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THE BARCELONA OWL THAT DEFIES BOTH ADVERSITY AND TIME

 

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The owl with Sagrada Família in the background.

If you’ve ever taken a stroll down Av. Diagonal, you might have noticed a large yellow-eyed owl perched up on a building as you near Plaça de Mossèn Jacint Verdaguer. This vigilant sculpture was the creation of Rótulos Roura, the first European company to implement corporate image programs, and formerly considered one of the largest European companies to specialize in corporate image design. The owl was designed by the painter, sculptor and illustrator Francesc Miñarro, a prolific artist who worked for the company at the time.

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Rótulos Roura was founded in 1930 and became a leader in the advertising sector, especially with its neon ads. The company got so big that it was getting signed by big firm after big firm. By the time it created the owl advertisement in the 1960s and planted it atop the Av. Diagonal building, the giant night-bird was a perfect symbol of just how well the company was doing. For the rest of that decade and on through the 70s, the Roura owl was seen as the advertising company’s emblem and, more importantly, became a staple of the Barcelona landscape; it was also a point of reference for many as meeting place or to help people get their bearings.

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At night, its hundreds of light bulbs and its large yellow eyes would light up and perform an elaborate choreography. Its eyes would blink, move in circles and do a hypnotic spiral dance to try to captivate the gaze of anyone who might be in the area; it would even wink from time to time. The owl, which oozed personality, was active every single day and truly was an eye-catcher. It may have been the property of Rótulos Roura — the advertisement for an advertising company — but it came to belong to all Barcelonians. To imagine Barcelona without it would have been like trying to imagine the city without the Sagrada Família, Casa Batllò, the Ramblas or any of its other landmarks: simply impossible.

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A twist in the plot, however, came in the 90s when the city council enacted laws to limit both light pollution and the impact of ads, endangering the ever-watchful owl’s future. Its lights were ordered off, and the Roura logo was stripped from its body.

Later, in 2004, an ordinance was approved to remove obsolete advertisements around the city, the owl included. Barcelona’s soul and spirit wouldn’t allow it, though. The beloved owl would remain on its perch, instead of being uprooted and thrown out like so many others, due to an agreement reached between the Barcelona City Council and Verona Communication; the outdoor advertising company assumed the remodeling of the sign along with its maintenance for the following 10 years.

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The owl undergoing its “face lift.” | Photo credit: La Vanguardia

Seven years later, in 2011, the owl finally got its makeover, undergoing a complete restoration. New, less-consuming LED lighting was installed, and its metallic structure was disassembled and replaced. The process only lasted a month, and, once reinstalled, the owl was equipped to scan the area surrounding the Eixample/Gràcia area yet again. Not only that but, in homage to the owl’s history, the advertising company made it possible for the eyes to wink again (hit play on the “Making of” video); not a bad way to say, “I’m back!”

Today, many people try to climb to the roof where the owl is located, which is impossible without permission from the building’s owner. Nevertheless, they try. Everyone seems to want to get close to the bird!

Rótulos Roura, the advertising company, may have enjoyed a long, successful run before being sold in 1987, but it’s telling that its star advertisement has survived and prospered longer. The dynamic “búho” seems here to stay for the long haul!

Be sure to visit the owl and its bulging eyes at night to see it illuminate and tell a piece of Barcelona’s history.

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By EMILY BENSON

Photos by ISABEL TROYA

Information gathered from:

Barcelona: Secretos a la Vista by Xavier Theros

La Vanguardia

El Periódico

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