Peter Besas, author of Hidden Madrid tells the story of one of the most iconic symbols of the capital.
Since 1936, one of the most representative symbols on the Puerta del Sol was the gigantic illuminated advertising sign that until April 2001 was mounted on the roof of what in its day had been the most elegant and luxurious hotel in the city, the Hotel Paris.
The sign displayed the trademark of the well-known Jerez sherry (dry sack) Tío Pepe. Under the name of the wine you could read: “Sol de Andalucía embotellado” (Bottled Sun of Andalucía) and the name of its maker, González Byass. To the left was placed the company’s cute logo: a bottle of Tío Pepe dressed up as an Andalusian gentleman, with his typical wide-brimmed hat and short red waistcoat holding, most appropriately, a guitar in his hand. The figure was a legacy from the days when the square had been filled with advertising signs and commercial billboards. However, these were subsequently banned by the municipal authorities, but an exception was made for the Tío Pepe sign, which was allowed to remain atop the building.
Despite the efforts of succeeding mayors to have the structure torn down, the removal of the sign was repeatedly thwarted since for the citizens of Madrid the advertisement was, as much as the clock atop Government House or the Mariblanca statue, an intrinsic and familiar part of the Puerta del Sol. Although there was no legal protection for the sign not to be withdrawn, it had unofficially become a sort of national monument and was considered to be, to an extent, sacrosanct.
When the old Hotel Paris closed in May 2006, and after standing empty for several years, the building’s new owners started a complete overhaul of the property and in april 2011 dismantled the Tío Pepe sign.
Then, in April 2012, the new came that the building was being converted into an Apple megastore and that the sign would not be re-mounted in its original place. The news triggered an indignant response from Madrileños, and the controversy about the Tío Pepe sign was taken up by the media. To add to the hullabaloo, City Hall made it clear that, legally speaking, the new owner was in his right to not replace the sign and that nothing more could be done about it.
However, our story has a happy ending. For in May 2014 the Tío Pepe sign, now repainted and repaired, returned to the Puerta del Sol, this time, to grace the roof of a building opposite Government House, from where the “Bottled Sun of Andalucía” once again shines over the square.