The Building of the “Once” Neighborhood in Buenos Aires: Immigrant Bourgeoisie, “ethnic” architects and Jewish elites (1900-1930).
Marcelo Dimentstein University of General Sarmiento-CONICET

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

“It is noteworthy […] the degree of development that the edification of apartment buildings has acquired in our colony. This is an aspect of our economic life that deserves to be taken into account, since it shows eloquently our rooting in the country” Mundo Israelita, July 26th, 1930.

It is the goal of this paper to show the participation of some members of the Jewish elites a group of successful businessmen, industrialists, and leading communitarian philanthropists in the processes of suburban expansion of the Once neighborhood between the late 1920s and early 1930s. I will especially analyze the rental apartment buildings (edificios de renta en altura), architecture development that since early 20th century showed a constant growth amongst middle and upper social sectors of Buenos Aires, like deep-rooted patrician families, wealthy businessmen and industrialists of immigrant origin and other entrepeneurs, as these constructions allowed to combine important profits with social prestige.

To study the apartment buildings built by the prosperous Jewish businessmen of Buenos Aires, both from its architectonic features as well as from the fact that they were economic investments, provides an interesting glimpse into the complex interplay between class attitudes, ethnic identities and integrationist ideals of this social sector.

In how far architectonic practices can help to understand the imaginary of the Buenos Aires´ Jewish elites?

One of my premises is that it is not possible to understand this process without relating the practices of the Jewish investors to the Italian or Spanish ones and to the context of strong metropolitan growth that Buenos Aires had experienced since the late 19th century[i].

Recently, a renewed interest in “space” has gained visibility in different fields such as cultural studies, anthropology and literature. Within the Jewish studies scholars have emphasized the need to study the so-called Jewish conceptions and practices of space in the Diaspora[ii]. It has been argued that this perspective could bring new ideas that would help to understand how Jewish identities inscribe themselves into an urban space or how “fictional” spaces in various narratives regarding Jewish experiences are created and signified.

As for the Jewish community of Buenos Aires the interest that these issues raised within the specialized field has been limited to considerations towards ethnic clustering and consequently to the attempt to determine whether the most emblematic Jewish quarters of Buenos Aires, that is Once and Villa Crespo, could be considered as a ghetto[iii]. Alongside these studies some nostalgic and memorabilia-like literature has been written trying to recall the Judaic peculiarities of these neighborhoods: people, synagogues, smells, institutions[iv].

However, little or none attention have received another kind of urban issues like the election of architectural languages of Jewish-related-buildings[v], the speculative urban investments carried out by members of communitarian elites or the use of buildings as a vehicle to obtain social status.

Buenos Aires, men at work

Since the year 1887 Buenos Aires had seen dramatic transformations. Having terminated the struggle for political unification and having incorporated more than 18 thousand hectares (44.5 million acres), the city became one of the spatially largest capitals of the world, yet underpopulated: At that time it had 400.000 inhabitants while London accommodated over 6 million people; Paris, 3.3; New York, 3 and Berlin, 2.4[vi]. On the other hand, infrastructure such as ports, electricity, paving, sewers, municipal water, horse-pulled-trams and, later, metros and busses gave the city —at least downtown— this modern atmosphere that foreign observers praised.

Anyway, the image of the city that would be better to adopt is the one that historian Jorge Liernur has well depicted: an “ephemeral” city, an “evanescent camp” made out of wood and poor and precarious structures, an unstable town in an ongoing transformation[vii]. Regarding edification and the city buildings´ renovation changes were even more striking. In a French version of the famous travelers´ guide Baedeker, the editor wondered in 1907 about the definitive appearance that Buenos Aires would have in the future. “It is hard to foresee —he informed the future visitors—, knowing the rapid course of its progress and the bent of its architecture tastes”. And he continued with a disordered description:

In this moment, says a renowned writer, for the foreigner that arrives to Buenos Aires, and walks along the streets, the city is in full action of installation; towards the port, over the extended dikes, from where enormous and heavy buildings elevate, Cyclops-architectonic-avantgardes that in fifteen or twenty years at the most, shall clear all those huge empty plots of land from the Palmipeds [sic] […] that occupy them and elevate over this vast extension of land gained to the river, houses, towers and chimneys; towards the peripheral neighborhoods most distant from the city, towards the empty plots of land that overnight the hammer of the auctioneer shall divide in order to let them to the good investment of colonists that will come to settle; towards the South that, although it is not a posh area, has a rich population that erects it with tenacity; towards the West that has become an immense chessboard, where the happy and oxygenated rooms of the European population extend and line up over a good, cheap and healthy soil and string out until the factories and the slaughter houses of the city; towards the North, the chosen place by wealthy patricians and aristocrats; from all over the places and in all directions, the scaffolds intercept the view and the landscape, and the slow trucks loaded with construction materials, with iron beams, with bricks, with sand, with blocks of granite, roll noisily over the pavement of the city in construction. Everyone builds, good or bad, modestly or sumptuously, palaces or inexpensive houses (bicocas)[viii].

