In the past ten years, Buenos Aires has come a long way in terms of preserving city heritage. New organizations have formed, especially on neighborhood level, keeping watch over the city’s buildings & blowing the whistle when sneaky developers try to destroy what makes BA so unique. That said, one particular building sums up everything wrong about the city’s attitude toward conservation: the Confitería del Molino.
Sitting alongside national Congress & capping off Avenida de Mayo, the Confitería del Molino seen today dates from 1916. But the successful pastry shop has a much longer history, beginning just after independence from Spain. At the intersection of Rivadavia & Rodríguez Peña —one block away from its current location— a mill & the corresponding shop for its baked goods began operation in 1821. Almost four decades later, it became known as the Confitería del Molino. The business was acquired in 1886 by Gaetano Brenna who had a clear vision of making the best sweets in Buenos Aires.
Part of Brenna’s business plan included expanding his facilities. Purchasing two buildings & a warehouse at the intersection of Callao & Rivadavia, Brenna hired immigrant Italian architect Francisco Gianotti to join the three structures & build up, up, up. Gianotti wasted no time during the six years he had been in Argentina, already having built several apartment buildings & just completing the Galería Güemes the previous year. He was definitely one of the star architects of the moment. Brenna made Gianotti promise not to interrupt normal, day-to-day business of the confitería & the results were spectacular.
Given its location at one of the most important intersections in the city center & adjacent to Congress, the Confitería del Molino quickly became the success Brenna had envisioned 20 years earlier. Politicians, tango celebrities like Tita Merello, foreign dignitaries, everyone hung out there. The most significant historical moment witnessed by the building was a riot during the 1930 military coup. Shots were fired into the air by a Captain from one of the balconies. Crowds in front of Congress stormed the building, trashing the place & the mounted police had to enter with their horses to restore order. Damage was repaired the following year but cracks in the marble floor tiles remain from the event.
Unfortunately, business began to decline in the 1950s & each coming decade brought new challenges for the Brenna family to overcome. Shortly after filming a scene for the Alan Parker version of “Evita” plus a video for the Madonna release “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore,” the Confitería del Molino closed its doors forever. Since Jan 1997, the building was opened only once to the public during Estudio Abierto 2004. Interior photos posted here date from that exhibit.
As of 2000, stained glass in the dome was intact but most panes had broken by 2005 & were removed as a safety measure. Statues which crowned upper niches have crumbled & disappeared. For most of 2007 & 2008, a homeless man was allowed to camp at the main entrance. Even though metal sheeting covers the ground floor, damage was probably done to the building. In 2010, another statue, located above the main entrance, disappeared. And everyday pollution hides most of the decoration on this once colorful building.
Occasionally an article appears in local newspapers stating that Congress is working on a project to save the building or that a local investor is interested, but to date absolutely nothing has been done. The fact that everyone loves this building —even in spite of its current condition— should spur more action. Supposedly protected by the Comisión Nacional de Museos y de Monumentos, the only visible action taken by the them is using my photos of the interior without permission… obviously copied from the previous incarnation of this blog.
I don’t mind so much. I’m glad the photos are being used for a good purpose. But shouldn’t a national organization be able to do better? Shouldn’t conservation experts have more influence in Congress? At least Basta de Demoler drew attention to the issue earlier last year by offering tea at the building’s entrance. The Confitería del Molino is one of the city’s most recognized landmarks, but it seems like little will be done to save it… until perhaps the dome collapses from neglect onto the crowds below.
Update (07 Mar 2017): It’s finally happened! The national government recently purchased the entire building for about U$D 12 million. Restorations will definitely add more to the final cost of the project, & no opening date has been set. Work in progress is nicely showcased on the building’s Twitter account. The Confitería del Molino might just reclaim its role in porteño society:
Notes: Top sketch & historical info from “Francisco Gianotti: Del Art Nouveau al Racionalismo en la Argentina” published by CEDODAL (2000). Second photo from SkyscraperPage forum. Additional info from “Buenos Aires Art Nouveau” by Mimi Böhm (2005).