Fàbrica Gròber, a textile factory specialised in trimmings, buttons and haberdashery, is a landmark of Girona history, even today 40 years after it closed.
This blog looks at the rich history of the factory which offered jobs and economic prosperity and modernised culture and society in its region.
Origins of Fàbrica Gròber
The Franciscan friars of Girona were forced to leave their monastery in 1835. They could never have imagined that its grounds would become an industrial site.
After the demolition of the monastery and the redevelopment of the site by a group of entrepreneurs, Cristòfol Gròber – a businessman with Italian roots – laid the factory’s foundations.
Gròber’s choice of Girona was well-considered. The nearby Monar reservoir guaranteed a steady water supply, Girona offered a large potential workforce and several other Italian families ran successful businesses in the city. After buying buildings in Girona to house his factory, Gròber also purchased land in the neighboring town Bescanó for a new hall and hydroelectric plant.
The rise of Fàbrica Gròber
After the turn of the 20th century, Gròber acquired more property in Girona, and established an extensive industrial site in the city centre.
World War I did not stop the rise of the Fàbrica Gròber. International demand for its products was high and competition was low, resulting in growth and prosperity.
By that stage, unions had been founded to improve working conditions. The Gròber workforce was required to work ten-hour days with no social support. However, medical care was made accessible through the ‘Germandat de Socors Mutus, Sant Cristòfol’ scheme created by the company, and a dedicated cooperative made affordable consumer products available.
Remarkably, in the early 1900s and throughout its 90 years, Fàbrica Gròber predominantly employed women, who comprised up to 93% of its workforce.
Cristòfol Gròber retired in 1919 and the factory became a company, with the Portabella brothers as main shareholders. They led the business into the 1920s, a prosperous period for Fàbrica Gròber.
War, destruction, and redevelopment
The 1930s was a time of crisis which intensified during the Spanish Civil War, and ended with a devastating fire that destroyed much of the factory’s produce, warehouses and machines.
This disaster threatened job losses for over 1,000 workers at Fàbrica Gròber, and for many more people employed by companies depending upon the factory’s orders. A quick recovery was vital.
New infrastructure, inaugurated in 1940, modernised the factory’s workflow and improved its integration in the city. Part of the factory leading onto the central city streets was dedicated to administration and personnel services.
In 1944, the factory’s infrastructure expanded to include a daycare centre for the children of its 1,700 workers.
Photographing the factory
Many of the photographs of the factory in this blog – now part of the collections of Ajuntament de Girona / Centre de Recerca i Difusió de la Imatge (CRDI) – are by Josep Thomas Bigas, an architectural photographer from Barcelona.
The images are also aesthetically striking, reflecting vital aspects of Girona’s social and industrial history. Their architectural compositions, ingenious camera positions, well-balanced scenes, geometric qualities and intriguing patterns appeal to the eye and provide a fitting visual counterpart to the company’s history.
Closure and legacy
In the following decades, Fàbrica Gròber kept up with industry advancements in machinery, workflow, infrastructure and technology. In 1970, a massive boiler explosion killed four people, and marked the beginning of the end for the factory.
A few years later, its operations moved to Bescanó. Subsequently Fàbrica Gròber’s buildings were demolished and the Mercadal-district was redeveloped.
Today, the factory’s legacy lives on in the “Carrer” named after its founder, with many people in Girona holding vivid memories of the factory’s era, its mighty halls and role in Girona’s industrial heritage.
By Sofie Taes, KU Leuven
Europe at Work – Share your story
Did you or your family work in Fàbrica Gròber in Girona or Bescanó? Share your story and help us tell the story of Europe through our working lives in the past and the present.
This blog post is a part of the Europeana Common Culture project, which explores varied aspects of our shared cultural heritage across Europe.