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Valira Torrent - bulletin of the Andorran Philatelic Study Circle. Issue 52, pp16-17 (Oct 2000)
(with additional material by Alec Jacques)
Of all Andorra's hotels the one best known to philatelists is the Hotel Pla, immortalised by the cachet which it applied to countless postcards and covers sent by its visitors.
The oldest of Andorra's hotels, it was built in 1861 - as evidenced by the ironwork on the front of the building. It duly celebrated its centenary in 1961, offering a small bottle of champagne to each of its guests. Even then it seemed to be caught in a time warp, the furnishings reminiscent of a bygone era.
By a door in the basement level was the nameplate of Xavier Pla, an architect, presumably the son of Pla the hotelier. With the expansion of Andorra beginning to take off, architecture would seem like a good profession to be in. Whatever became of Pla the architect, he seemingly did not apply his architectural skills to the family property. The hotel has been closed and abandoned for a good many years now. It remains just as it was, gradually falling into disrepair. It is a sorry sight. The walls are bulging and only steel straps bolted around it prevent it from collapse.
Given its prime position and the pressure on building space in Andorra, it seems surprising that the site has not been redeveloped although it is not unique in having been abandoned and seemingly forgotten. Could there be some kind of preservation order on it? It is, in its way, part of Andorra's heritage. Preservation is, however, meaningless if a building is simply left to fall down.
Alec Jacques writes:-
There have been various references to the Pla family over the years and these include those by Lewis Gaston Leary in his book "Andorra - the Hidden Republic" (1912) and by John Mashiter in his article "My First Visit To Andorra (1929)", (Valira Torrent Nos. 4/6). However, the most relevant quotes regarding Xavier Pla are to be found in Bernard Newman's book "Both Sides of the Pyrenees" (1952), and I quote from two passages:-
"I hastened to find my friends Xavier and Caroline Pla. Their father was the doctor who discovered the curative properties of the hot springs of Escaldas. Their fame spread to Barcelona; the doctor gave hospitality to one patient after another, till his home gradually became a hotel. So it remains, the friendliest in all Andorra".
"We halted at Santa Coloma, another of the grand old Andorran wayside churches. Xavier Pla had a special interest for he is an architect - the only one in Andorra - and when the fabric showed signs of distress he was entrusted with its restoration. He did it so cleverly that scarcely a trace of his work can be seen".
Xavier Pla was also in the Import-Export business (a not uncommon trade for an Andorran!), and had the necessity to send 'Declared Value' mail to the Foreign Branch Office of the Westminster Bank Ltd. in London. At an auction in London last year, there was one lot of some thirty-six covers, all 'Valores Declarados', from Xavier Pla to the Westminster Bank. They were sent from between 1951 and 1955, sometimes three or four a day, nearly always sealed with sealing wax and string, and franked with Andorran, Spanish, or a mixture of Andorran and Spanish stamps. The fascination of these covers is their postal markings and these include:- Andorra la Vieja 'VALORES DECLARADOS" plus 'details box'; boxed 'R/ANDORRA' marking; handwritten declaration by, or on behalf of the Head Postmaster (Filemon Lopez y Lopez); oval 'ADMON DE CORREOS/ANDORRA LA VIEJA' official marking; Seo de Urgel 'VALORES DECLARADOS' or 'CERTIFICADO'; 'LA TOUR DE CAROL/BARCELONA' or 'BARCELONA LA TOUR DE CAROL' (incorrect) TPO markings; Barcelona 'VALORES DECLARADOS' and/or 'CERTIFICADO'; London 'CUSTOMS AND EXCISE'; London hooded 'REGISTERED' and/or 'R' in circle. The covers have varied combinations of the above markings including a shortened version of the postmasters declaration.
Front:- Declared Value letter rated 4p50 (?) with Andorra la Vieja 'VALORES DECLARADOS' x2 dated 9.OCT.51 and with 'details box' (Number 46, weight 19 gms); crossed-lines registration marks and London 'CUSTOMS AND EXCISE' transit
Reverse:- Manuscript "Checked (and) does not include Spanish Banknotes nor National assets (ie securities, bonds etc), complying with the arrangements according to the Spanish Institute of Currency for the declaration of value in Andorra (and) passing in transit through Spain .... (on behalf of) the Postal administration .... Lopez". Andorra la Vieja oval 'ADMON DE CORREOS'; Seo de Urgel 'VALORES DECLARADOS' l0.OCT.51; 'LA TOUR DE CAROL/BARCELONA' TPO 11.OCT.51; Barcelona 'VALORES DECLARADOS' l4(?).OCT 51. and 'CERTIFICADO' 14.OCT.51; London hooded 'REGISTERED' 16.OCT.51. The declaration is not in the handwriting of Filémon Lopez y Lopez, but it may be that of his son ....
Footnotes (post publication)
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