Thursday, November 15, 2007

El Ateneo Grand Splendid - Books with a Radio Past


Jose Zepeda, who heads Radio Netherlands Worldwide Latin American service, took us to perhaps the most impressive bookshop in the world. El Ateneo Grand Splendid is one of the most well-known bookshops in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is located at 1860 Santa Fe Avenue in the Barrio Norte part of town. We walked there from the hotel, although it turned out to be a bit longer than the 8-9 blocks that we were promised. But the sight was well worth the walk. The building was originally constructed in 1919 by the empresario Max Glücksman as a theatre named Teatro Gran Splendid. When it was a theatre, it had a seating capacity of 1050 and staged a variety of performances including appearances by the tango artists Carlos Gardel, Francisco Canaro, Roberto Firpo and Ignacio Corsini. Wikipedia has an entry...

In 1924 Glücksman started his own radio station, Radio Splendid, which broadcast from the building where his recording company, Nacional Odeón, made some of the early recordings of the great tango singers of the day. In the late twenties the theatre was converted into a cinema and in 1929 showed the first films ever presented with sound.

In 2000 the building was renovated and converted into a book and music shop. The cinema seating was removed and in its place book shelves were installed.

Chairs are provided throughout the building, including the still-intact theatre boxes, where customers can dip into books before purchase, and there is now a café on the back of what was once the stage. The curtains and scene changing equipment are still there. The original painted ceiling, ornate carvings, auditorium lighting and many architectural details remain. What a great place for a coffee and a read. In fact, you can read all you like without people bothering you.

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