Monday 6 June 2022

Picture Post 73 - An Art Nouveau Warehouse in a Porto Alley

Last week in Porto, each morning at 10.30, I had coffee and a Pastel de nata at the C'alma Speciality Coffee Room on Rua de Passos Manuel. This small cafe is tucked away on the ground floor of the Porto Commercial Athenaeum gentlemen's club, established 150 years ago and which today hosts occasional concerts and group tours. On my last morning in Porto I took a different route to C'alma and discovered a piece of the city's history.

Just a few steps away from my morning coffee, I noticed a single storey building with an art nouveau facade. The Depósito de Sola e Cabedaes is the former warehouse of what was once once an extremely successful shoe parts supplier. The company was founded in 1887 by Adriano Vieira da Silva, whose name is inscribed on the decorative tiles at the top of the facade. These premises were inaugurated in 1917 and are an example of late art nouveau. The design features floral flourishes, classical references with small pillars and discs, and stained glass windows, the colours of which brighten when they watch the sun. The building incorporated modern design ideas including skylights that maximised the use of natural light and air circulation equipment which helped prevent deterioration of the stock. This approach was carried through into service and the staff were known to be polite and knowledgeable.

Da Silva was born in Santarém in 1869 and came to Porto at a young age, initially finding work as a clerk. He went on to establish a successful business and to have a career in politics. He was a member of the Portuguese Republican Party and a close friend of its leader, and three times Prime Minister, Afonso Costa. From 1919-1926, Da Silva served as administrator of the Gondomar municipality, just outside Porto. 

The April 1917 edition of the Illustraçáo Portuguesa magazine marked the inauguration of the premises saying "we can consider today that this is the biggest and most complete (shoe parts supplier) of Portugal and all of the Peninsula". An extensive range of products was offered, including leather, suede, soles, glues, laces, buckles, waxes, polishes and insoles. The company was the main supplier for cobblers, leather workers, bag makers and other artisans. 

Over time low-priced competition from overseas and the decline of the tanning industry in Portugal impacted on the business and it closed its doors for the last time in 2016. The building appears to be well maintained with only a small amount of graffiti but stands empty, in a side-alley, waiting to be brought back into use. Similar premises in Porto are now serving as cafes, restaurants or cultural venues. I'd happily have my coffee and pastry in the old warehouse on my next visit.