Housed in a magnificent early 20th century theater, El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is one of the biggest bookstores in South America, and thanks to the vision of architects Peró and Torres Armengol, it is now one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. The building originally housed the theater Teatro Grand Splendid in the 1920s that held popular shows, including performances by the famous tango singers Carlos Gardel and Ignacio Corsini. Later, it was converted into a movie theater and showed the first sound films presented in Argentina. Grand Splendid was once again briefly converted back into a theater. and then back to a movie house. After the last screening in 1991, poor economic condition forced the theater to be closed down. It was slated for demolition until the Ilhsa Group, owner of the El Ateneo publishing house, stepped in. They bought the building in 2000 and subsequently renovated and converted it into a book and music shop. It quickly gained recognition as one of the world’s most majestic bookstores.
As part of the renovation, the cinema seating was removed and replaced with book shelves, but most of the original interior architectural details were retained including the brilliant frescoed ceilings painted by the Italian artist Nazareno Orlandi, and caryatids sculpted by Troiano Troiani. Still intact are the elegant rounded balconies, detailed trimmings, the auditorium lighting and plush red stage curtains. The ornate theater boxes fitted with comfortable chairs allow customers to relax with a book before purchase. There is now a café on the back of what was once the stage. A live pianist performs on stage in the afternoons and, thanks to the great acoustics, can be heard throughout the store.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid is just one of a chain of bookstores in 40 locations throughout the country. Needless to say, the one in Buenos Aires is the grandest of them all. It is also one of the most popular bookstores in the city, with more than a million visitors passing through annually to gawk at the architecture. Grand Splendid offers mostly Spanish titles and a small English collection. It also houses a music store with a decent selection of music.
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