city, memory, and urban life: the Louvre building and São Luis avenue

Amongst travel agencies, currency exchanges, law firms and accounting offices, hairdressers, a pharmacy and an array of small shops and other services, beneath both large and small apartments, terraces and a pool, a Louvre Museum emerged in São Paulo. The original, located in the center of Paris, is one of the most important museums in the world, with a collection that contains artwork such as the Mona Lisa and the Winged Victory of Samothrace. But the Louvre, the enormous estate built along the Seine, is also a testimony to the city’s history. Founded as a fort in 1190, it became a royal palace, gaining rooms and patios, expanding its perimeter as the city itself expanded. The colossal complex that today houses the famous collection is more than the sum of these parts. It is an artifact that has never ceased to transform itself – recall that the crystal pyramid was built in the nineties of the twentieth century –, and influences our understanding of what the Parisian metropolis is.

Likewise, if you will, this occurs with the newest satellite of the Louvre on São Luís Avenue. For here, too, the Louvre building marked and marks the landscape, indicating paths taken by capital in São Paulo and highlighting the possibilities that opened up to the metropolis during the twenty-first century. Walking along the boulevard, beneath jacarandas and other trees, over its wide sidewalks, observing the streetlights in the median and noting the magnificence of its buildings, one experiences the same urban qualities of the avenue that important Brazilian architectural projects have received over time. This configuration condenses the metropolis, and the desire for the metropolis, that formed in São Paulo in the mid-twentieth century.

The avenue, as one can imagine, did not arise from nowhere. Originally a small, almost private street, it was widened during the nineteenth century on the Souza Queiróz family farm – which, together with the Silva Prados, the Álvares Penteados and another pair of family names, formed the Paulista elite during the time– and grew to connect small mansions and townhomes, entering the following century with all the aspirations of the nascent metropolis.

During that time, the city was still concentrated in what today we call the historic hill, the region around Sé Square. Eastward, toward the other side of the Vale do Anhangabaú– where the avenue is located– was a region of small farms (like all land around the hill), interspersed by roads that connected the city to the country, configured as a highway. Consolação was the road to Pinheiros, connecting São Paulo to the market in Sorocaba and to the southern provinces. To the north, São João, the road to the Tietê River, one of the entryways to the farms of western São Paulo, dominated by coffee, that would come to transform the capital.

The inauguration of the Viaduto do Chá in 1892 guaranteed the city’s extension eastward, where new neighborhoods were popping up. The first estate homes built by the more affluent sectors, surrounded by a growing middle class housed in cottages and townhouses, formed the new urban landscape, completed by the shacks and small homes of the poor. These allotments were the results of private initiatives, which placed new properties on the market, glimpsing the easy profits to be made from increased demand. In the strip where today the avenue is located, however, the land held by the Brigadier Luís Antônio de Souza 1One of the wealthiest men of the province, the patriarch of the Souza Queiróz family. was partitioned with one distinction: it was not the sale of land to strangers, but to house the family itself. The eldest son and heir to the Brigadier’s tract, the senator and barron Francisco de Souza Queiróz, opened up a small street in the center of the property, the “Long Alley” (“Beco Comprido”), 2The first reference to a Rua São Luiz is found in the “Planta da Cia Cantareira de Águas e Esgotos,” dating to 1881. The origin of the name is explained by the Francophone pretensions of the Paulista elite, but also in honor of the family patriarch. In the “Planta da Cidade de 1810,” based on the survey by engineer Rufino José Felizardo e Costa, the lands are identified as “Terras do cel. Luiz Antonio” who was promoted to Brigadier in 1818. See LEFÈBVRE, José Eduardo de Assis, De beco a avenida: a história da Rua São Luiz. São Paulo: Edusp, 2006. Unless otherwise indicated, all data on the avenue were taken from this work. in order to slice it up into tracts for his sons to receive a generous plot of land with an “urban” front.