Some estimations affirm this perception: between 1910 and 1913 an average of 2.5 million square meters (around 27 million square feet) were built per year. During the Great War, it decreased to circa 512 thousand square meters annually (5.5 million square feet). Since 1920 it increased again to 1.025.780 and it constantly kept rising until reaching its peak in 1929 with 2.831.516 square meters (30.5 million square feet)[ix]. The construction of new buildings was also complemented by the hectic renovation of the city’s center, center that unlike other Latin American cities, never lost its positive social appraisal, in part because it retained the bureaucratic and commercial activities as well as the cultural ones (theatres, cafés, book-shops, operas and cinemas)[x]. In addition, el centro experienced a climax when in 1936, during the celebrations for the fourth centenary of the city’s foundation, the long-awaited project for widening Corrientes street, one of the main arteries of downtown Buenos Aires, was finally carried out. Furthermore, Raúl Prebisch’s Obelisco, a 67-meter-height-monument that soon became one of the icons of the city, was inaugurated[xi]. Already in 1910 the Memorias Municipales —annual rapport that the majors present at the city council— stated that

[…] it is noteworthy that to this essentially expansive period of edification, it adds nowadays a real reconstruction fever of the downtown areas of the city; with buildings of great height so as to compensate the high value of the land, and where the modern technique of the art of building goes together along with the refined comfort, which soon will transform Buenos Aires into a city with a full European life and appearance[xii].

One of the major actors of this period is the apartment building, architecture program relatively new for Buenos Aires, related to the comfort and to urban modernity. Whereas in 1887 only 37 three-story-buildings existed, in 1905 there were 40 five-story-buildings and 38 six-story-ones[xiii]. Yet, this is a process that, at least during the first three decades of the 20th century, was far from being a general one. According to the 1936 Municipal Census 87% of the city’s buildings were used as one-family-dwellings and, among the other 13%, only 64% of the collective houses corresponded to the type of casas de departamentos (apartment buildings)[xiv]. It should be mentioned a complementary process that was taking place in Buenos Aires, the growth of the suburbs, that is, the expansion of the city beyond its traditional limits and the subsequent creation of the barrios. Therefore, it could be said that the apartment buildings were concentrated in downtown. The city grew as much in extension regarding the suburbs as in height in the center[xv].

Apartment buildings and urban modernity

Yet, like the Memorias Municipales suggest, the edification of apartment buildings was effectively perceived as a modernizing enterprise. The idea that Buenos Aires would in the future look like a “city with a full European life and appearance” much owed to the imaginary that conceived the city as taking part in a process of accelerated changes and that incorporated to its equipment much of the modern advances in urban matters. Whether because it was a typical product of the modern city or because it redefined and modernized the living conditions in the cities, the apartment building as a concept was part of the European imaginary, to which the porteños wished to assimilate[xvi].

In fact, it has been pointed out the close connection that existed between this architecture development and the systematic program to re-shape the urban fabric of some European cities during 19th century. The goals of these reforms were not only to make cities more “beautiful” but, essentially, to promote new ways of urban profit. According to Ítalo Insolera, the bourgeois’ house as an urban good was born hand in hand with the rebuilding of Paris led by the Baron Haussmann in the 1860s, “it is then that the city-industry proves that it is in condition to absorb in competitive ways private capitals that until that time had been invested in industrial production”[xvii].

Concerning the matter of late-19th-century apartment building various dimensions of urban modernity became visible. Already at that time Austrian architect and specialist in apartment buildings Otto Wagner suggested that in such apartment buildings the modern citizen could fulfill his needs for his metropolitan life was: an anonymous life, with all the benefits of the comfort and no interference of undesirable neighbors[xviii]. On the other hand, it got reinforced the ongoing trend of separation between living and working space: only rarely the one who lived upstairs worked at the store located on the ground floor.

Such virtues offered by the apartment building in its modern version also implied a social-status-dimension that was related not only to the tenant but especially to the owner, the one that built it. Thus, this architecture development was not only seen by the urban bourgeoisie as a profit opportunity but also as an appropriate vehicle for a cultural and social self-valorization. Carl Schorske described the “communicational” function these apartment buildings had all over the Vienna’s Ringstraße: the highly risen buildings imitated the style of old Italian renaissance villas, provided a “successful combination of prestige and benefit” and therefore reflected one of the most remarkable trends in Vienna’s liberal era, “the rapprochement between aristocracy and bourgeoisie”[xix].

The apartment building in Buenos Aires

In a city with a permanent lack of housing, apartment buildings aimed at middle and high-income workers became an attractive investment for a wide spectrum of people including wealthy landowners of the argentine pampas, construction companies, industrials, businessmen and liberal professionals, herein especially engineers and architects, which acted as urban entrepeneurs. Like Ballent demonstrated, private housing in Buenos Aires was built by a sum of individual efforts, but highly dispersed[xx]. Though data is rare, this could for example be illustrated by a survey published in the Revista de Estadística Municipal (Journal of Municipal Statistics) on planning permissions extended between 1924 and 1930. By comparing Buenos Aires with New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the data shows that Buenos Aires occupies the fourth place with 148.627 planning permissions extended over that period, while New York had 433.763; Los Angeles 265.777 and Chicago 167.240. However, the South American capital climbs into the second place when comparing planning permissions extended every 100 thousand inhabitants: with a coefficient of 104.37, stays only behind Los Angeles (247.28), but over New York (61.36) and Chicago (30.74)[xxi]. According to this study, the highest level of construction took place in the 1920´s decade, especially in the years 1923-1924 and 1928-1929. In the first phase the expansion was caused by “the strong population growth and the construction of individual-family-houses” and the second phase happened due to “a renovation of apartment buildings, studios, etc.”[xxii]. Naturally, the 1930´s depression put an end to this period of heavy expansion.

