Grand Splendid

In this architectural work everything was avant-garde, it had the latest in security and comfort. The structure was made of reinforced concrete, fireproof. A first aid room and heating and cooling equipment were also installed, located in the basement so as not to overshadow its aesthetics. In summer the place could be adapted and opt for the natural breeze, since there was a sliding roof in the dome. The theater had four rows of boxes, which remain to this day, and a stall with capacity for five hundred people. For the dome of the theater hall, they called on the Italian painter Nazareno Orlandi to embellish it with an oil painting with an allegory of peace that represented the end of the First World War.

The history of this place began with an ambitious immigrant of Austrian origin who arrived in the country in 1890: Mordechai David Glücksman, known as “Max” Glücksmann, who in 1917 commissioned the project to build a large building and a new theater on the foundations of the which had been the Teatro Nacional Norte, on Av. Santa Fé 1860 in Barrio Norte.


He called this new theater Grand Splendid, and it was inaugurated in May 1919. Above it is the ten-story building with apartments. Well, as was the business model of the time, Glücksman thought of taking advantage of those apartments to rent them and thus, in this way, recover the investment required to give himself the pleasure of having his own theater.


The design of the project was carried out by the architects Rafael Peró and Manuel Torres Armengol, and the construction by the architects Pizoney and Falcope.


The most notable thing about this eclectic style construction, in its external appearance, are the statues of strong men that support the balconies on the third floor, the central line of balconies and the arch that is at the height of the first floor that served as general portico of the theater.​

A wide range of shows were offered in this theater. From plays, ballet concerts, operas, benefit parties, and tango shows. Great personalities such as Ignacio Corsini, Roberto Firpo, who dedicated the tango “Gran Splendid” to him in 1927, paraded there. The place became one of the beacons of Buenos Aires culture.


Glücksmann contributed to the development of River Plate music through the stimulating “Concursos del Gran Splendid”. Artists such as Paquita Bernardo, nicknamed "La Flor de Villa Crespo", whose real name was Francisca Cruz Bernardo, who was a tango composer and the first Argentine professional bandoneon player, who died early at the age of 25, passed through there.


Between 1921 and 1930 the top floor of the building was used as a recording studio. The National label Odeón, today EMI, had its headquarters here. And under this label, Carlos Gardel began recording. There is an urban legend that says that Glücksmann taught him to give more power to his voice by making the Zorzal Criollo hold the back of a chair with his hands and thus expand his ribcage. The room in which he recorded still exists, although it is not publicly accessible.


On May 23, 1923, the historic Radio Splendid station began broadcasting from the first floor of the building under the name “Grand Splendid Theatre”. An imposing inclined antenna tower was mounted on the roof. In 1924, it changed its name to “Radio Grand Splendid”. And that same year, on September 30 at 10 p.m., the Gardel-Razzano duo began a long audition that turned out to be a great success. Four days later, Gardel would appear as a soloist accompanied by Francisco Canaro's orchestra, making a new and praised presentation.


In 1929 the station adopted its traditional name of Radio Splendid.


Starting in 1926, the Grand Splendid theater also dedicated itself to cinematography and was the scene of countless premieres.


In 1930, it once again shined in theater format, only to return to cinema in 1973. From then on, the prestigious theater withstood the years and economic crises as best it could until it closed its doors.


In February 2000, the Ilhsa group, which was already in charge of the traditional bookstores “El Ateneo” and “Yenny”, made an investment of more than three million dollars to inaugurate the “Ateneo Grand Splendid” as a bookstore. Due to its extension, about two thousand square meters, it became considered the largest bookstore in South America. Each of its four floors is a different universe: in the basement there are children's books, records and movies; On the ground floor thousands of fiction and non-fiction books. On the first floor, the hallways store technical and professional books. Finally, on the top floor is the sector dedicated to classical music.


The shelves with books extend throughout what was previously the room, the boxes have been transformed into cozy reading places, and the stage became a confectionery, maintaining its original velvet curtain.

Upon entering this place one cannot help but be amazed at such architectural beauty and such a variety of books. Borges once mentioned: “I always imagined that Paradise would be some kind of library.” I would dare to add to this famous phrase, that paradise would also be a kind of bookstore.

In 2008, the English media The Guardian ranked it second among the best international bookstores. Furthermore, in 2019, the American magazine National Geographic named it "the most beautiful bookstore in the world."


What would Max Glücksmann have thought when he saw that his grand project of the Grand Splendid Theater would become the most beautiful bookstore in the world?