With the continued growth of the city, which passed the 30,000 inhabitants of 1870 with 240,000 by 1900, reaching 579,000 in 1920, arose the need to review the little-planned central area, which was increasingly congested. In 1924, the Board of City Building presented the “Perímetro de Irradiação,” a route designed to encircle and unite the old center (the “colina”) and the new (the region of the República Square). Incorporated into the 1930 Plano de Avenidas–the first city plan, effected in the following decades–one of the central focal points of the ring was Ipiranga Avenue and the Caetano de Campos building, 3The building’s demolition was planned for the Government Palace to be constructed in its place. Only the small building of the Jardim da infância was effectively demolished. See TOLEDO, Benedito Lima de. Prestes Maia e as origens do urbanismo moderno em São Paulo. São Paulo: Ed. Apcd, 2005. articulated the radial routes that reinforced the city’s tendency toward concentric-radial growth. In this plan, São Luís Street, which then encompassed other residencies and not only the Souza Queirózes, had its bed expanded, becoming a luxurious boulevard in the city’s most valued neighborhood, in which, alongside 17 estate homes, were the Circolo Italiano, the colégio Paulista, the Rádio Cosmos (after América) and the vila Normanda, a set of picturesque apartments for the middle class, the ground floor of which housed the famous restaurant, La Pipotte

Planta da cidade de 1810, eng. Rufino José Felizardo e Costa. Fonte: Repositório digital de mapas do Arquivo do Estado de São Paulo.
City map, 1810. Engineer: Rufino José Felizardo e Costa. Source: Repositório digital de mapas do Arquivo do Estado de São Paulo.

Street widening projects involve demolition. One of the effects of this– already accounted for in the Plan, with the intention to transform the face of the city into a new and modern metropolis – was the verticalization of highways. And São Luís did not escape from this. From the 1940s and into the following two decades various high rises arose– among them the Louvre, by Artacho Jurado–, but also the São Luís building, by Jacques Pilon; the Moreira Salles building, by Gregori Warchavchik; the Ouro Preto building, by Franz Heep and the Galeria Metrópole by Salvador Candia. 4The list can be expanded to include the Copan, the Eiffel and the Califórnia, by Niemeyer, on Ipiranga, at the República Square and on Dom José de Barros Street, the Esther building by Álvaro Vital Brasil also on Ipiranga, to complete the team of stars who developed the República region during this time. Carlos and Ana, characters in the film “São Paulo S.A.” by Luís Sergio Person, have lunch on the terrace of the recently-constructed Galeria Metrópole with the square in the background, exploring the new possibilities that the metropole offered to those who were willing to participate in its development.

The Louvre building is paradigmatic of the process that the real estate marked required of the city’s central region – when the buildings from the beginning of the century were demolished one by one to make space for new high rises – and its construction, an index of the possibilities that the city offered; to the extent that even without a degree in architecture, Artacho Jurado designed and constructed dozens of buildings in São Paulo. From 1942, with the new Tenancy Law (Lei do Inquilinato), the demand for homeownership exponentially grew, since the retraction of the rental market was imposing a new model: either a high rise condo in the center, or cheap land on the periphery, and by the 1950s, the city’s population had already passed one million residents. Artacho saw in this intense growth the opportunity to assert himself on the market, founding his construction company, Monções, participating not only in its development and construction, but also in the financing of sales. Mobilizing a modernist grammar, his buildings, constructed in the city’s elite neighborhoods, translated into the diverse kinds of apartments the diversity of São Paulo’s population. Moreover, these buildings housed a number of public services, semi-public and private, offering an additional attraction to potential buyers.

Sold in 1952 by Monções Construtora e Imobiliária S.A., the plots on São Luís Avenue belonging to the Cintra sisters and Madame Germaine Bouchard, 5Members of the local elite, proprietors of other land and buildings. would be united to house the new Louvre building, designed by Artacho and developed by the engineer Giunio Patella. The immense lot – 70 meters along the avenue – led to the building’s imposing occupation, with an excellent view of the Dom José Gaspar Square. The ground floor and the mezzanine feature a commercial gallery with 45 stores. The 375 apartments designed for 25 floors were eventually reduced to 315, with part of the first five floors in the building’s back block converted into garages–evidence of the transformation of the city between 1952 and 1967, when construction was completed. 6In total, 53,000 sqm of useful area, with 14 units on the floor type. Construction problems endured until 1967. The largest apartment blocks (named the Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Renoir and Velázquez) faced the avenue, and the smaller, located in the rear of the building, the Pedro Américo, ensured the mixing that provided the region with the type of interest it still offers. On the rooftop, a pool and a solarium complete the apartment complex and offer a phenomenal view of the city. Without creating segregated spaces, Artacho Jurado’s apartment buildings offered a unique texture to the urban fabric, which has only recently been recognized. 7On the work of Artacho Jurado, see DEBES, Ruy. Artacho Jurado: arquitetura proibida. São Paulo: Ed. Senac, 2008. According to Debes, the Louvre building completed the era of Jurado’s high rises in the city, as the company’s financial problems paralyzed its activities. As a self-taught architect, his work had to wait until the twenty-first century to enter onto the list of the city’s great architecture.

