Puerto de la Cruz 1620 – 1975 – 2015
Only a few things have stood the test of time over the last 400 years in Tenerife.
The last 40 years has seen the Island and its traditions swept into the twenty first century, in relentless and often welcomed progress. The once popular tourism resorts of the North being overtaken by the once barren landscapes of the South. So 40 years count for a lot.
But one corner of the landscape has remained unchanged; not only for the last 40 years but for the last 400! And it is thanks to an English-man, born in Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife in 1920: Austin Baillon.
Austin was born in what is now the Miramar Hotel in the Taoro Park. At that time it was home to Alexander and Kathleen Baillon. Alex ran the affairs of Elders & Fyffes – fruit exporters from the Canaries, mainly bananas. Austin had 4 siblings and all were brought up in Tenerife and educated in England. After the war he went to work for Shell in South America and mmostly in Venezuela.
It was with some degree of horror on Kathleen’s part that Austin announced one day in 1963, during a visit to see his family, that he intended to buy the run-down and scruffy building on the harbour, known by the derogatory name of “the Fish House”. It stood among many other buildings of a similar age, in a similar state of disrepair. The purchase went ahead, for an astro-nomically high sum of money, despite the fact that the ground floor was inhabited by two fishermen and their families, a total of 16 people with no water, light or sanitation. In fact Austin was widely regarded as having completely lost his mind!
But history has a strange way of vindicating the brave. Today we have the architectural jewel in the crown of the town, perhaps of the Island or even the Archipelago – the Former Royal Customs House built in 1620 for Don Antonio Lutzardo de Franchy – the founder of the town.
When Austin Baillon retired from Shell de Venezuela in 1975 he moved back with his wife Julia and family to Tenerife and lived in the Customs House. He and his wife ran a very successful tourist attraction, with a shop and a
state of the art multivision audio visual show called EXPO TENERIFE. This ran daily from 10am till 6.30pm from 1975 to 1989, when a few years later the house was sold to the Island Government, the Cabildo, with a BIC protection order in place, ensuring that it would be kept for the benefit of the nation and the Island’s visitors for ever more.
However the story does not end there. Austin’s eldest son Toby worked with the producers of Expo Tenerife and learned a thing or two about production. He went to live in London and worked as an audio visual producer for over thirty years, producing conferences and audio visual programmes for many British and International companies. In 2011 he came back to Tenerife, good timing, as he enjoyed a final year with his father. Sadly Austin died in May 2012, aged 92.
2015 marks a momentous date in this story. It is 40 years since the production of Expo Tenerife and 40 years since Austin’s “retirement” at age 55. This year his son Toby celebrates his own 55 years. And he has dedicated the past few months to meticulously restoring the show to its former glory.
On the 25th March 2015, (Austin’s birthday) and as a tribute to him and the Expo Tenerife show (as a former recipient of the CIT Medalla de Oro – Puerto’s Gold Me-dal of Tourism – the town’s highest and most prestigious honour) the Instituto de Estu-dios Hispanicos de Canarias and the MACEW museum have granted permission for the house to be used to re-launch the show at a special VIP event. At the Museum Director’s request, Expo Tenerife will be shown every half hour from 10 am to 6.30pm on Thursday 26, Friday 27 and Saturday 28th March to the general public at the Customs House on the first floor. Entrance fee 5€. Not only is this an opportunity to see this historical and spectacular audio visual, but there will also be an exhi-bition of items surrounding the Customs House and the life and times of that extraordinary gentleman: Austin G Baillon OBE.
By Toby Baillon