Park Güell, the Beverly Hills Wannabe
As a Barcelona hooligan, every single corner of the city tells me a new story. There are so many to discover, and some are just absolutely fascinating. Especially if it involves the rich and famous, a superstar architect, ambition, and a little bit of bling bling. Are you ready for it? Take a seat and hit play!
Once upon a time, or at the end of the 19th century (whichever you prefer!), there was a city in the Mediterranean called Barcelona. It was fast-growing and sprawled from the sea to the mountains. Many factories were built, and that economic expansion meant that thousands of people from every corner of Spain were flooding the streets looking for the Catalan dream. Hopes and ambitions filled the city, and a new generation of wealthy families emerged. Nice scenery, right?
What about the show stars?
Eusebi Güell was one of those dreamers-turned-moguls. He owned textile, tobacco, and cement factories, among others. He also operated railroads. A powerful gentleman, a businessman with an empire. The Jeff Bezos of his time.
His out-of-the-box vision, love for extravagance, and comfort in the spotlight set the stage for a historic collaboration with the second star of this show, world-famous architect Antoni Gaudí (yeah, he also designed the Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila (La Pedrera), and so on. He shows up at every party!).
What is the connection between those two?
Gaudí, the architect, had built the “Rockefeller Center” a.k.a. Palau Güell in 1890, the official residence of Eusebi Güell and his family in downtown Barcelona (next to Las Ramblas, which is a must-see!). He was so happy with the results of Gaudí‘s work that he offered him several commissions. So, it was no surprise when he called his BFF Gaudí to create his own “Beverly Hills” on the outskirts of the city. Beverly Hills, 90210? Yeah! It’s called Park Güell. HAHA!
Brandon & Brenda style! Two visionaries, arriving at a bare mountain with no vegetation, were determined to spice things up. Their goal was to create an exclusive luxury suburb right in the middle of nowhere. A place blossoming with nature, fresh air, and social spaces for parties that would rival the Great Gatsby.
And that’s all? As simple as that?
No! Of course not, the story is juicy!! Eusebi Güell‘s idea was not really an original one. During one of his trips to the UK, he discovered the Garden Cities. The area was made up of secluded and walled suburbs, surrounded by nature and countryside. It offered many the same services found in the city but lacked the pollution coming from factories in London. It was built to provide better living conditions for working-class people.
Then he was hit with a stroke of genius: he believed he could replicate this new, eco-friendly idea somewhere close to his city since he thought “Barcelona was as filthy as London!”
Hilarious, right? And that’s not even the best part! Greedy ambition, lack of vision (or maybe too much vision), and blind arrogance will be will soon make their mark…
From 1899 to 1914, the businessman bought the mountain and an old farmhouse in the area. He then put his architectural friend in charge of the common areas (fountains, squares, stairways, the famous lizard/dragon…), along with many inner roads, viaducts, and paths to connect it all. And it all came in crazy colors and shapes, Gaudí style! Some of his colleagues expanded the old farmhouse by transforming it into a huge mansion for the new residence of the Güell family, then built the show home.
The sloping land was divided into sixty parcels for single-family housing. All kinds of vegetation were planted to help build the green utopia. All this for blue-collar workers? This is where his vision strayed from Garden Cities: this is business! All up for sale to the rich and famous!… Drama is coming!
On opening day, Barcelona’s affluent families came one by one to visit the show home of Park Güell. However, they never actually purchased any of the district’s many properties. Over the years, only 2 out of the 60 planned parcels were sold. Both were purchased by Martí Trias, a friend and legal representative of Brandon and Brenda, er, I mean, Güell and Gaudí.
On top of that, Güell already lived there. Gaudí eventually moved to the show home with his family. Three houses, three friends, and an empty Garden City. Eusebi Güell lost a significant portion of his fortune. His sons eventually sold the district to the City Council of Barcelona after his father died in 1918. It was then designated a public park in 1926, the same year Gaudí died in a tram accident. Bizarre!
Shocking, but…why was it such a failure?
Barcelona’s wealthy families lived in Passeig de Gràcia, our Walk of Fame. It featured nice and wide boulevard downtown right next to exclusive clubs, restaurants, cafeterias, tramways, and luxury boutiques. In other words, it was at the heart of Barcelona’s thriving social life. In contrast, Park Güell was pretty far away from those major hubs. Nature and fresh air could not compete with the irresistible temptation of showing off, so bling bling baby!
This is pretty much sums up the history behind the vision and creation of Park Güell. To learn more and enjoy the promenade, we recommend visiting Barcelona and booking our exciting Park Güell Tour.
I hope you´ve learned and enjoyed reading this post as much as I did writing it.
See you in my next post!
A little map to see where it is 😊