The process of verticalization experienced on São Luís had begun with the Biblioteca Municipal de Jacques Pilon (the Jacques Pilon Municipal Library), built in 1942, which ensured increasing public traffic at the address, a type of intellectualism in construction. After all, the Escola Normal – in the Caetano de Campos building – also housed the Faculdade de Filosofia of the recently-founded Universidade de São Paulo. São Paulo’s confined intelligentsia, which made its rounds throughout the area, frequented the Jaraguá bookstore, on Marconi; the Vienense bakery, on Barão de Itapetininga, where the Francesa bookstore was also located; and they haunted the Barba Azul, the Mirim and the Arpège bars, completing a bohemian circle at the bar of the Hotel Eldorado. The Triângulo and Italiana bookstores, on the Louvre’s ground floor, attracted these and other readers who came to the Library, seeking the new work that was brought in monthly. Thus, São Paulo transformed itself into a cultural metropolis, competing with the capital, Rio, that dominated in this area. 8For an emotional memory of the region, see PRADO JR., Bento. A Biblioteca e os bares na década de 50. Revista da Biblioteca Mário de Andrade, n. 50, São Paulo, 1992. Also see ALMEIDA PRADO, Décio de. “O Clima de uma época”. In: AGUIAR, Flavio (org.). Antonio Candido: pensamento e militância. São Paulo: Humanitas, 1999, pp. 25-43 e MESQUITA, Alfredo. “No tempo da Jaraguá”. In: LAFER, Celso (org.). Esboço de figura: homenagem a Antonio Candido. São Paulo: Duas Cidades, 1979, pp. 39-61. Cinelândia, constructed on São João under the inspiration of Rio’s Central Avenue, composed the system of arts based in the region, which had since 1948 included the Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM) and the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), both at the headquarters of the Diários Associados on 7 de Abril Street. 9Housed in high rises, cultural services were flanked by sophisticated shops and travel agencies – during a time in which air travel was uncommon – which increased the feeling of sophistication along those walks.

Even with the transfer of the Faculdade de Filosofia to Maria Antônia Street and with the leave of the museums from 7 de Abril, the region never lost its cultural interest and urban quality. Caetano Veloso, who lived at the corner of Ipiranga and São Luís in the 1960s, described: “It was so nice to live in the heart of a big city, among big buildings. Above all, because our apartment had an open balcony, with a strong railing, where I could sit to see the sky, the traffic down before, feel the wind and fill Dedé with fear that I had fallen”. 10See VELOSO, Caetano. Verdade Tropical. São Paulo: Cia. das Letras, 1999, pp. 234. Também Gilberto Gil also lived there: “Gil lived at one end of the Praça da República, which could be considered a continuation of Avenida São Luís, where the building that Dedé and I lived in was.” Caetano’s descriptions demonstrate the passage from 1950s glamor to the cosmopolitanism of the 1960s. Between the 1940s and mid-1970s, São Luís avenue was a coveted address, its buildings the object of desire for those who wanted to live at the heart of the metropolis.

With the process of decentralization that would come to pass beginning in the 1970s, the transformation of parallel streets (Barão de Itapetininga, 7 de Abril, 24 de Maio) into sidewalks, the migration of real estate interests to other centralities, notably Paulista Avenue and later Berrini; linked with the explosion of urban sprawl that impeded the existence of a centralized center, resulted in an immense fragmentation of services and commerce that undoubtedly affected the central region, causing it, too, to sprawl out, in a feeling of abandonment. The escalation of poverty and violence led to the shrinking of the city’s internal spaces. At the same time, changes in sociability, in leisure and business, led to the closing of cinemas and bookstores, such as the closures of the Cine Metrópole, the Cine Odeon, the Cine Copan, and the abandonment of some of its stores; but, it should be noted, with hardly a single vacancy in any of its apartments. The architectural and urban quality, and perhaps the real and symbolic importance of the avenue in the city’s imaginary, maintained general interest in it.

