The original building of La Perla was located in the centre of La Concha promenade, it was a red, wooden, barracks-like building, knocked down in 1912 when the promenade was renovated and the rather pompously named "Pearl of the Ocean" complex was built.
Queen Isabel II suffered from a skin complaint, so her doctors prescribed steam baths and sea bathing. As those dips in the Cantabrian Sea greatly alleviated her condition, she established the trend for summer seaside visits by the Royals in order to wallow in the sea.
Years later another queen, by the name of Maria Cristina, decided on this city as the summer location of the Royal Household. What nowadays is the Eguzki Club used to be her Royal Beach Hut. Sea bathing for health and relaxation formed part of the refined pursuits of the holidaymakers.
From here the royal family established the protocol for sea dips, creating around themselves a unique world of beach conversations starring diverse politicians, artists and aristocrats. At that time, it was customary for the royal family and their entire court to abandon Madrid and spend many months in San Sebastian over the summer, despite the weather.
In 1894, it was considered vulgar to bathe in public, or even worse to be seen in a bathing costume. The church considered such behaviour to be immoral.
Unlike spas, sea bathing was not so easily approved. This meant that men had to wear a very baggy swimsuit down to their knees. Women wore a swimming dress that came down to their ankles, so nothing's changed much, has it?
All this caused Maria Cristina to reflect:
"Why have I bought Miramar Palace if I'm going to be an object of public scrutiny and disapproval, and on top of that, go against the recommendations of the church and State?"...
Drastic measures were needed... in the summer of 1894 she had a brainwave: she and her royal son would bathe discretely and privately, as became their blue blood. To this end, she ordered the construction of a steam-powered royal bathing-hut. It moved up and down the beach on rails, concealing the royals inside, so that they could enter and leave the water away from prying eyes.
And as it happens with these things, that bathing hut started a trend, to the point that at one time there were 242 beach huts on La Concha beach, complete with wheels and pulled by oxen.
From the fifties onwards La Perla became a dance hall, the "go to" place in the calendar of summer entertainment. But by 1993 the building was in a poor state of repair, due to extensive damage caused by storms brought by its ever-present neighbour, the Cantabrian Sea. It was completely rebuilt, following the original design, and part of it was adapted to house a centre of thalasso-therapy, a centre which confers health and serenity, complete with exceptional views across the bay, which will make you feel like a modern-day queen.