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Inside ‘The World’s Most Beautiful Bookstore’ In Argentina : NPR



When the Gran Splendid Theater in Buenos Aires was turned into a branch of the Ateneo bookshop, the stage became a café. And it has just been named "the most beautiful bookstore in the world" of National Geographic .

Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP / Getty Images


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When the Gran Splendid Theater in Buenos Aires was turned into a branch of the Ateneo bookshop, the stage became a café. And it has just been named "the most beautiful bookstore in the world" of National Geographic .

Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP / Getty Images

In its first issue of 2019, National Geographic named a store in Buenos Aires, Argentina "the most beautiful bookstore in the world ." NPR was at the head of the curve. Bob Mondello filed this report 18 years ago, shortly after the Gran Splendid Theater was converted into El Ateneo Grand Splendid.

The Manager Max Glücksmann wanted his new theater, the Gran Splendid Theater, to remind people of the Paris Opera. It was built in 1919 with three decorated balconies that embrace the back wall of a 1,050-seat auditorium. It is decorated with golden statues, marble columns and a ceiling mural celebrating the end of the First World War. In the days leading up to air conditioning, the domed roof opened in good weather to give the theater audience a taste of the stars.

a spectacular space. After a $ 3 million renovation, it's no less great than at any time in the decades since it was built.

There is a difference today. Where once the vast auditorium was occupied by rows of theater seats, it now has rows of shelves. The Grand Splendid has been converted into what is probably the most spectacular bookstore in the world.

The transformation was born from an idea of ​​Adolfo de Vincenzi, who has loved this theater since his time as a student and still remembers the films he has seen here (one of them is "a film by Liv Ullmann and Ingrid Bergman, Sonata Otoñal [ Autumn Sonata ] ") whenever he could take a break from his accounting courses three blocks away.

"Whenever I finished with the exams, I said," This is my vacation, "said de Vincenzi. "I came here."

The theater that now houses the El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookshop had a domed roof that opened.

Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP / Getty Images


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Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP / Getty Images

The theater that now houses the El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookshop has a domed roof that opens up.

Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP / Getty Images

The Gran Splendid was seriously battered when it was acquired by the company of El Vincenzo, El Ateneo, a chain of stores similar to Barnes & Noble in Argentina. The theater had succumbed to the same trend toward suburban multiplexes that made downtown cinema buildings obsolete in the United States. So when De Vincenzi heard that the contract was available and looked at what was happening at other theaters that once flanked the nearby streets, he said that I had no second thoughts

"We did not decide to stop with this building as a theater", said de Vincenzi. "The business has done that was not profitable … so what we did was put in bookstore." He noticed that two other cinemas, once located a block away, have now become parking lots.

Since this particular theater was an architectural treasure, the University chain at the beginning had some problems with the town hall. But the opposition broke up when the public gave a glimpse of the renovated Grand Splendid University: brighter, cleaner and with many activities to ensure it still lures crowds.

New uses have been found for almost every inch of the building. The large stage that was always there behind the screen is now a lively café. The section of the orchestra and the first balcony are full of shelves. And the seats, once the most expensive of the house, have been equipped as private reading rooms with soft armchairs and great views.

The two upper balconies, which overlook all of this, have been transformed into a branch of an art gallery [note: closed in the years since this report] full of colorful paintings and sculptures. And beyond the art, near the dome of the ceiling behind a closed door, there is something that the public does not see: the room in which the tango singer Carlos Gardel has made some of his first recordings.