El Ateneo Grand Splendid: an Argentinian opera turned into an enchanting bookstore

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May 13, 2022, 4:33 p.m.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Picture:
Ryan Poole/Flickr


Known as the “most beautiful bookstore in the world”, this great hall has lived many lives as a home to the arts; both dramatic and literary.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid is a huge book and music store located in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In 2019, National geographic baptized this publishing house “the most beautiful bookstore in the world”, and we understand why.

Throughout the 22,000 square foot hall, thousands of books sit amid grand theater-like furnishings, with rounded bleachers, marble columns, a ceiling adorned with original frescoes, and a stage framed in curtains. in soft red fabric.

Obviously, this place had a previous life before it became the bookstore it is today, and that life began over 100 years ago, in 1919.

So find a good place to sit down, make yourself comfortable, and let us tell you how this place replaced ballet solos with bookshelves.

Read more: This former opera house now draws 2 pints after being restored to a pub

Recoleta's Enchanting Mega Bookstore

Recoleta’s enchanting mega bookstore.

Photo: Aliyah


In the northern part of the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, there is an affluent neighborhood called Recoleta.

Recoleta is home to several cultural highlights, including the National Museum of Fine Arts and the National Library of Argentina, and once upon a time there was a theater, named Teatro Gran Splendid.

Less than a mile from Buenos Aires’ main opera house, Teatro Colón, the Gran Splendid Theater was built in 1919 to accommodate an audience of 1,050 who could enjoy ballet, opera, musical performances and tango on the stage of the place.

The venue was created for Argentine film and music pioneer Max Glücksmann and designed by architects Peró and Torres Armengo.

During its early years, many of South America’s most famous artists graced its stage, including the “legends of tango”, Carlos Gardel (singer), Francisco Canaro (violinist), Ignacio Corsini (singer) and Roberto Firpo (pianist) who dedicated a tango to the theatre.

Read more: Who was Astor Piazzolla? Argentine tango composer

Canaro (center) and his orchestra, around 1930.

Canaro (center) and his orchestra, around 1930.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons


Five years after the opening of the Gran Splendid theatre, the venue added a new string to its bow by becoming a radio station, ‘Radio Splendid’ under the management of Glücksmann.

Many of the era’s leading musicians recorded at the venue and the Latin American branch of the opera label, Odeon (now owned by EMI), was directed by Glücksmann at the theater.

In 1929, 10 years after the opening of the hall, Glücksmann’s interest in the big screen transformed the hall into a cinema. It is here that some of the first Argentine sound films were screened.

And when silent films were played in the hall, due to Glücksman’s love of tango, he organized a live tango orchestration to accompany many silent film screenings.

Read more: Hear the 1926 instrument used for the silent film soundtrack: the American Fotolayer

History music and books at El Ateneo Grand Splendid

A history of music and books at El Ateneo Grand Splendid.

Picture:
Alamy


In 2000, almost 50 years after Glücksmann’s death, the theater underwent its most recent (and most spectacular) transformation: from a place of performing arts to a veritable bookstore.

The cinema seats have been removed and replaced by a multitude of shelves that line all levels of the sumptuous place.

Extra seats for bookworms have been added, along with the chairs that remain in the theater’s intact boxes, so patrons can sit here to enjoy a book before buying it.

At the back of the stage, which once hosted so many legendary tango performers, is now a cafe where patrons can admire the original ceiling fresco, painted by the late 19th and early 20th century Italian artist. , Nazareno Orlandi.

Read more: Australian Water Reservoir Turned ‘Sound Chapel’ Brings Round-the-clock Classical Music to the Outback

Behind the literary curtain

Behind the literary curtain.

Picture:
Getty


Thousands of patrons come to the now renowned, El Ateneo Grand Splendid, to peruse the 120,000 book collection.

However, this building not only contains stories in its shelves, but also in its walls. Its visitors often comment that despite the multiple genre changes the venue has gone through, it still retains the feeling of the grand theater it once was, when it opened over 100 years ago.

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