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The history of El Avenida Palace dates back to the year 1952 when the legendary Casa Llibre tea room and restaurant closed its doors. Ernest Hemingway, Joan Miró and Liza Minnelli are among the countless famous personalities who have been guests of the hotel. El Avenida Palace is ideally situated in the midst of one of the city’s most emblematic areas. It has witnessed countless important events that have become part of the history of Barcelona. Perhaps the most unforgettable for the people of Spain was the arrival of the Beatles at the hotel on 3 July 1965. That’s why El Avenida Palace decided to commemorate this great occasion by transforming the room they occupied into a themed suite as a well-deserved tribute to the boys from Liverpool.
The site where El Avenida Palace stands today is where the garden of the mansion belonging to Lorenzo Oller—Count of Sant Joan de Violada—, which was built around 1869 by Llorenç Oliver i Bultó, once stood. Two decades later, the mansion changed hands, becoming the property of Frederic Marcet i Vidal, who entrusted its redesign (for all intents and purposes, it was a new building, as he had the original building demolished) to Tiberi Sabater i Carné, who finished the work in 1890. The main entrance to the building corresponds to what is now the main façade of the Cinema Comèdia (it was a theatre from 1935—when it ceased to be the residence of Frederic Marcet—until 1960, when it was converted into a cinema). Its eclectic style, featuring classical and neoplateresque elements, stood out on the corner of Gran Via and Passeig de Gràcia. The mansion has a few gardens at the back overlooking Gran Via.
Palacio de Exposiciones de Bellas Artes
Exhibitions and pianos
In that area, strangely enough, on the side where El Avenida Palace Hotel currently stands, it wasn't possible to build more than one-storey tall. Around 1868, the Palau d’Exposicions de Belles Arts, a single-storey building where many important art exhibitions were held over the next decade, was built. On 15 October 1897, a renowned piano manufacturer, Bernareggi, Estela y Cía opened a piano showroom and audition hall on Gran Via for 300 people.
An era of cinemas
At the beginning of 1909, the Sala Estela closed down and shortly after, on 6 February 1909, the businessman Domingo Matamala inaugurated the Metropolitan Cinemaway. The cinema was shaped like a railway carriage. Basically, travel documentaries were shown on screen, although the films Barcelona en tranvía and Valencia en tranvía were also shown. Despite the originality and novelty of its film screenings, the Metropolitan Cinemaway was short-lived as it closed its doors barely two years later in January 1911.
In April 1911, the Cinema Ideal, designed by the architect Josep Plantada i Artigas, was inaugurated in the same place. The cinema, which was owned by Pere Garriga Roig, began screening films on 22 April and was described by the Barcelona press in those days as “the most stately of all the cinemas in the city”, and that it was “the only one that deodorised and disinfected the cinema after every session.”
In March 1925, Guillem Llibre, the owner of the prestigious Confiteria Llibre, acquired the building and commissioned Enric Sagnier with the construction of the new Casa Llibre; also the prestigious restaurant that Rossend Ribas had in Plaça Catalunya moved to the new Casa Llibre.
The upper floor—access to which was through an elegant double staircase, which can be admired today inside El Avenida Palace, and which Mr Llibre bought in Paris—consisted of four rooms. The fame that preceded both the confectionery and the restaurant quickly turned Casa Llibre into one of the favourite spots of Barcelona's high society, as well as the royalty like King Alfonso XIII and the Duke of Miranda.
Oshima Dancing Club
Four years later, the terrace-garden of Casa Llibre underwent a comprehensive retrofitting to convert it into a performance and dance hall for the wealthy classes, featuring beautiful and exotic Japanese-style décor, which was the work of the interior designer Carles María Baró. Thus Dancing Oshima was born, which was inaugurated on 5 October 1935. It was a venue where renowned orchestras at the time such as the Crazy Boys, Demon’s Jazz and Rabassa performed. Alas, the fame gained by Dancing Oshima in its short existence wouldn’t last, since the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War led to the building being socialised by the workers’ unions. It was eventually renamed Salón Internacional.
Juan Gaspart Solves became friends with one of the band members, Paul McCartney, and told him that if he ever visited Barcelona, his father owned a centrally located where he could stay. In 1965, the manager of the Liverpool band called Juan Gaspart Solves to tell him that it was the express wish of Paul McCartney to have The Beatles stay at El Avenida Palace.
From left to right, and from top to bottom: Liza Minelli (1981), Ernest Hemingway (1954), Xavier Cugat (1976), Rudolf Nureyev & Margot Fonteyn (1968), Concha Velásco (1959), Willy Brandt (1988), Anatoly Karpov (1991).