Direct from the ‘Only in Argentina’ files comes a tale of intrigue, passion, untold wealth, jilted love and despair, spite and ultimately, sweet cold-served revenge – straight out of a Latin American telenovela*, though this one set in the glamour of 1920’s and 30’s Buenos Aires.
The story has become somewhat legendary in this city and goes to the heart of the ‘old money’ European lineage snobbery versus the nouveau riche brashness of local porteños, riding Argentina’s newly found wealth and prosperity.
This clash is wonderfully exemplified in BA through its astonishing architecture – when the 30’s avant-garde architectural styles, rationalist sensibilities and soaring modernist skyscrapers contrast so dramatically with the old-world Belle Époque piles and old-school European attitudes of the so-called ‘elite’ of society.
Corina Kavanagh was a rich, beautiful and determined woman, very much part of the nouveau riche set who struggled to be recognised and accepted by the high lineage patrician families of Buenos Aires. So the story goes, Corina fell madly in love with the young son of Mercedes Castellanos de Anchorena, one of the most important of BA’s ‘old blood’ families whose home on Plaza San Martin, Palacio Anchorena (built between 1905-1909) was one of the largest prestige homes in the city complete with 150 servants.
Mercedes strongly opposed the relationship due to Corina’s assumed ‘low birth’ and ‘new money’ family, ultimately forcing her son away from Corina, leaving her in bitter heartbroken despair and an even more determined woman bent on revenge.
This Corina plotted and achieved… in hard monumental concrete. She acquired some prime land (also at the time sought by Mercedes, who tragically, for her, was away in Europe) directly on the other side of Plaza San Martin and Palacio Anchorena, right in front of the family’s beloved Basilica del Santísimo Sacramento, the family crypt and private church that they had painstakingly built in 1920. So the legend goes, Mercedes would boast of the view directly across the plaza to the newly built and magnificent basilica, possibly the finest in all Argentina and modelled on churches seen on her travels to Paris.
Corina employed the top architects of the time and set out to build (in a record 14 months) a monumental concrete skyscraper deliberately positioned to block out any view from the Anchorena palacio and to completely dominate the basilica, the plaza and indeed, the entire city skyline, forever.
The impressive Edificio Kavanagh on Calle Florida and Plaza San Martin was at the time of its construction in 1936 the tallest skyscraper in Latin America and the largest reinforced concrete structure in the world.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s one of the finest examples of rationalist Art Deco buildings in Buenos Aires and yes, it completely hems in and deprives of sunlight the fine basilica, with access principally from the back-end of the monster building and from the then newly named Pasaje Corina Kavanagh!
Corina lived out the rest of her life on the 14thfloor in the largest apartment and the only one that occupies an entire floor (some photos attached, though not mine alas as access to the apartment is restricted), with two roof terrace gardens and a splendid view towards Palacio Anchorena.
Shortly after Edificio Kavanagh was built, the Anchorena family turned over their palacio to the government as the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Relations, where it remains in all its glory today, though now itself also sadly hemmed in by other more modern buildings.
* I have to say that in researching this post and reading many translated articles, this story changes somewhat with timelines often confused such as whether Mercedes Castellanos de Anchorena was even alive during the time, and even whether it was Corina herself who fell in love with the young heir or perhaps her daughter… or just how much revenge played in its construction… but for the purposes of my telenovela outline, I’m sticking with this account as it seems to be the most commonly attributed and besides, makes for a great story!