The Supremes – Track 5

2009.Oct.28 Wednesday · 5 comments

in Life

“The United Provinces had not at this time any general conspicuous for military genius. The laurels gained by Don Antonio Gonsalez Balcarce at Suipacha were blighted at the Desaguadero. His brother, Don Martin Balcarce, was in Chili in command of Argentine auxiliaries. The victory of Don Jose Rondeau, in front of Monte Video, was the first and last of his career ; he lacked the qualities of a commander-in- chief. Belgrano was wanting both in technical knowledge and in warlike instinct, but was the best of them all. Of the generals of division, none had as yet shown any capacity for separate command. The revolution which had been so far opposed by mediocre generals and badly-organized troops, had now to contend against skilful generals and well-disciplined troops.”

– from an 1893 translation of The Emancipation of South America, by William Pilling

I’ve had this sitting on the back burner for awhile, actually having walked the fifth street in my little sojourn back in August and then lost track of it. About General Antonio González de Balcarce there seems to be little to say. He was a military commander, born into a military family – not only his father and grandfather had been military men, but virtually all of his brothers went on to careers in some part of the military. He was actually born on the street that now carries the family name, at what would become Balcarce 161, which is now disappeared into the structure of a bank (supposedly there are two rooms of the original building still preserved somewhere within the new one). Though he participated in multiple military campaigns and was, at one point, the righthand go-to commander for everyone’s favorite liberator, San Martín, he is probably most known for having been the hero of The Battle of Suipacha, part of the war for independence in “upper Peru”, what became Bolivia. After all the campaigning he took up the post of governor for the province of Buenos Aires, and after a couple of years was appointed fifth Supreme Director of Argentina, taking over from our fill-in guy, Álvarez Thomas, however again, as an “interim” director, serving out a period of less than three months.

Although there is a small town out in the province of BA, and various plazas and statues around the country, within the city, there is, as best I’ve discovered, a small plaza named after him up in the north edge barrio of Nuñez, which I haven’t made my way to for a photo. Perhaps one day when I’m up that direction. In the meantime, I’ve walked the street that bears his name – though throughout history it has gone by others: in 1734, Calle del Fuerte; in 1769, Santo Cristo (he was born in 1774, so it would have been this at that time); in 1808, Gana; and since 1821 (two years after he died), Balcarce. The street runs between the barrios of Monserrat and San Telmo, parallel to Av. Colón just a block away.

Balcarce walk - Casa Rosada

Arguably its most famous address, the street begins at the Plaza de Mayo and Balcarce 50, the Casa Rosada, originally the site of the first fort built to protect Buenos Aires, Fort Juan Baltazar of Austria, by Juan de Garay in the late 16th century – at that time, the fort actually was on the waterline of the Rio de la Plata, long before landfills and dams and such. In 1713 the fort was replaced by the Castle San Miguel, complete with turrets and fanciful touches, and became the seat of the colonial government. A large neoclassical portico was added in 1825, after the war of independence, and then the entire thing was demolished in 1857 and replaced with bits of the current Italianate structure, and became the Taylor’s Customs House. Various other structures were built over the years, expanding into a little complex of buildings, and at the end of the 1800s it was all morphed into a whole, with most of the customs house being demolished, yet again (part of it remains as a museum that can be visited), and became the Casa Rosada that we know today in 1898.

Balcarce walk - Academia Nacional de Historia

This building takes up the ensuing 100 block, along the side that once included Balcarce 161, where our erstwhile hero was born. Of note here, the National History Academy takes up a good portion of, at least the lower part of this building. There’s a bank branch here, within which, somewhere towards the back, is preserved the original staircase of the family home.

Balcarce walk

In the first few blocks of the walk, there are several grand old buildings like this one.

Balcarce walk

Quickly, a stretch is reached where there is a strip of tourist-oriented tango clubs – big, splashy shows and mediocre dinners….

Balcarce walk

Probably originally an industrial building of some sort, now home to Suterh, the obra social, more or less a union, representing building workers, though these organizations go beyond union sorts of activities as we know them, including organized social and community activities, counseling services, etc. – I know this building also houses one of the better gyms in the area.

Balcarce walk - ex casa de moneda

Originally the Treasury Annex (the main treasury building being a block over on Defensa at that time), this building was taken over years ago as archives for the Army. Back in 2002 it was slated to be turned into a science museum, to be known as the Casa de Conocimiento, or “House of Knowledge”, but as best I can determine, the Army has simply refused to vacate the property.

Balcarce walk

The first of two points where Balcarce “jogs”, off to the left here where it crosses Chile, and a cute little corner with several good cafes.

Balcarce walk

There’s a fair amount of graffiti in the area, but also some quite interesting tango-related murals here and there as you glance about.

Balcarce walk

One of the more famous spots for tango shows, El Viejo Almacén has been going strong since 1968, here at the corner of Av. Independencia. Just here, Balcarce, and the barrio of Monserrat, end and the street skips a block, as it curves down to meet Av. Colon – a quick walk around and you find yourself on the San Telmo part of our little tour.

Balcarce walk

Looking up the start of the San Telmo stretch….

Balcarce walk

At the corner of Estados Unidos is the well-known restaurant Los Loros, run by Luciano Sosto, also owner of Lucky Luciano in Palermo. Luciano is also one of the best known sommeliers in the city and was founder of one of the two principal sommelier training schools here.

Balcarce walk

Currently undergoing massive renovation, here at #1016 is the Casa de Juan Carlos Castagnino, a famous painter and illustrator, who moved his studio into this late 18th century house in the 1960s. He is probably best known for a famous illustrated version of the classic Argentine literary epic, Martin Fierro.

Balcarce walk

Almost across the street is the site of the former Viejo Hotel, built in the 1890s, and now home to a group of artists galleries.

Balcarce walk

Another block or so further on, and there is an interesting series of display windows with various fanciful figures, though I don’t know for sure, it seems to be a place for restoration, or perhaps simply display, of carousel animals.

Balcarce walk

One of the old mansions from the era when this was quite the swanky ‘hood. Long abandoned, and I couldn’t find any more information about it. Though one notable thing, apparently one of the infamous underground tunnels that form a maze under a good part of San Telmo ends here at this corner. I didn’t see an address on the wall to look it up, but I think it was actually a part of a complex with the next, and neighboring building…

Balcarce walk

…the former State orphanage, also long abandoned. As to what these buildings were before that, I don’t know.

Balcarce walk

This building always catches my eye, perhaps just because of the beautiful curve to the outer wall – I’d guess, at least at this point, it’s “just a house”.

Balcarce walk

Coming into the last block, mostly just small apartment buildings, you can see the onion domes and spires of the Russian Orthodox Church peeking over the top.

Balcarce walk

And, Balcarce ends at Parque Lezama and its amphitheater.

One more Supreme Director left to go… then, hmm, do I start on the next round of leaders?


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Ken Sternberg October 28, 2009 at 11:59

Very interesting neighborhoods, Dan. It’s good to see some off the beaten track areas of the city. That “just a house” looks like it was either a fort or a jail at some point.

Alan Patrick October 29, 2009 at 00:57

Hi Dan,

Really enjoyed this post. Hope you do continue!

By the way, the building you described as: “Probably originally an industrial building of some sort, now home to Suterh”, was originally the printing press of the La Prensa newspaper (which has its former offices at the start of Avenida de Mayo). You can see the “LP” insignia across the top of this buidling.

Take care,


dan October 29, 2009 at 08:20

Alan – Thanks, good to know about the building too.

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