Today, São Paulo is experiencing a promising moment: the new generations coming to live in the city center–not only single youths or the elderly, but also families with young children of a new middle class that seeks to rebuild relations with the urban center–have guaranteed the República neighborhood a vitality that is complete with an immense transient population that passes through the region every day. Students of the colleges in the center, from various walks of life, mingle with African immigrants, animating the streets. The IAB has once again a café and bookstore, the mezzanine of the Copan houses the Pivô gallery; executives lunch at the old Almanara or the new Dona Onça; the old Casa Califórnia is no longer the same, but the prix-fixe lunches continue to be served at the region’s “butecos” (small bars), particularly at the balcony of Ita, on Boticário Street. The old Paribar has been renewed as a hip address, housing weekend parties that, civilly, vies for space on the square with the corner bar’s weekend samba. Obviously, poverty has not departed from this landscape. All Brazilian inequality is evidenced and made explicit in this region. The cinemas never reopened. The Library, though renovated, is unable to maintain a café–but it is now open 24 hours a day. The desire to occupy the city, respecting differences, to pass through the squares, to sit outside and drink a beer or read a book, to ride a bike – to live in the city – ensures the endurance of life on São Luís. The museu do louvre at the Louvre building can complete all this by exposing, in its own structure, the tension between an urban landscape in conflict, transitory and inconstant, and the desire for occupation and reinvention of urban space.

 

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This text was originally published in the book the autobiography of monalisa (museu do louvre pau-brazyl, 2016) and revised in June, 2021.

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  • 1
    One of the wealthiest men of the province, the patriarch of the Souza Queiróz family.
  • 2
    The first reference to a Rua São Luiz is found in the “Planta da Cia Cantareira de Águas e Esgotos,” dating to 1881. The origin of the name is explained by the Francophone pretensions of the Paulista elite, but also in honor of the family patriarch. In the “Planta da Cidade de 1810,” based on the survey by engineer Rufino José Felizardo e Costa, the lands are identified as “Terras do cel. Luiz Antonio” who was promoted to Brigadier in 1818. See LEFÈBVRE, José Eduardo de Assis, De beco a avenida: a história da Rua São Luiz. São Paulo: Edusp, 2006. Unless otherwise indicated, all data on the avenue were taken from this work.
  • 3
    The building’s demolition was planned for the Government Palace to be constructed in its place. Only the small building of the Jardim da infância was effectively demolished. See TOLEDO, Benedito Lima de. Prestes Maia e as origens do urbanismo moderno em São Paulo. São Paulo: Ed. Apcd, 2005.
  • 4
    The list can be expanded to include the Copan, the Eiffel and the Califórnia, by Niemeyer, on Ipiranga, at the República Square and on Dom José de Barros Street, the Esther building by Álvaro Vital Brasil also on Ipiranga, to complete the team of stars who developed the República region during this time.
  • 5
    Members of the local elite, proprietors of other land and buildings.
  • 6
    In total, 53,000 sqm of useful area, with 14 units on the floor type. Construction problems endured until 1967.
  • 7
    On the work of Artacho Jurado, see DEBES, Ruy. Artacho Jurado: arquitetura proibida. São Paulo: Ed. Senac, 2008. According to Debes, the Louvre building completed the era of Jurado’s high rises in the city, as the company’s financial problems paralyzed its activities. As a self-taught architect, his work had to wait until the twenty-first century to enter onto the list of the city’s great architecture.
  • 8
    For an emotional memory of the region, see PRADO JR., Bento. A Biblioteca e os bares na década de 50. Revista da Biblioteca Mário de Andrade, n. 50, São Paulo, 1992. Also see ALMEIDA PRADO, Décio de. “O Clima de uma época”. In: AGUIAR, Flavio (org.). Antonio Candido: pensamento e militância. São Paulo: Humanitas, 1999, pp. 25-43 e MESQUITA, Alfredo. “No tempo da Jaraguá”. In: LAFER, Celso (org.). Esboço de figura: homenagem a Antonio Candido. São Paulo: Duas Cidades, 1979, pp. 39-61.
  • 9
    Housed in high rises, cultural services were flanked by sophisticated shops and travel agencies – during a time in which air travel was uncommon – which increased the feeling of sophistication along those walks.
  • 10
    See VELOSO, Caetano. Verdade Tropical. São Paulo: Cia. das Letras, 1999, pp. 234. Também Gilberto Gil also lived there: “Gil lived at one end of the Praça da República, which could be considered a continuation of Avenida São Luís, where the building that Dedé and I lived in was.” Caetano’s descriptions demonstrate the passage from 1950s glamor to the cosmopolitanism of the 1960s.

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