Arts & Entertainment

Argentina’s art nouveau “sweet shop” shines once again after years of neglect

By Julieta Barrera

Buenos Aires, Jul 13 (EFE).- On July 9, 1916 – the centennial of Argentina’s independence – two confectioners inaugurated the “Confiteria del Molino” (Mill Confectionary), an iconic example of art nouveau architecture and pastry-making, which grew as business-oriented and bourgeoisie immigrants flooded into the country starting at the beginning of the 20th century.

Today, after a prolonged closure of more than 25 years, the eight-story establishment – which features a 213-foot high cupola, decorative balconies and even a windmill – has once again been restored, was reopened to the public on July 8 and is continuing its legendary trajectory.

It was the work of Italian architect Francisco Gianotti and owes its name to the flour mill located at that time on the Plaza del Congreso just a short distance from the local baker’s shop.

Due to its location in front of the national legislature, the pastry shop was dubbed the “third chamber” and was a spot where lawmakers from both houses of Congress – including several future presidents – gathered before legislative sessions.

It was also the favorite hangout of Carlos Gardel, and owned by Cayetano Brenna, the inventor of the celebrated “Russian Imperial,” a dessert paying tribute to Irineo Leguisamo, the jockey who rode his racehorse Lunatico.

In 1930, the building burned down but it was rebuilt the next year.

Several decades later, while the film “Evita” was being shot in Buenos Aires, Madonna chose the pastry shop as the scene for her “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” music video clip.

“To understand the Confiteria del Molino, you have to understand the temporal context between 1880 and 1930, a period of liberalism in Argentina, an epoch where we were also aspiring to be ‘the Latin American Paris,'” said architect Rudolf de Liechtenstein, one of the partners in the “ArquiViajes Buenos Aires” travel company and “”.

Between 1900 and 1910, the academic paradigms were changing as Argentina approached its centennial, in tune with French Classical currents and linked to the upper classes, and with the migration flow from Italy to escape the First World War bringing in other paradigms, namely those of art nouveau.

In 1916, when the Confiteria was founded, an anti-academic movement, one of disruption, was establishing itself. It was a movement seeking an organic relationship with nature and which wanted to distance itself from Parisian models, and the various styles began to merge and coexist.

“The Confiteria del Molino was a receiver of all these social, political and cultural changes that Buenos Aires was experiencing, where the middle and upper classes began to mix,” De Liechtenstein said.

“It was a very Argentine mixture of the upper classes, the middle classes, who began to speak of politics. It was well-received, and the Confiteria … was like the law of gravity: everything flowed toward it,” he added.

After its “definitive” closure in 1997, the establishment – a pastry shop, a bakery on the lower floors, party rooms on the first floor and apartments on the upper floors – was declared a national monument, in 2014 it was expropriated by the Argentine state and restoration work was begun in 2018.

“The restoration of the pastry shop, the main rooms on the first floor, the surrounding facade, the cupola and all the stained-glass windows have been finished,” Nazarena Aparicio – an architect with the Bicameral Administrative Committee for the Del Molino building, which now belongs to Argentina’s Congress – said with satisfaction.

The approved expropriation law sets forth that the sweet shop and the party rooms will recover their original uses, while the upper floors will be a cultural center for young artists and a museum will be opened on the site telling about the building’s history and restoration, Aparicio said.

She added that when the project was launched, the structure had been neglected to the point where divers had to be brought in to shore up the third-level basement, which was completely flooded. “The building was practically at risk of falling apart, of collapsing, and there were huge problems with the main elements of the structure,” she said.

The entire work was carried out as per international protocols used in buildings with heritage value. It was an exhaustive and meticulous project that required the expert advice of specialists in different areas.

“It was necessary to create ongoing abilities to get this work started and then to continue with the different (areas), given that we had to make the fake marble and fake wood, gilded stucco work and the rest, which they don’t use nowadays,” she said.

Parallel to the building’s restoration, the committee’s urban archaeological team undertook historical research at the site with the aim of recovering intangible knowledge about pastry-making and items from different parts of the building to evaluate their historical-patrimonial value.

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