The increasing downtown land values, the incorporation of modern construction techniques such as iron structures, reinforced concrete and elevators, the gradual transformations of the living conditions and the comfort and the inexistence of a law that allowed privately owned residences to coexist in the same building, made the construction of rental apartment housing an extremely profitable business[xxiii]. In 1933, facing the unstable economic situation, the Revista de Arquitectura advised in an editorial titled “The edification as a capital guarantee” to invest the money in “the industry of edification”, since “a building neither is submitted, regarding its value, to the violent fluctuations of the market, nor becomes devaluated in the same proportion as a tool or a machine”. “A house, finally — it continued— is where they plant it, challenging with a solid materialization of the effort, all sort of contingencies of the crisis and assuring the capital invested on it […], desideratum of the moment”. And made clear that “[…] in every neighborhood of the city there are places and opportunities for profit, for inexpensive or rental houses, modern, happy, healthy, that are so much in need”[xxiv].

Differentiated from the sumptuous one-family palaces and petit-hôtels of the wealthy classes as well as from the working-class collective housing such as the casas colectivas or monoblocks and, naturally, from the tenement houses (conventillos), the apartment building had two basic typologies: on the corner with the main entrance located in one of its sides and a store on the ground floor and in the middle of the street occupying one or more lots.

Once experienced various phases of expansion that did not coincide, however, with the statistics valid for the rest of the city. In fact, the data shows that edification in that area reached its zenith a decade before: according to the figures that Revista de Estadística Municipal compares correspondent to censal periods of 1914 and 1931, it is not possible to notice, in those 17 years, significant variations in the edification: in 1914, 7765 buildings were counted in the neighborhood while in 1931 there were 7955. The number of buildings per hectare went from 18.5 to 19.05, that means a growth of 2.95%, a figure that was much behind other zones of the city like San José de Flores (40% growth), Vélez Sarsfield, Nueva Pompeya and Nueva Chicago districts that, all together, grew 166.7%, or Villa Devoto, with a growth of more than 255%![xxv]. The reason of this spectacular figures related to the latter neighborhoods lies on ongoing deep transformations due to a process of increasing centrifugal movement led by the middle classes, pushed out from downtown by the dream to become owners of at least a modest house—a dream that was favored by the rapid development of public and cheap transportation and the ongoing land sales located at the traditional city’s edge, which could be paid by monthly installments.

Still, in absolute terms in 1931 Balvanera (Once) continued to be the most densely constructed area of Buenos Aires with an average of 19.5 buildings per hectare. Undoubtedly, thanks to its strategically position, Once experienced its splendor towards the first fifteen years of 1900, period that coincide with the consolidation of the area as a district that successfully articulated industrial and retail activities around Ferrocarril Oeste terminal station. Actually, like historian Fernando Rocchi demonstrated, already in the last three decades of the 19th century, Once experimented a similar growth that the centro, based on the concentration of the rising industrial activity oriented to a growing internal market[xxvi]. Anyway, these figures say nothing about the different actions of enlarging, renovating and reconstructing of existing buildings in the area.

Art Nouveau and immigrants

This initial phase of expansion of the area lead by members of patrician families that lived in Recoleta and Barrio Norte but, especially, by businessmen and industrialists with immigrant origins, has been depicted by the writer and essayist Arturo Jauretche in his famous study about the raising of middle classes in Argentina (the so-called medio pelo). There he wrote: “The immigrants that became wealthy (levantaron cabeza) made soon fortunes that, in many cases, exceeded the ones of the ´upper class`; they were owners of rental apartment buildings, especially the Italians, or managers of the high commerce, especially the Spaniards”[xxvii].

A wide urban area that included Balvanera, Almagro and Boedo, that is, the very first periphery, just close to the traditional radius of the city, began to be configured on the basis of the urban and architectural imaginary of these new immigrant groups, consisting of truly self-made men, whose connection with the buildings was related to the fact that they belonged to ethnic-national groups with transnational relations and loyalties as well as to be a part of the class of nouveau riche. Therefore, it is not surprising that the rental apartment buildings and other urban devices built by this committenza got differentiated in terms of architectural languages from the ones commissioned by the traditional elites. The experimentation with the so-called Art Nouveau (also known as Modernist style or “young art”) by Spanish and Italian commissioners introduced a note of distinction in the realm of the academic architecture with French influence promoted by the patricians[xxviii]. The Art Nouveau was born towards the late 19th century in different countries of Europe as a reaction to academic architecture. In its most disseminated idea, the Art Nouveau can be characterized by organic, especially floral motifs, as well as highly-stylized, flowing curvilinear forms. However, despite its specific expressions, the Art Nouveau wanted to achieve a new kind of art, based on the vindication of novelty, the free creation and the idea that art should embody every single detail and object of life. There was indeed a close connection between Art Nouveau and the new urban bourgeoisie class in Europe, to whom architecture and art was supposed to materialize their ideals of living according to the new times[xxix]. Going back to Jauretche: “The residencies of this [nouveau] riche do not adjust in general with the French style that the wealthy import and a picturesque baroque where the Florentine and the Venetian is mixed with the renascence and the lancets, Solomonic columns and Arabic arches, are good architectonic counterparts of the colorful cakes of pastry-shops (confiterías) like El Molino and Los Dos Chinos[xxx]. Though witty and sharp, Arturo Jauretches´ assessment couldn’t see that indeed existed a sort of search, not superficial at all, for a self-legitimating narrative, despite the fact of having adopted an architectural style often depicted as “joyful, lighthearted and frivolous”[xxxi]. Even though Art Nouveau represented an international movement since it was extended throughout Europe, it was manifested in regional expressions: Floreare, Jugendstil, Sezession, modernismo catalán, art nouveau. Therefore, its application in Buenos Aires was related to the attempt of these immigrants to stay in touch with their homelands by using architecture as a link and though ignoring the fact of the regional origins of Art nouveau by transforming it into a national style. Thus, for example, Catalan Art Nouveau was codified as being a representative style of the whole Spain. In architectonic terms: whereas historical eclecticism already signified the consolidation of a “narrating architecture” since it was based on a process of a limitless combination of architectural styles belonging to distant civilizations (neo-medieval, neo-tudor, neo-victorian, and so on), Art Nouveau would continue with this narrating feature, but not through revivals –although Buenos Aires modernist styles also used them- but rather through free forms, disconnected from the codes and limitations that the academic tradition dictated. It was the claim of a rising class and, at the same time, of a transoceanic identity. Like architect and historian Fernando Aliata argued:

