossword or read Playboy magazine. Sanders, who had a house in Génova, didn't get his Playboy at the newsstand. He would have bought it before arriving on the island, because publications like Playboy were totally banned. Maureen, also popularly known as Mother Terreno because she has been a mother figure to so many for so long, was in a reminiscent mood when I met her for a coffee near the Plaza Gomila this week. It had to be near Gomila because there are no longer any bars in the square.
Maureen first visited Majorca in 1959 and liked it so much she came back the following year. The second holiday could have ended tragically as the plane touched down at Southend airport on her way home to Brentford in Middlesex, it skidded off the tarmac and ended up nose down on a railway line and just a few yards away from a row of houses. She escaped uninjured but got a huge fright although not big enough to put her off flying. A couple of years later she was once again on a flight to Majorca, but this time intending to spend the summer in Terreno. Maureen got a job in The Ivy House, just along from Plaza Gomila, mainly making tea and toast downstairs. She liked the scene and returned the following year, this time with her mother, Ethel. I had graduated a bit by this time, said Maureen, and I was mainly upstairs in the tearoom. My mother started making oneplate meals, typical English stuff like shepherd's pie and steak and kid. Although she only intended to spend the summer season here and then go home in the winter, Maureen stayed on...and now, 40 years later, she's still here. Maureen managed several bars in the Plaza Gomila area, but her greatest years were at the Africa in what is now Calle Robert Graves.
Old Terrenoites mainly associate Maureen with the Africa, which she managed for several years before finally buying it. She sold the Africa four years ago and the new owners changed the name to Afrika. The regulars missed Maureen and started to go elsewhere for drinks. The bar soon went out of business. It was the last of the famous old Terreno bars to close up. The first famous person Maureen ever met in Terreno was Paul Lukas, the suave Hungarian leading actor of Hollywood movies from the late 20s to the late 60s. He lived in Palma in his later years and was a wellknown figure on the Terreno social scene. He used to sit on the Plaza Gomila at one of the outdoor tables, reading the paper and having a coffee. But he always looked in at The Ivy House, said Maureen. I also met Tom Jones and found him gorgeous, knockdown gorgeous, remembers Maureen. I went to hear him sing and I later saw him in a latenight bar. I thought I'd be very bold and I went over and started to talk to him. I said to him 'I'm a friend of Howard Winstone (his fellow Welshman who was a world boxing champion) and that got us talking. Just before going back to her table, Maureen said to him: Fancy meeting Tom Jones. If I only wore knickers I'd throw them at you. The Ivy House was a very English kind of bartearoom and drew English visitors from east and west of Palma. A visitor whom no one recognised was Beatle George Harrison's mother. She was staying in Cala Major, said Maureen, and she used to come to The Ivy House every night. She was a very nice quite ordinary type of woman and we got on marvellously. When she got home she sent me a letter and two lots of signed photographs of the Beatles, a group shot and four individual pictures. I gave one set to a friend and kept one for myself. But the sad thing is that I don't know what happened to them. They got left somewhere or I may have given them to someone in a fit of generosity.
Another regular who liked the English atmosphere of The Ivy House was cricketer Sir Len Hutton. He was so much in his element that he got behind the bar and made cocktails, said Maureen. And they were good ones. We got on very well and we sent each other Christmas cards until he died. Bill Fraser, the English comic character actor and TV's Snudge, was another visitor who liked to go behind the bar to give Maureen a helping hand. We used to go with him every night after work to a latenight bar. We had this little routine whereby he would propose to me in five different languages, showing how a Frenchman would do it, an Italian's technique and so on. I always accepted in five different languages. Welsh world boxing champion Howard Winstone visited Cala Major at least once a year and Maureen became a good friend of his. He was one of my favourite people, said Maureen. He even invited me to see one of his fights in London, which he won. Later that night we met at my hotel and he was complaining about how difficult it was to get by on the travel allowance of those days. But I told him you were allowed to send a gift of up to fifty pounds a time to people who live abroad. All he had to do was send me as much money as he needed. He did so, and so did many others. At one time I felt very rich, because I had all these people from England and Wales sending me fifty pounds. My bank account was enormous. Unfortunately I had to give it all back. The Ivy House tearoom also attracted some very famous Spaniards one of whom was Antonio, probably Spain's greatest ever flamenco dancer. He came into The Ivy House in the afternoons, remembers Maureen, and I made him tea and toast. One afternoon, before he went back to his hotel, he invited everyone who was in the bar to come along that night to see him at the Auditorium. After his show we all went backstage and met the rest of his group. He was really charming. But the main clients of the Terreno bars in those days were the local characters, many of whom were most memorable. Maureen will be back next week reminiscing about a few of the more colourful ones.
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