After finishing the Conquest of the Desert in 1878, the Argentine upper class began to develop all the land forcefully taken from the indigenous population. An extensive coastline, lined with pristine beaches, proved ideal for summer getaways from Buenos Aires. Escaping malaria outbreaks in the city also motivated the rich to leave the big city temporarily. Rail arrived in 1886 to Mar del Plata & two years later the Bristol Hotel opened, catering to all the major landowning families. National tourism was born.
The following year, Mauricio Schweitzer bought a small parcel of land 62 km south of Mar del Plata & built the Boulevard Atlantic Hotel close to the beach. Mar del Sur (also referred to as Mar del Sud… oui, oui) was destined to mimic the success of its northern neighbor. Everything seemed perfect. But the 1890 Revolution bankrupted Schweitzer & even worse, the railroad never arrived.
In fact, the hotel’s first guests were not members of the upper class but instead recently arrived Jewish immigrants from Russia. It was only a temporary stop because that population of 700 Jews was soon sent north & eventually settled in Entre Ríos to become famous gauchos.
Left vacant until 1916 & with the railroad stopping 17 km north in Miramar, Mar del Sur did not become a real vacation spot until the 1930s. The hotel went back & forth among different concessions. That’s when a young man named Eduardo Gamba first vacationed there in 1948. From that moment, the hotel’s future intertwined with that of Gamba.
Convinced to visit Mar del Sur by a friend, Gamba took what little vacation time he had & went to the Buenos Aires booking office on Avenida de Mayo. As an exclusive resort, reservations were only accepted via recommendation. Très chic. Using his friend’s father as the contact, Gamba reserved 10 days in February 1948 since January was booked solid. On arrival, the 17-year old was cordially received by hotel staff, offered a drink in the hotel lounge & promptly fell in love at first sight. As Marie Elizabeth Dupont descended the grand staircase, Gamba resolved to come back to Mar del Sur as many times as necessary in order to win her heart. Dupont was a French singer whose family vacationed for 3 months every year in Mar del Sur… it must have been quite the place.
Gamba made inroads with the hotel staff, finally convincing them to let him show movies & thereby gaining more time to woo Dupont. Three years after his first visit, they were married. After Dupont passed away, Gamba fell in love with one of her cousins, remarried & continued to spend every summer in Mar del Sur.
In 1972, concession owners allowed Gamba to rent the hotel for five years, & he later renewed the contract for 3 more years. Gamba ended up purchasing the hotel in 1981 & ran it at full occupancy for several years. But Argentines began vacationing in Miami in the 1990s, & the Boulevard Atlantic fell on hard times. While Gamba was in Buenos Aires reserving bookings for the upcoming season, the hotel was occupied in 1993 by a gang dealing in weapons, drugs & prostitution. Gamba could not enter the hotel, & the local police were being bribed. Even legal means could not touch the squatters.
The mafia had complete control of Mar del Sur in 1996. Residents were too afraid to testify against them… except for the local breadmaker & head of the electrical company. When Héctor Rubí González took over the electrical co-op, the previous, mafia-run administration stole money. To compensate for the debt, González cut electricity to the hotel & became a target. His office was burned & one of the mafia bodyguards invited González to drive him around. Apparently he was willing to explain what the mafia was doing. González smelled a rat but could not refuse the offer & decided to hide a mini-cassette recorder in his car. González got a full confession of mafia activities but also recorded being shot 5 times in the head, point blank. He did not die immediately & was taken to the hospital. Miramar police found the hidden tape… crucial evidence for Gamba to recover ownership of the hotel. González passed away about one month later & a monument was erected on his behalf outside the Boulevard Atlantic.
When Gamba reclaimed the hotel in 1998, it had been looted & left to decay. Only a few original objects remained, sitting among fallen plaster, water leaks & major structural damage. In spite of building bungalows to house a few guests, money & repairs come in slowly. Gamba is now 78 years old, still remarkably lucid & determined while his son continues restoration work. A Spanish consortium was willing to invest several million euros in 2008, with Gamba remaining on the property. But as a consequence of the economic crisis, investors withdrew their offer.
Gamba remains passionate in his goal of restoring the Boulevard Atlantic to its former glory. Visits to the hotel are 10 pesos per person, part of which goes to reconstruction costs. He also sells a video of his appearance on the TN program “En El Camino” along with a short about Dracula filmed for a festival in Guadalajara. Although it’s remarkable that a remote coastal hotel remains standing after 120 years, even more remarkable is the way it has affected so many people during the course of its existence.
Best of luck to Eduardo & many thanks for sharing his story! He’s looking for investors **hint, hint**