Park Güell, the Beverly Hills Wannabe
As a Barcelona hooligan, every single corner of the city tells me a story. There are 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? Buy a ticket and hit play!
Once upon a time, or at the end of the 19th century (whatever you prefer!), there was a city in the Mediterranean called Barcelona. It was fast-growing from the sea to the mountains, many factories were opened, thousands of people from every corner of Spain were flooding the streets looking for the Catalan dream, the ambition was everywhere and a new generation of wealthy families emerged. Nice scenery, right?
What about the show stars?
One of those rich and famous guys was Eusebi Güell, he had textile, tobacco, cement, railroads, and many other factories. A powerful gentleman, a businessman with an empire. The Trump Organization of the time.
His out-of-the-box vision for a wealthy man and his love for showing off made possible the union with the second star of this show, world-famous architect Antoni Gaudí (yeah, I know, he also designed the Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló 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 Ramblas, please go!). He was so satisfied with the result that he offered him several commissions. So it was no surprise he called his BFF Gaudí to create his own “Beverly Hills” at 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 to spice things up, wanted to create an exclusive luxury suburb in the middle of nowhere. A place blossoming with nature, pure air, and gathering places to enjoy Great Gatsby parties.
And that’s all? As simple as that? No! Of course not, the story is juicy!!
Eusebi Güell‘s idea was not really original, during one of his trips to the UK he found out about Garden Cities. Secluded and walled suburbs, surrounded by nature and countryside, with some of the services of the city but with none of dust and dirt coming from factories in London. Intended to provide better living conditions for working-class people. He was illuminated with a shocking idea, in his eyes, he could replicate the eco planning somewhere close to his city because Barcelona was as filthy as London!
Sounds hilarious? Wait for the best! Endless ambition, lack of vision (or maybe too much), and blind arrogance will be unleashed…
From 1899 to 1914, the businessman bought the Bare Mountain and an old farmhouse in the zone and put the architect in charge of the common areas (fountains, squares, stairways, the famous lizard/dragon…) and many inner roads, viaducts, and paths to connect everything. All of it available in crazy colors and shapes, Gaudí style! Other colleagues expanded the old farmhouse and transformed it into a huge mansion for the new residence of the Güell family and built the show home.
The sloping land was divided into sixty parcels for single-family housing. All kinds of vegetation were planted for the sake of the green utopia. All this for blue collars? New target, this is business! Up for sale for the rich and famous! Drama is coming!
The showroom began, one by one, all the affluent families of Barcelona paid a visit to the show home of Park Güell and refused to acquire property over there right away. Over the years, only 2 out of the 60 planned parcels were sold, both purchased by Martí Trias, the friend and lawyer of Brandon and Brenda, I mean, Güell and Gaudí.
On top of that, Güell already lived there and Gaudí eventually moved to the show home with his family. Three houses, three amigos, and an empty Garden City. Eusebi Güell lost a significant part of his fortune and his sons sold the place to the City Council of Barcelona after his father died in 1918. The place finally became a public park in 1926, the same year Gaudí died over a tram accident. Bizarre!
Shocked but…why was it such a failure?
The wealthy families lived in Passeig de Gràcia, our Walk of Fame. A nice and wide boulevard downtown right next to exclusive clubs, restaurants, cafeterias, tramways, luxury boutiques…and the Park Güell was really far away from those major hubs. Nature and pure air could not compete with the irresistible temptation of showing off, so bling bling baby!
See you in my next post!