The immigrant collectivities and their representatives in the world of commerce and industry, find in the change, in the promotion of their national styles and the rising Art Nouveau, an identifying and representative element that allows them to stand out and create their own identity in a varied world of appearances[xxxii]

The arrival of a group of Italian and Spanish architects to the country helped to build up this tendency. They got closely connected to the ways of urban expansion of these immigrant groups adapting architectural programs to their own needs. Virginio Colombo, Francisco Gianotti, Mario Palanti, Julián Jaime García Núñez, among others, architects without any organic connections with the high of renowned local architects led this process of renovation.

The good connection forged by the argentine-born architect Julián García Núñez and the Spanish community can help to illustrate this point. When García Núñez came back to Buenos Aires after obtaining his degree in architecture in Barcelona, he soon became hired to build some institutional buildings of the Spanish community such as the Hospital Español (1906) and the Spanish Olds People Home in Temperley (1909-1911). He furthermore was immediately commissioned to build rental apartment buildings, office buildings and even movie theaters by his Spanish fellowmen. The buildings of Tucumán and Suipacha (1907) and Independencia 2014 (1911) are good examples of how this architect combined Catalan Art Noveau with Secession style, a Viennese expression of Art Nouveau (see Figures 2 and 3). Also, García Núñez was the author of the Spanish pavilion during the Exhibición Internacional del Centenario, a bombastic and self-legitimating exhibition held in Buenos Aires in 1910 to mark the centennial of the May Revolution against Spain. But one of his most celebrated buildings is located precisely in the very heart of Once, a rental apartment building in the intersections of Paso and Viamonte streets, a four-story edifice with a store on ground floor. On top of the building is a circumference-like dome with a slightly flattened higher part and button-like elements added on it. It is obviously inspired in the Secession Hall (1898) made by Austrian architect Joseph Maria Olbrich in Vienna (see Figures 4-5)[xxxiii].

However, the Italians, with their combination of wealthy businessmen, industrialists, and Lombardian architects that arrived in the La Plata River area were the ones that brought the experiment of Art Nouveau to its major urban visibility. Carrying with them outstanding construction techniques and artistic imagination, these architects became real artists. Especially Virginio Colombo, an architect born in Milan in 1888, disciple of Giussepe Sommaruga, who arrived to Argentina in 1906, became a key figure. Colombo’s architecture combined the requirements of taking the most of the space of the lot alongside with the development of an extremely original style that mixed an eclectic type of Art Nouveau, neo-medieval elements, colorful textures and an excessive and imaginative number of statues on the façade. His more than 50 buildings were in large commissions from wealthy Italians that lived and had their businesses in the neighborhoods surrounding downtown. Under these are the rental apartment building of the wine-merchant Calise (1911) (See Figures 6-7); the factory and the residence of industrial Leandro Anda (1916), the Garbesi family house (1918) and the impressive rental apartment building owned by the shoemaking manufacturer Grimoldi, who placed his own residence with all luxury at the pent-house of the building (in the middle of Once). “The Grimoldi residence had fine-wooden-marquetry floors and exquisite-painted astragals, and a winter garden at the top floor inspired by [Otto] Wagner’s house in the Hüttelberggasse. But from a distribution perspective, the huge duplex of Grimoldi did nothing but reproducing the `speculative-like-plants´, adding corridors and mediocre connections with many rooms that were not sufficiently exposed to the sunlight and without or almost none ventilation”[xxxiv] (See Figure 8).

