The ‘CIA’ chef who bought a Renaissance palace in Úbeda and transformed it into a party

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An immense dance hall hidden in a wardrobe, the famous Jocosas Dinners of which the poet Baltasar de Alcázar wrote … Life returned to Úbeda with the arrival of the Guths at the Medinilla Palace; also, fantasy, art and design

Each family home has its own story. But not all of them have one of American spies, nor have they seen a Picasso hanged, nor have they belonged to a “carnal (close friend)” of Mario Moreno Cantinflas; and few, very few, hide a dance hall in a bathroom closet and have received the United States ambassador at a meeting during the Transition. The one my parents bought in Úbeda in 2010, yes.

None of this I knew when they told me that they had bought a farmhouse. I became suspicious when I went to see her for the first time and discovered a palace that I could never have imagined. I corroborated this as he dusted off all the papers, books, and magazines in his library, and subjected all the older people who knew his former tenants to a shameless third grade. For Ubetans there is no other version: the palace belonged to a CIA agent. Although what I have been able to read about Mr. Guth, and other documents that the editor of this article has found lead to the conclusion that he was actually a chef enjoying himself, and son-in-law, yes, of a United States war diplomat . This is the story that until today I have been able to rescue the Renaissance palace of the Medinilla.

Don Héctor Manuel Alcocer and his wife, Clara Cajiga de Alcocer, traveled from Madrid to Seville by car. It was the beginning of the eighties and they had arrived in the capital by plane from Guanajuato, in Mexico, where they came from and they met Cantinflas before Cantinflas was, to take a trip to Andalusia. After Despeñaperros, when he saw the deviation from Úbeda, Don Héctor stopped dead and told his wife: “Let’s go to Úbeda; there is that wonderful house, let’s look for it ”.

The “wonderful house” was the Palace of the Medinilla, a protected Renaissance building in the heart of the historic center (today a World Heritage Site) that Alcocer knew thanks to an article in the American magazine House and Garden, whose cutout, of several pages, kept like gold on cloth. In it its owner, an American millionaire with great culinary gifts, spoke of his palatial feasts.

With no GPS or other directions, they arrived at “the wonderful house”, grabbed the door knockers, knocked and asked if they could visit it.

The owners, Francis and Jenny Guth, invited them to have coffee at 4:30 p.m. and together they toured the 2,000 square meters on two floors that made up the building. They visited some of the corners that they had already seen on the coated paper, such as the kitchen, with that flown countertop where Guth prepared his famous “Jocoso Dinners” (about which the poet Baltasar de Alcázar wrote). Afterwards laspatrimoni served at a huge marble table on which a Murano chandelier fell. There was the collection of yellow and green Ubeta ceramic plates, with portraits and allegories upholstering the entire wall. And the Manises vases of mountains of fruits as if dipped in a lime bath and the mirrors with sherry advertisements. Decorating the rest of the walls, there were some original paintings made by Jenny, who had received art classes in New York, in which she represented herself playing cards with the town drunkards, or even portrayed the maid with the apron and the cap of his uniform.

Francis and Jenny showed them the central courtyard, typical of the Renaissance and perfectly preserved. In it was erected one of the most eccentric pieces of the palace: a huge sculpture dedicated to the fried potato designed by its owner in a symbiosis of his two great passions: art and cooking. And they went to the garden, with remains of columns and fragments of sculptures among the undergrowth, and a swimming pool, the first to be built in Úbeda (Jaén), with a curious trapezoidal shape next to a classic temple, “between Palladian villa and Gray Gardens ”.

They continued into the vaulted, underground cellar, where Guth had an excellent collection of centuries-old wines, champagnes, and sherrys in beehives, and a few tilting tables. They visited all the bedrooms one by one, the one with the canopy beds, the one with the walls upholstered with English wallpaper, the one with the two beds where the daughter of the United States ambassador recovered from appendicitis, and the Arab room, with a bathroom with wallpaper imitating Sevillian tiles, where a false wardrobe gave access to a secret door that led to a dance hall of more than 200 meters full of mirrors.

They were amazed by the spectacular en-suite bathroom in their bedroom, covered by cork floors and walls and floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and its pornographic square bathtub carved out of the black marble floor illuminated by another Murano chandelier.

This is how the Alcocers met the Guths and discovered that they had, in addition to shared tastes and interests, common friends, as both families owned ranches in San Antonio (Texas, United States). That afternoon the seed of a great friendship was planted and, when the Guths invited the Alcocers to spend Holy Week in Úbeda, they did not yet know that one day this palace would be theirs. “My parents went crazy with the beauty of the place, being able to stay in the palace, living Holy Week in Úbeda and meeting so many wonderful people who lived there,” says his daughter Maru, from Valle de Bravo, Mexico.

Francis and Jenny had bought the house in the late sixties and, as you can imagine, their arrival was a great revolution in the city. Word quickly spread that he was a CIA Mason agent – a story that in Úbeda is already more true than Francis Guth’s own biography – and it soon emerged that the Gurhs had sold a palace on the Grand Canal in Venice. to buy this house, and that the Banco Exterior de Crédito had also granted him unlimited credit. With this loan, and with what the sale of the Venetian palace provided him, Guth acquired for its recovery several historic and emblematic houses in Úbeda, some in ruins, which generated jobs in the city.

It’s what they did. Jenny’s sister tells it in an autobiography who wrote for the Oral Tradition project of the American Association for Diplomatic Studies and Foreign Relations: “They were constantly traveling, buying exotic houses, decorating them and selling them to go to the next exotic house.” Through these pages we also know that Jenny was born on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and that Francis was actually a haute cuisine chef, with two daughters from a previous marriage, whom Jenny had met in Mexico, where the family lived for some years.


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