What happened to the Portland factory? Unpublished photos and many unknowns

What happened to the Portland factory? Unpublished photos and many unknowns

10 March 2020 - 09: 00

The Portland Factory in Dénia could become a hotel and residence for the elderly

For many young people in Dénia, the Portland Factory may simply be the abandoned factory next to the Pinaret d'Elies. They are used to seeing the silhouette of their chimney appear in the distance from time to time. But few people know its history and what it meant for Dénia. And the few that remain find it difficult to speak, there is a general mutism about the topic. Nevertheless, Carles Doménech, professor at the Historiador Chabàs Institute and the UNED Recently retired, he has carried out a historical investigation to deepen this part of our industrial heritage. An outreach work on the labor, economic and industrial history of Dénia from the postwar period until Franco's death. He has found many answers, and at the same time, new questions.

A first surprising fact

The Portland Factory was the only Spanish company that closed for environmental reasons during the 35 years of Franco. The calcination of the materials to obtain the cement produced limestone gases in suspension. These gases affected the workers, but above all the natural environment: a thick layer of white powder perched on the orange trees that surrounded the factory that prevented photosynthesis and normal tree growth. This problem was compounded when they also began to build villas nearby, due to the arrival of tourism.

Factory timeline: from construction to closure

The civil works of the factory (offices and other facilities) began in 1954, in 1955 the technical work was done (chimney, tanks, oven...) and in '56 the activity began. During its construction, there were six deceased, a record death rate in Dénia in the workplace. These facts were a shock for the people.

What is cement and where did the raw materials come from?

The product that was manufactured was Portland white, the "aristocracy of cement", a material of great beauty different from the common Portland gray. The company that operates the factory is CEMESA, Cementos del Mediterráneo SA. Cement is an artificial product that is obtained mixing limestone, clay and kaolin. The deep cut in the mountain to which we are accustomed, the Montgó quarry, was the source of limestone for the Portland factory. The clay was extracted from sea sand, collected in Les Deveses, specifically in the Molinell area. And the kaolin (used in ceramics, much appreciated in Manises) was bought and brought from Asturias.

The three components entered a furnace, in which they underwent a calcination process that, as we have said, caused gases. Very soon after the factory started operating, the effects of these polluting emissions began to be noticed. The conflict of interests between farmers and CEMESA was about to break out.

The origin of the crash

Around 1960, in Dénia there began a process of replacing the vineyard with the orange tree. Oranges were expensive and their cultivation was very profitable. But the orange tree is very sensitive to atmospheric pollution, and the white dust from the cement plant settled up to three kilometers away. Added to this is that between 1968 and 1970, chalets began to appear around the factory. At that moment is when the peak of confrontation is reached, because in addition to the agricultural sector, other fronts join together, and the judicial process begins. There were four lawsuits, in one of the longest judicial processes in the history of Dénia. The courts ruled against CEMESA in 1971, and the process of dismissal of the 125 workers began. The ruling left "the door open" to reopening the factory if environmental conditions changed, to which CEMESA responded by installing filters to comply with that premise.

Following the publication of the judgment in the Official Gazette of the Province of Alicante, about 6500 allegations are presented, some in favor and others against the reopening. If you consider that the population of Dénia at that time was around 16.000 people, it means that a huge percentage of the population took part in this cause. This confrontation created enmities that still continue today, and that have made Doménech difficult to investigate. Silence indicates that it was a conflicting issue.

The last ruling of the Supreme Court settled the matter, and the factory closed definitively in 1973.

Claim the industrial heritage of Dénia

The general structural plan has a catalog of protected goods, but in the case of the Portland factory only the chimney is protected.

The rest of the construction, if no measures are taken, "is doomed to collapse," according to Carles Doménech. «There is machinery and valuable elements to conserve, because the industrial heritage is not just the building. "It could become a museum headquarters, to give value to the economic and industrial history of Dénia." The only ones vestiges of industrial heritage left in the city are the Gas boiler and facade of the old Gualde sawmill, at the corner of Diana Street with La Vía Street.

Carles Doménech has been immersed in arduous research for several years, and his work, the historical chronicle «The Dénia of Portland: Ciment and taronges, a difficult encaix» is pending publication. His intention and that of his hundreds of collaborators is to "channel his edition via municipal means, seeking the collaboration of the Dénia City Council."

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