The Jewish Once

At the end of 1920´s and beginning of 1930s a new phase of expansion unfolded in Once. This time Jewish immigrants that had already consolidated their fortunes based on whether the import and export of textiles, the wholesale businesses or the urban petty industries joined the choir of architectonic voices that had been taking place since 30 years ago. Going back to the initial quotation of this article, investments in real estate, but especially in rental apartment buildings, seemed to have had such an importance within the community that the Jewish bourgeoisie-oriented newspaper Mundo Israelita addressed that fact in one of its issues. This also shows that the Jewish bourgeoisie was starting to adopt the same economic practices that the other immigrant bourgeoisie: the search for a profit through urban speculation. And Jews were to be assisted by “ethnic” architects as well. What architects like Virginio Colombo, Mario Palanti or Francisco Gianotti meant for the Italians, professionals like Jacobo Sirlin, Jaques Braguinsky, Isidoro Gurevitz or Alejandro Enquin meant for the Jews. Educated both in Europe and Argentina, some of these professionals were related to the Central Architects Society of Argentina, the most relevant professional society of its type and, they gained their prestige as they intervened in the construction of communitarian buildings as well as in private enterprises.

New architectural needs rose within the Jewish community in the years of consolidation: synagogues, sport centers, banks and cooperatives –especially popular among Jews-, hospitals and asylums. And it all seemed to center in Once and to a lesser degree in Villa Crespo[xxxv]. Yet, the apartment buildings seemed to be the most conclusive examples but paradoxically the less studied concerning the imaginaries that were behind this “ethnic” urban expansion.

One the issues that raises more questions is why when building, the Jewish elites chose academic architectural styles that were clearly out of fashion by the end of the 1920s decade within the architectonic discipline. Values like symmetry, rational order, respect for proportions, beauty in its classical conception, soberness and, above all, to be observant of the rules and norms of the École des Beaux Arts of Paris, were the main characters of this architectural style, language that had been promoted by the argentine elites at the turning of 19th century, both for the government buildings and for the private residencies in their eagerness to build a modern, western-european-like, capital city, and thus a nationstate.

To illustrate this point I will show some examples of the Jewish Once. One of the most impressive ones is the so-called “Pasaje Teubal” (Teubal Passage), named after the Teubal brothers. Nissin, Ezra, Moisés and Elías were part of a prosperous family of textile traders that came from Aleppo (Syria-Ottoman Empire) in 1910. They founded a textile empire based on good contacts with trading houses from Manchester, Paris and Milan as well as local production and widespread distribution throughout the country. Their workshops employed around 600 workers in 1930[xxxvi]. The “Teubal Passage” was actually an architectural complex built by the Russian-born architect Jaques Braguinsky. It was composed of a 110-meter commercial passage which housed 24 shops and went from one sidestreet to the other. Two three-story rental apartment buildings were also part of the complex, “equipped, among other amenities, with central heating system, safe deposit boxes on the walls, internal telephones and a special `toilette´ for the maintenance staff”[xxxvii]. Also, in the central part of the passage there was a “small plaza with a dome, whose colorful stain glass breaks the monotony of its uniform and large interior”. The academic style got underlined by the treatment given to the facades where typical elements belonging to that tradition were combined with each other: mansard-roof, balustrades in the first line of balconies and other ornamental icons of this repertoire. In the sketches that were published in the architecture magazine one can see the name of the passage “pasaje Teubal” emblazoned in the entrance’s arcade (see Figures 9-11).

Born in Jekaterinoslav in 1880, educated in Paris, architect Jaques Braguinsky came to Argentina in 1908 hired as Section Chief at the Railway Company of Buenos Aires Province. In 1914 began to work for the Advising Commission of Asylums and Regional Hospitals of Buenos Aires, what seemed to be more appropriated for him due his specialization: since then he participated as main architect in an important number of asylums, hospices and hospitals throughout the country[xxxviii]. His connections with the Jewish community started apparently in 1923 when he directed the construction of the Jewish Hospital. Only a few years later he started to receive commissions from wealthy Jewish industrials and businessmen: the pipe manufacturer Mauricio Kinbaum hired him in 1927 to build up his factory, Mr. Siemsielevich for his pharmaceutical wholesaling building located in 2500 Alsina street; Adolfo Gutman to build up his residence in Junín and Las Heras (called later “Great Palace”), the Teubal brothers in 1928 and, in the same year, the rental apartment building of the prosperous car-parts-merchant and founder and president of the Jewish Hospital, Hermann Goldenberg, who decided to celebrate the 40th anniversary of his business by building up a great rental apartment building in the intersections of Bartolomé Mitre and Uruguay streets: another work inspired in the norms of the École des Beaux Arts of Paris repeating the distribution of the great one-family residencies adapted to a building: pillow-like basis imitating stone where the Goldenberg store was located, housing in the other levels and mansard-like-roofs. As a proof of the social prestige that was involved when building this kind of things, an illustration of the building will appear on a regular basis from then on in the ads published by Goldenberg’s company in Mundo Israelita. It is there where it can be seen the name “Goldenberg 1888-1928” placed at the entrance of the building and that is today gone (see Figures 12 and 13).

Another impressive example because of the scale of the investment is the one carried out by the textile company “Jacobo Ini and brothers”, who between 1925 and 1935 built at least 3 rental apartment buildings close to each other: Lavalle and Larrea (1928), Larrea 511-33 (1932) and Azcuénaga and Lavalle (1934). It looks like a fourth building could have also been commissioned by Ini brothers located in Lavalle 2027 (1931), since its owner, Aida Beley de Kracovsky, was the wife of a David Ini [xxxix] (see Figures 14 and 15). Engineer Jacobo Sirlin, responsible for all those buildings, also built the synagogue of the Alepine-Sephardic community “Yesod Hadat”, located in the same area of the buildings, which is not surprising, if one takes into account the social networks of this active Jewish bourgeoisie.

