THE SAYING GOES that Argentines are all Italians who speak Spanish and want to be English, which is only just short of the truth. Whatever the quip’s verity, Argentina is a nation of the expatriated and for the centennial year of the 1810 May Revolution, the communities from each of the major mother countries — Spain, Italy, Germany, et cetera — built monuments in dedicated places both to commemorate the contributions their kinsman made to their adopted country as well as to celebrate peace and friendship between Argentina and the given motherland. The Plaza Italia, for example, lamentably bears a monument to the scoundrel Garibaldi, donated by the Italian community.
For their monumental contribution to the city of Buenos Aires, the English built a tower in the Edwardian style, rather cleverly as it was still the Edwardian period, and the depth of their cleverness was furthered by their naming it the English Tower (officially Torre de los Ingleses, or Tower of the English). Situated in the center of the Plaza Britannia (Britannia Square) at the junction of the San Martin and Libertador avenues, the Tower was designed by engineer Ambrose Poynter and built by Hopkins and Gardom completely (except for mortar) out of materials from England. Around the base are sculptural representations of the English rose, the Scottish thistle, the Welsh dragon, and the Irish shamrock. The dedication at the entrance to the Tower reads “Al Gran Pueblo Argentino. Los residentes británicos. Salud. 25 de mayo 1810-1910” or: “To the Great Argentine People, from the British residents: Salud. May 25, 1810-1910″. Towards the rear of the photo to the right you can see the Kavanagh building (Edificio Kavanagh).
The Kavanagh building is situated on the Plaza San Martin across the avenue from the Plaza Britannia. This 29-storey apartment building was designed by the firm of Sanchez, Lagos, and de la Torre, and was the tallest building in Latin America when built in 1936. The sharp art deco design on an angulated plot is said to resemble a ship at sea, and of course Buenos Aires is a port city — its residents are called porteños after all.
The Kavanagh is unquestionably my favorite ‘modern’ building in Buenos Aires, but then modern architecture has not been kind to the city, at least not in the post-war period (c.f. the National Library). The structures built in the 1950’s were only drab and dull whereas the 60’s and 70’s bore the ill fruits of the ‘lets see how many things we can do with concrete’ trend and tended towards the insidiously hideous rather than the mundane. But no matter however irritating these later obtrusions are, at least Buenos Aires still has the Kavanagh.
Despite the generations of immigration, investment, interbreeding, and cultural interchange, relations between Argentina and Great Britain were somewhat marred, shall we say, by the shameful attempt by the unhinged wing of the Argentine military to annex the Falklands and rename every geographical feature therein (seriously, I’ve seen the maps). When they were done renaming everything in the Falklands (or ‘Malvinas’ as they would have us believe) the craze apparently spread homewards to the capital. The Plaza Britannia was renamed the Plaza Fuerza Aerea Argentina (from Britannia Square to Argentine Air Force Square), while the Torre de los Ingleses was rechristneed the more ambiguous Torre Monumental. In an even more unfriendly move, the Memorial to the Fallen of the ‘Malvinas’ was built in Plaza San Martin facing the English Tower across the street. In the spirit of peace and friendship, especially regarding two countries which have such deep links as Britain and Argentina, the Memorial really ought to be removed and placed in some other suitable location in the city. Until that time, it remains the Plaza Britannia in my books, and as for the ‘Malvinas’, no such place exists.
The ‘Malvinas’ memorial viewed from the rear, with the English Tower across the Avenue.