The Legend of the Kavanagh Building in Buenos Aires

Located at the intersection of Florida and San Martin, you can’t avoid noticing the imposing Kavanagh Building, a 1930s skyscraper that combines Modernist, Art Deco, and Rationalist influences. There is an incredible story behind this iconic building in the Retiro neighborhood of Buenos Aires.  The Kavanagh Building was born from the despair, spite and pride of a legendary woman. But how does a broken heart translate into architecture? How does an emotional grudge beget the once tallest building in Latin America? Read on to find out.

The tale begins in the 1930s, when Corina Kavanagh was a rich, beautiful and determined woman. Her family was extremely wealthy but with no patrician “old money” blood in their lineage. The aristocracy of Argentina looked down on them and disparagingly called them “new rich.” During those years Corina had maintained a love affair with the young high-born son of Mercedes Castellanos de Anchorena, who strongly opposed the relationship and managed to end it. Corina Kavanagh, hurt and humiliated, dedicated to take revenge.  She worked out a bloodless revenge… with reinforced concrete.

The Basilica of the Holy Sacrament, now open to the public, was originally the private mausoleum of the Anchorenas, who lived nearby across the San Martin Plaza in the mansion which is now the Argentine Foreign Ministry. But that was not close enough for Mercedes Castellanos de Anchorena, the matriarch of the family.  She intended to buy a vacant lot right in front of the Basilica to build a new family mansion.
Ready to hit where it hurts most, Corina Kavanagh decided to foil her nemesis’ aspirations.  She waited for Mercedes to go on vacation and snatched up the parcel of land by doubling the offer.  Losing no time, Corina contracted the architects Sánchez, Lagos and de La Torre (quite sought after at the time) to design and construct an enormous building with a single purpose: to completely obstruct the view of the Anchorena church from as many angles as possible, but mainly from the windows of the Anchorena mansion.

Corina spared no expense and had to sell three estancias in Venado Tuerto to finance her project. Construction began in late 1934 and just 14 months later in early 1936, the Kavanagh Building was complete.  This was a record breaking construction pace, but not the only record the building broke.  The Kavanagh was the tallest reinforced concrete structure in the world and for many years remained the tallest building in Latin America. The Kavanagh was also the first building in Argentina to boasts a central air conditioning system. The building’s echelon form played nicely with the rationalist style in vogue at the time, but mainly served to get around building code constraints that limited its size.

The Kavanagh Building has 33 floors and 105 unique luxury apartments (no two apartments have the same layout).   Its 12 elevators, five staircases, and five independent entrances, combined with the ground floor shopping center and underground parking were a real novelty for the time.  Even more astonishing were the swimming pool, integrated drycleaner service, cold storage for furs and carpets, central telephone system and safe deposit box vault.

Corina’s revenge was complete.  Even today, the only place from where you can get a good view of the Basilica of the Holy Sacrament is the alley that runs between the Plaza Hotel and the Kavanagh Building Tower, which is called Corina Kavanagh Street.

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