In terms of architectural styles, the deco insinuations of these works, based on serialized geometrical ornaments, is no obstacle to see their academic-like structural plans, especially regarding the structure of the plan and the respect of the symmetrical order.

Anyway, there were other minor cases. The construction of rental apartment buildings seemed to be available to those who had some money to invest. That was the case of the jeweler Abraham Dubin, philanthropist related to the charitable organization “Bikur Holim”, who in 1931 commissioned architect Isidoro Gurevitz his own apartment building in Corrientes Avenue 2014, locating his jewelry store on the ground floor. Following again the academic classical order, but without the quality of the latter buildings, it seemed however that its role of providing him social prestige was accomplished: Joyería Dubin adds in Mundo Israelita also included a close-up illustration of the building (see Figures 16 and 17).

And last but not least, Raskovan brothers, who advertised in Israel magazine as a firm of “clothing and fabrics”[xl], have in 1932 invested in the construction of a rental apartment building in Lavalle 2557. The prestigious architect Alejandro Enquin, head of the reform works carried out in the Great Synagogue of Buenos Aires, was responsible for it[xli].

Ethno-national narrating architecture

How could it be understood this return to the classical academic language led by the Jewish gentlemen? Some hypothesis could be drawn. On a first place, it doesn’t seem to be surprising at all that this sectors haven’t themselves felt attracted by the Art Nouveau: in the end, European fin-de-siècle styles were very specifically connected with regional or national centers, which had no appeal to people whose relationship with the Old World was much more complex, at least, when looking upon the process of identity-formation. The meaning that this style could have had for immigrants such as the Italian and the Spanish, who, through architecture attempted to recreate the bonds with their places of origin was experienced by the Jews as too particularist. Rather, it was the academic eclecticism, inspired in the French classicism, the one that provided the ideological ground capable to reflect the integrationist and universalist ideals of the Jewish elites of the period, the same that had been chosen by the dominant sectors of Argentina at the end of the 19th century to reaffirm the notion of a liberal and modern State. It has been pointed out the early fascination of the Jewish intelligentsia with liberal republicanism, which soon became crystallized within the community whether in literary works, communitarian press or cultural associations[xlii]. Following the Western European model of Judaism, the first and part of the second Jewish-argentine generation sought by all means to become Argentine citizens of the Mosaic Confession.

Therefore, it could have been developed a certain mimetic attitude in relation with the late 19th century traditional elites —elites that did not have to prove their deep-rooting with Argentina: the rental apartment building with its French style meant another way of inscribing themselves into that lineage.

L. Scott Lerner has shown how the monumental synagogues of the nineteenth and early twentieth century in Europe were planned, executed and viewed as “visible signs” of Emancipation and exodus from the ghettos[xliii]. The same could be said about the rental apartment buildings of Once, despite its very nature of silent monuments when compared with synagogues —no inauguration speeches, no celebrations, no “aura”. Still, these urban devices could be held as “political statements in reinforced concrete”. It was not misleading to consider, as Mundo Israelita did, these apartment buildings as symbols of “our rooting in the country”.

Like essayist Ezequiel Martinez Estrada said:

Every single house of the city represents through its architecture a fortune; each fortune, at the same time, represents a life history. Therefore, the diversity of styles, heights, colors produces the idea, out of the heterogeneity of the whole, that every building is isolated, like a human personality, with its own temperamental idiosyncrasy[xliv]


[i] For long-term and in-depth studies on Urban History of Buenos Aires I follow Adrián Gorelik, La grilla y el parque. Espacio público y cultura urbana en Buenos Aires, 1887-1936. Buenos Aires, Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, 2004 [1998]; James Scobie, Buenos Aires del centro a los barrios. 1870-1910, Buenos Aires, Solar-Hachette, 1977 [Buenos Aires: plaza to suburb, 1870-1910, New York: Oxford University Press, 1974]; Charles Sargent, The Spatial Evolution of Greater Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1870-1930, Arizona State University, Tempe, 1974.

[ii] Charlotte E. Fonrobert and Vered Shemtov, “Introduction: Jewish Conceptions and Practices of Space”, Jewish Social Studies (11, Nº 3, Spring/Summer 2005). Remarkable case studies are L. Scott Lerner, “The Narrating Arquitecture of Emancipation”, Jewish Social Studies, Volume 6, Nº 3, Spring/Summer 2000, pp. 1-30; Beth S Wenger, “Memory as Identity: The invention of the Lower East Side”, American Jewish History, Vol. 85, 1997; Daniel Stone, “Jews and the Urban Question in Late Eighteenth Century Poland”, Slavic Review, Vol. 50, Nº 3 (Autumn, 1991), pp. 531-541; Rebecca Kobrin, “Rewriting the Diaspora: Images of Eastern Europe in the Bialystok Landmanschaft Press 1921-1945”, Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, Society vol.. 12, no. 3 (Spring/Summer 2006): pp. 1–38.

[iii] See Eugene Sofer, From Pale to Pampa. A Social History of the Jews of Buenos Aires, NY-London, Holmes & Meyer, 1982; Francis Korn, Buenos Aires: los huéspedes del ´20, Ed. Sudamericana, Buenos Aires, 1974; Víctor A. Mirelman, En búsqueda de una identidad. Los inmigrantes judíos en Buenos Aires 1890-1930, Buenos Aires, Milá, 1988 [English Translation: Victor A. Mirelman, Jewish Buenos Aires, 1890-1930 : in search of an identity, Detroit : Wayne State University Press, 1990].

