April 6, 2010

The Garden City of Santa Clara, Sevilla

Mystery authors are known for their attention to plot and landscape details and fortunately for urbanists, many mysteries are set in cities. In a previous post, we quoted from the Victoria Thompson mystery Murder on Washington Square which as the title suggests is set in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village.

Today, we offer a quote about a neighborhood in Sevilla, Spain from Robert Wilson's The Vanished Hands. (Original title: The Silent and the Damned.)

Intersection of Avenida de Kansas City and Calle Frey Francisco de Pareja
He headed out past the endless high-rise blocks of the Avenida de Kansas City {Kansas City is one of Seville's sister cities} thinking about the exclusive barrio where he was headed. The Garden City of Santa Clara had been planned by the Americans to quarter their officers after the strategic Air Command base was established near Seville, following Franco's signing of the Defense Pact of 1953. Some of the bungalows retained their 1950s aspect, others had been Hispanicized and a few, owned by the wealthy had been torn down and rebuilt from scratch into palatial mansions. As far as Falcon remembered none of these changes had quite managed to rid the area of a pervasive unreality. It was to do with the houses being on their individual plots of land, together but isolated, which was not a Spanish phenomenon but rather like a suburban American estate. It was also, unlike the rest of Seville, almost eerily quiet.... Falcon parked in the shade of some overhanging greenery outside the modern house on Calle Frey Francisco de Pareja.

"Individual plots of land" along Calle Frey Francisco de Pareja

Across Calle Carmen Laffon - "a Spanish phenomenon"

We started this post by remarking on the acute observatory skills of mystery authors.  Here is how Robert Wilson describes his approach to writing:
My first job (the easy part) is research and, because my books are initially inspired by setting, this usually involves some travel and then a hell of a lot of reading before I'm confident enough to start writing....
Two questions: One, if you are a writer, what is your first step in drafting your work? Two, what are your favorite descriptions of cities in works of fiction?


  1. I resided in of those Santa Clara housing units in 1963-1965 when I was a member of the USAF. I remember the unit number it was N-21A. The unit I lived in was a fourplex with 2 units downstairs and two units upstairs. Our unit was on the ground floor.

    1. AnonymousJuly 29, 2017

      Amazing. I lived there at the same time. I was a small child, my father was in the USAF at Maron. We lived in M-20D. We must have been neighbors.

  2. local ecologistApril 17, 2012

    Thank you for your comment, Anonymous!

  3. I'm a resident of Santa Clara. I'm very happy to have met this article of the "barrio" where I grew up. I live in a modern (c.1979) block on the perimeter of the neighborhood. Currently, about half of the houses retains its original duplex design but because of insecurity, all gardens have been closed following the Spanish model; also survive the former American school, today San Agustín, the school where I learned my poor english haha. The former ball fields are today a park. Some neighbors say that the map of the neighborhood has gun form, so if started a war betwen Spain and USA, the U.S. Air Force would know that it was friendly territory. Here is a current photo of the original american map, the Sevillian "Little USA". REGARDS!!

  4. local ecologistNovember 23, 2012

    Andres, thank you for getting in touch with us. I really appreciate your contribution to this post.

  5. My father was in SAC and we lived on the base housing when I was in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades: 1958 through 1960. I remember our house clearly. It was one story, and several were connected on a block by a common wall. All windows had wooden shades that we used during the heat of the day. Most officers all had maids who had a very tiny room in the small house. Attached to the room was our laundry room: a built-in wash board attached to a sink. Yes, the maid did all the laundry! My mom kept in touch with Paquita for many, many years after we left.
    The ballfield was in the center of the "Little America" and we kids spent a lot of time there. I remember just outside the development scores of poor children would surround our cars with their grubby hands out begging for Chicle (gum).
    All in all, the time we spent there was life-changing for me. I still have fond memories of the whole Spanish experience.

  6. local ecologistApril 04, 2013

    I am happy about the feedback on this post. Thanks, "Anonymous" (4/3/13), for your contribution.

    1. My father was a USAF Sgt. We lived at J-57B in Santa Clara from April, 1959 until Sept,1961. I attended part of first grade, all of second and third grade; and about 3 weeks of 4th grade at the San Pablo School. Even the families of enlisted men had Spanish maids. Little League baseball and Cub Scouts were prominent activities outside of school. We had no TV, just the Armed Forces Radio Network. Our time in Spain had a strong impact on my childhood. The Spanish Air Force was still flying WWII era planes at San Pablo, gifts from Hitler to Franco. the USAF planes were out at Moron AB. Larry G.

    2. My experience is nearly identical to Anonymous 12-11-2013. My father was a USAF Sgt. and we lived at J-53A from March 1959 to February 1962. I attended part of 1st, all of 2nd & 3rd, and part of 4th grades. I was in Cub Scouts for a little while and remember going to meetings in the area of J-57B. I remember cutting through the yards and crossing the street to get there. I wonder if J-57B wasn't the residence I went to? Wow, what a small world!

    3. We lived in M13A at the same time. My Mom was a Den Mother, so we probably bumped into one another. Did you ever take the trip to Camp Columbus at Rota?

  7. Currently I'm a resident of Santa Clara, like Andrés (I haven't the pleasure to meet him).
    I am very curious to know what life was like here 60 years ago, and I wish you could send me, if you have, photos of the neighborhood in the 50's, 60's or 70's.
    If any of you would like to contact me, you can send an email to kholus@gmail.com
    Thanks and regards

  8. Any of you who, like me, were AF brats living in Santa Clara in the 1950's and 1960's, please email me at FBSteph@hotmail.com. Thanks!

  9. I lived in Santa Clara as an Air Force kid from 1959-1961.
    *If you were there too,please contact me at williemg@verizon.net.
    Larry G.

  10. I wish I had known this and sites like it were around before I stumbled on it today. I've been working on the family tree and sort of spread out and here we are. I've been trying to figure out just when we were there and I think I've narrowed it down to 1958 to 1962. Daddy was a communication officer stationed at San Pablo. We lived in Santa Clara, and I'm pretty sure it was on Angel Camacho Banos, D9. I know it was across the street from a grove of olive trees, which we later found out my mother was violently allergic to. I went to the San Pablo Elementary School, and remember going to my first day of school with a huge black eye that I got the day before after my brother hit me with a baseball. It was a total accident, but made my first day a bit uncomfortable. I remember going to school with the son of Claude Rains, while he was there for the shooting of Lawrence of Arabia. As a matter of fact my brother was one of thousands of locals hired to play British soldiers. My brother went to Seville High School, and I think he graduated from there, or at least almost. He may have had to finish school when we got back to the states.

    As with you all, Spain made a profound impression on me that has stayed with me until this time. I'm grateful for the experiences I had there and still speak Spanish with my children. Amazing how it has stuck with me and how much I can read and actually understand of some of the Spanish sites about the base. Ya'all take care and you can drop me a line at wolfmags@gmail.com. Margaret (Maggie) W.


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