February 10, 2015
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Sometimes you do see what you come to see. Several months ago someone posted an article on Facebook from the Guardian listing the 10 most beautiful bookstores in the world. Buenos Aires is home to El Ateneo Grand Splendid Book Store. It is in the Grand Splendid theater building built in 1919. The theater was built by Max Glucksman and was home to variety performances and tango shows. In 1924 Radio Splendid broadcast from the building, one of the first stations in Argentina. It was also the home of Nacional Odeon Records, an early company producing tango discs. In 1929 it showed the first sound films in Argentina.
The building was bought in 2000 by a publisher who owned 40 bookshops in Argentina and was converted to a bookstore, maintaining the original art and décor. The store is magnificent. You enter through a foyer with a multi stories rotunda. The top floor of the Rotunda is an art gallery. Books line the other two levels. Through the entry you see the theater. The theater floor and the balconies are filled with books. The private boxes have comfortable chairs for reading. The café is on stage. You can sit on the stage and look at the floor and balconies full of books and the boxes with their readers. You can look up into the full fly.
Under the main floor is a music store with a good collection of tango as well as international CDs.
I’m thinking what a wonderful use for Anchorage’s fourth avenue theater, but with the economies of book selling in the US and completion with Amazon that is probably a pipe dream. I wonder how long a store like this can thrive as Argentina catches up.