[iv] Tamara Kamenszain, “Los Barrios Judíos”, Revista Plural, Nº 20-21-22. Buenos Aires, 1979.

[v] Arquitect Sara Vaisman is currently researching on Buenos Aires´ synagogues architectural styles.

[vi] T. Chandler and G. Fox, 3000 Years of Urban Growth, London and New York, Academic Press, 1974.

[vii] Jorge F. Liernur, “La ciudad efímera. Consideraciones sobre el aspecto material de Buenos Aires; 1870-1910”, en Jorge F. Liernur y Graciela Silvestri, El umbral de la metrópolis. Transformaciones técnicas y cultura en la modernización de Buenos Aires (1870 - 1930), Buenos Aires, Sudamericana, 1993.

[viii] Baedeker de la Republique Argentine, 1907, 3 ed., Barcelona, A. Lopez Robert Imprimeur, pp. 178-179. I want to thank Verónica Strukelj for the translation from the French into Spanish.

[ix] A. E. Bunge, “La edificación en la ciudad de Buenos Aires”, en Revista de Economía Argentina, IV, XXXI: 4, quoted by Francis Korn, Op. cit.

[x] An in-between case for this period could be the American downtown, that did not loose its positive social appraisal but where an exodus of the upper-middle classes to the suburbs took place. See Robert M. Fogelson, Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

[xi] On the history and urban problems of the widening of calle Carrientes, see Valeria Gruschetsky, “El espíritu de la calle Corrientes no cambiará con el ensanche”. La transformación de la calle Corrientes en avenida. Debates y representaciones. Buenos Aires 1927-1936, Tesis de Licenciatura, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, UBA, 2008 and Leopoldo Marechal, Historia de la calle Corrientes, Municipalidad de Ciudad de Buenos Aires, 1937. On the renovation of the city’s center in 1930s and its urban meaning see Adrián Gorelik, Op. cit., Third Part, Chapter 3.

[xii] Memorias de la MCBA, 1910, p. 112.

[xiii] Eduardo Gentile, “Casa de renta”, en Jorge F. Liernur y Fernando Aliata, Diccionario de Arquitectura en Argentina, Clarín, 2004, tomo c-d, pp. 37-40.

[xiv] Anahí Ballent, Las huellas de la política. Vivienda, ciudad, peronismo en Buenos Aires, 1943-1955, Bernal, Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, Prometeo 3010, 2005, pp. 39-44 y 190-192.

[xv] See James Scobie, op. cit.

[xvi] On porteños´ imaginaries around 1910, see Margarita Gutman and Thomas Reese (eds.), Buenos Aires 1910. El imaginario para una gran capital, Buenos Aires, Eudeba, 1999.

[xvii] Italo Insolera, “Europa XIX secolo: hipótesis per una nuova definizione della città”, in Alberto Caracciolo, Dalla città preindustriale allla città del capitalismo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1975. Quoted by Gorelik, Op. cit., p. 21. Vienna is another case to be mentioned: the reurbanization of the Ringstraße has represented among other things a fabulous real state business for the urban bourgeoisie that started to build apartment buildings. Not surprisingly, in its Austrian version the apartment building, normally called in German Mietpalast or Wohnpalast was also denominated Zinspalast, making literally reference to its capacity to make a profit. See Carl E. Schorske, Viena fin-de-siécle. Política y cultura, Barcelona, Gustavo Gili, 1981, p. 69. [English version: Carl E. Shorske, Fin-de-siécle: Vienna: politics and culture, New York, Vintage Books, 1979].

[xviii] David Frisby, Paisajes urbanos de la modernidad: exploraciones críticas, Bernal, Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, Buenos Aires, Prometeo Libros, 2007, pp. 222-232. [English version: David Frisby, Cityscapes of Modernity: Critical explorations, Polity Press-Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2001].

[xix] Carl E. Schorske, Op. cit., pp. 78-79.

[xx] Anahí Ballent, Op. cit.

[xxi] “La edificación en la ciudad de Buenos Aires”, Revista de Estadística Municipal, Nº 9/11, septiembre-octubre, 1931, pp. 174-183.

[xxii] Ibíd., p. 183.

[xxiii] The law that permitted property subdivisions in the same building was passed during Peron´s administration, the joint freehold property law (1948). The goal was to democratize the access to the property.

[xxiv] Revista de Arquitectura, Nº 151, Año XIX, julio de 1933, pp. 275-276. The idea that in times of economic crisis it is advisable to “invest in bricks”, it is still valid for upper-middle classes of Buenos Aires.

[xxv] “La edificación…”, Op. cit., p. 177.

[xxvi] See Fernando Rocchi, “La armonía de los opuestos: industria, importaciones y la construcción urbana de Buenos Aires en el período 1880-1920”, revista Entrepasados Nº 7, 1994, pp. 43-66.

[xxvii] Arturo Jauretche, El medio pelo en la sociedad argentina, Buenos Aires, A. Peña Lillo Editor, 1966, p. 163.

[xxviii] See Federico F. Ortiz, et. al, La arquitectura del liberalismo en la Argentina. Buenos Aires, Sudamericana, 1968 y Jorge F. Liernur, Arquitectura en la Argentina del siglo XX. La construcción de la Modernidad, Buenos Aires, Fondo Nacional de las Artes, 2da ed., 2008.

