Notes on the Geography of Uruguay: Montevideo: Pocitos to Carrasco
In the 19th century, wealthy residents of Montevideo commonly lived in Prado, four miles north of the Ciudad Vieja. Sometime about 1900 they began moving to the coast east of the old city. We'll join them.
We're on the south coast, just east of the Ciudad Vieja. Here, facing the water, is the headquarters of Mercosur, the organization linking the economies of Uruguay and its neighbors. Odd home for a bureaucracy, but when opened in 1909 this was the Casino Parque hotel. The city took it over in 1914 and enlarged it in 1938. Mercosur wasn't born until the 1990s.
Here, about half a mile west of Mercosur, is the oddly named Rome, Portofino and Nervi Building, from 1954. It may be ugly but it's significant as one of the first buildings to take advantage of a 1949 law allowing Uruguay's so-called "horizontal property regime." The architect was the very busy and successful Walter Pintos Risso, the first architect to take advantage of the law.
Was the law a good idea? The Guía Arquitectónica Y Urbanística de Montevideo, published by the municipality, suggests otherwise. The law "aimed at increasing access to property but in reality increased real estate speculation and radical typological substitution in the central area and the nearby coastal area (Centro and Pocitos)" (p. 18).
We're about two miles east of the last image and in the waterfront neighborhood called Pocitos, from the stream of that name. Like dominos, old homes have been replaced by high-rise apartments.
The old homes themselves began to appear in the 1880s, when Pocitos was developed as the Ciudad Novisima. An electric tram opened in 1907, which presumably spurred further growth.
I'm waiting for a journalist to interview homeowners about the transition. Somewhere there must be people who spent decades in homes now replaced by the horizontal property regime. These people must still be able to remember where grandmother had her dining room and where the garden swing was located.
How's this for an oddity? It's the Castillo Pittamiglio, built in 1921 and designed by Humberto Pittamiglio. (He added the "h" to his name because it figures in another of his interests, alchemy.) Is it on the waterfront? You bet.
Here's the view from the back door. The building is now a museum and cultural-event venue.
Here's your chance. Place your bid.
Alternatively, just buy an apartment. Act fast; the upper floors are already sold.
Here's a bit of the lineup along the Pocitos waterfront. The street here is Rambla Gandhi. Can you imagine the Mahatma here?
We've come over to the next bay, Buceo, or "diving," so-called because a ship sank here in 1752 and divers salvaged bits of it. The tallest building in the picture is the World Trade Center (every country needs one); its location hints at the city's eastward growth; so does Montevideo Shopping, the city's major mall, which adjoins the tower.
The foreground is part of the Montevideo Yacht Club. (Ambitious countries need one of them, too).
Here's another part of the yacht club. It's a boat-evoking hotel-cum-restaurant-cum-boutique designed by the same Jorge Herrán who designed the customs building in the Ciudad Vieja.
Pleasant enough? The Rambla--this section is the Rambla Armenia--is a busy road but helps keep the waterfront mostly public. Lots of joggers and cyclists and physical culturalists of a hundred stripes. At least they can escape their apartments.
Deelightful! Here's the Edificio Panamericano from 1958 and by the same Raúl Sichero Bouret who built the very similar office tower flanking Plaza Independencia. The sign marks the studio of Oceano, a radio station housed here.
A new neighbor, the Forum Puerto Del Buceo, with apartments starting at just over $200,000 and rising to over a million.
We've come another mile along the coast to just below the Plaza do Armada Nacional. Here's a building with four apartments, each priced a bit over a million dollars. Want a garage? That's $30,000 more.
And finally Carrasco (named after an early settler) with its premier attraction, the casino. Opened about 1920, it closed in 1990 but reopened in 2013 as a Sofitel. The original architects were Jacques Dunant and Gaston Mallet, both based in Buenos Aires.
The layout of the neighborhood was by Charles Thays, a French emigrant also based in Buenos Aires. The implication is that nothing was too good for Carrasco's developers.
Early on, they made sure there was a church, the parish church of Stella Maris, which opened in 1913. Architect: Rafael Ruano.
It's so peaceful that you have to wonder how many people showed up for services in the early years.
Here's the casino today. The hotel closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the casino reportedly stayed open.
And the church.
Here's a local landmark, the chalet called "Le Griffon," from 1917 and designed in part by the same Rafael Ruano who worked on the church.
Front view. Worse for wear?
The house was built in 1914 for Andres Mendizabal, a Basque who had arrived in 1870. It was sold in the 1940s to Don Joaquin Secco Illa and then again in the 1970s for $70,000 to a German resident of Chile, Guillermo Schiess. His son inherited the house but abandoned it. Threatened with a punitive tax on abandoned properties, the son sold the house to the Scotia Bank, which said it planned to restore it.
There's work to do.
The neighbors are an eclectic bunch.
Welcome to the Petit Hotel, which opened as the Anglo Instituto in 1913.
We've circled back to Pocitos for a last peek. Cozy? Homey? Or sobering?
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