[xxix] Renato de Fusco, Historia de la arquitectura contemporánea, Ed. Hermann Blume, 1986 [1981], cap. 2 and Jorge F. Liernur, “Arte nuevo”, en Jorge F. Liernur y Fernando Aliata (comps.), Diccionario…, Op. cit., tomo a-b

[xxx] Arturo Jauretche, Op. cit., p. 167. Such distinction was also pointed out by professional historiography on Argentine architecture. Juan C. Mantero asserted that: “The elites choose their image in the academic eclecticism, the middle-income-sectors in the eclectic Art Nouveau, and the low-income in the eclecticism of their own possibilities”, see Federico F. Ortiz, et. al., La arquitectura del liberalismo…, Op. cit., p. 35.

[xxxi] Jorge F. Liernur, Arquitectura en la Argentina…, Op. cit., pp.114-138.

[xxxii] Fernando Aliata, “Eclecticismo y Arte Nuevo: la obra de Virginio Colombo en Buenos Aires”, en Cuadernos de Historia IAA Nº 8. Protagonistas de la Arquitectura Argentina, Boletín del Instituto de Arte Americano e Investigaciones Estéticas “Mario J. Buschiazzo”, FADU-UBA, June 1997, p. 5.

[xxxiii] On Spanish immigration to Buenos Aires see José C. Moya, Cousins and Strangers. Spanish Immigrants in Buenos Aires, 1850-1930, Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998. On architect Julián García Núñez see, Lucía Elda Santalla, Julián García Núñez, Buenos Aires, Instituto de Arte Americano e Investigaciones Estéticas, FADU-UBA, 1968; Julio Valentino, “García Núñez, Julián Jaime”, en Jorge F. Liernur y Fernando Aliata (comps.), Diccionario…, op. cit., tomo e-h; Jorge F. Liernur, Arquitectura en la Argentina…, op. cit., pp. 123-124 y AA.VV, Julián García Núñez. Caminos de ida y vuelta. Un español en Argentina, un indiano en España, Buenos Aires, CEDODAL, 2005.

[xxxiv] Jorge Goldemberg (comp.), Eclecticismo y Modernidad en Buenos Aires, vol. 1, FAU-UBA, 1985, p. 17. On Italian immigration to Buenos Aires, see Samuel L. Baily, Immigrants in the Land of Promise: Italians in Buenos Aires and New York City, 1870-1914, Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1999. On Virginio Colombo see, among others, Fernando Aliata, “Eclecticismo y Arte Nuevo…”, op. cit.; Fernando Aliata, “Virginio Colombo”, en Jorge F. Liernur y Fernando Aliata (comps.), Diccionario…, tomo c-d, op. cit. There is also a website dedicated to his work: http://virginiocolombo.blogspot.com/.

[xxxv] Just as an example, two cases: an advertisement appeared in Mundo Israelita on February 27th, 1926 said: “To open a Hebrew Kindergarten, a comfortable house is needed, situated in a radius between Rivadavia and Córdoba and Pueyrredón and Callao Avenues. Please, contact us at…”. Second: An anonymous article published in La Razon on August 26th, 1930 titled “What do they say?”: “Let’s pretend that a reader walks by Corrientes Avenue, for example, between Avenues Callao and Pueyrredón. Let’s pretend that he sees the walls, literally covered with lots of signs. He will immediately discover that many of them are written in a foreign language and even in characters that don’t belong, precisely, to our alphabet”. In an obvious reference to yiddish, the unidentified journalist protested because there was no law banning signs written in foreign languages. And he finished the article asking: “Isn’t it an exaggeration of cosmopolitanism?”.

[xxxvi] See Nissin Teubal, El inmigrante, de Alepo a Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, 1953.; Revista Israel, marzo de 1934, pp. 28-30; Liliana Ana Bertoni, “De Turquía a Buenos Aires. Una colectividad nueva a fines del siglo XIX”, Estudios Migratorios Latinoamericanos, año 9, Nº 26, 1994

[xxxvii] Revista del CACYA, Nº 16, septiembre de 1928, p. 112.

[xxxviii] See Dra. Liliana Lolich and Arq. Eleonora Romano, “Jaques Braguinsky”, in AA.VV, Reencuentro con la arquitectura del siglo XX, Buenos Aires, Cedodal/SCA, 2006.

[xxxix] See, respectively, planos de solicitud 39987; 41146; 41513 y 12063, Archivo de planos domiciliarios, AySA SA.

[xl] Revista Israel, Nº 807-8, 29 de septiembre y 6 de octubre de 1933, Año XVII, Tomo XVIII.

[xli] Architecture´s signature is to be found on the building´s façade. For information about the plan and the owners, see plano de solicitud 44337, Archivo de planos domiciliarios, AySA SA

[xlii] Leonardo Senkman, “Ser judío en la Argentina: las transformaciones de la identidad nacional”, en Paul Mendes-Flohr, Yom Tov Assis y Leonardo Senkman, Identidades judías, modernidad y globalización, Buenos Aires, Editorial Lilmod, Universidad Hebrea de Jerusalem, 2007.

[xliii] See L. Scott Lerner, op. cit.

[xliv] Ezequiel Martínez Estrada, Radiografía de la Pampa, 1 ed., 1933