Argentina: “A Wonder of the Century” The Incredible History of Club Hotel de la Ventana
From what was considered the most luxurious hotel in South America, only a few bricks are standing that tell a shocking story. From the Belle Epoque to decay, home for German sailors and a specially built train to the door
The Guide Javier Gómez, of Tierra Ventana, stops the 4×4 behind the wide trunk of a huge oak planted more than 100 years ago between the undulations of Sierra de la Ventana , and lights up a tablet in which black and white images begin to happen: an impeccable porter carrying a huge tray with delicacies, gentlemen wearing suit and hats and ladies with elegant dresses coming down from a train, a worker posing with pride in the power plant A steamer, an impressive building crowned by a high tower in the centre with the Sierras as background, a huge and luxurious party room with parquet floor and grand piano.
They are all images of the former Club Hotel de la Ventana. This surprisingly luxurious hotel opened amongst the Sierras on the outskirts of what is now Villa Ventana, which then did not exist as a locality- almost 108 years ago- and was considered at the time the most luxurious hotel in all of South America.
“Its dimensions and details were spectacular,” says Javier. Details: “With a covered area of 6,400 m2, it had 136 rooms, 56 bathrooms and four suites with two bedrooms, kitchen, dining room and bathrooms with gold and silver faucets. The furniture was made of oak brought from Paris, the linen was Italian thread and the mattresses of the fabric of Brin. Also, it had a solarium gallery, a Louis XVI-style restaurant, a winter garden, a party room for 150 people, three casino rooms, a mezzanine-night club, two hairdressers, a tower lookout, a music room for concerts, a library, a site for equestrian sports, golf and tennis courts, among many other facilities. ”
Also it had a bakery, farm and orchards, long lines of fruit trees, blacksmithing, carpentry, engine room, power plant, mechanical workshop, two laundries and tailoring.
The Grand Opening party was on November 11th, 1911 (11/11/11), with guests from the high society who arrived on luxurious trains specially chartered from Buenos Aires. One of his guests was former President Julio Argentino Roca, who named it “The Wonder of the century.” However… It only functioned as a hotel for six years. “Ah, that lavish opening banquet was attended by staff of the Plaza Hotel in Buenos Aires, who attended the Club Hotel until its closure,” adds Javier.
Then he starts the truck, moves slowly and between the trees appear the ruins of the wonder, which impact by its magnitude. And although the hotel is almost nothing more than memories, images, and stories, visiting its ruins is one of the obligatory excursions in Sierra de la Ventana. A trip to a countryside that is no longer.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Doctor Félix Muñoz considered the area’s climate perfect for curing respiratory and nervous diseases ( TB ). He thought of building a hospital or care centre to treat these diseases.
In search of investors, his friend Manuel Láinez, owner of land in the area, knocked on the door of the British company Ferrovia del Sud, which managed a successful railroad branch and saw the proposal as an excellent opportunity to increase the traffic of their passengers. But they did not think of just a hospital but a gigantic hotel vacation complex.
“The company directory selected about 70 hectares ceded in shares by Don Manual,” ‘Las Vertientes’ ” its establishment, framed by the Brooks Of the Stones and Belisario. On this surface, they would establish a large hotel of rest and pleasure for the senior officials dedicated to the construction of the railway networks of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia, “detailed Stella Maris Rodríguez and Sergio Rodríguez in his book “Club Hotel de La Ventana, the story of a giant.”
In 1903 they inaugurated the train station that little later was called Sauce Grande (later Sierra de la Ventana was renamed), and a year later began the construction of a massive building with bricks specially manufactured by Ernesto Tornquist.
For the first few seasons, the company had arranged cars to take passengers and their luggage from the Sauce Grande station to the hotel, some 19 km. But soon, with the demand and increasing influx of passengers, this transport proved insufficient. So It was decided to build an exclusive railway branch, a narrow rail that would bring the passengers to the very door of the hotel.
This branch rail of 19 picturesque kilometres in the middle of the Sierras was inaugurated on November 30, 1914. From then on, the passengers could descend on a careful platform to the hotel doors, where there was a small station with a waiting room. From there, they entered the main hall of the establishment by a path demarcated by dozens of rose bushes.
A truncated illusion
In 1913, the effects of economic depression had begun to be noticed in the country, and in 1914 the beginning of the First World War was added, forcing budgetary adjustments. And although the hotel began to continue at a loss, it continued to do so, and on July 9, 1916, it celebrated the centenary of independence with a lavish party. Among the participants was Princess Isabel of Bourbon, the Prince of Wales, Brazil’s president, and hundreds of other special guests.
But there was little hope left after a draconian law change: in 1917, a “gambling ban” law ordered the cessation of activities of all gambling halls in the nation. The Club Hotel de la Ventana was closed to the public, and its owners, mainly English, had the hotel liquidated soon after, on March 14th, 1920. The narrow Gauge railway branch closed a week later on March 21st.
In 1924, the Province of Buenos Aires government took it over with the plan to install a holiday colony, but the project never prospered.
An unexpected episode during World War I brought hope for the hotel: In December 1939, the German battleship Admiral Graf Spee reached the Río de la Plata, pursued by three British cruisers. It went to the port of Montevideo with severe damage, and its captain, Hans Langfdorff, ordered it to sink on 17 December.
One Day later, 1,055 sailors of the German ship entered Argentina through the port of Buenos Aires. Captain Langsdorff committed suicide on December 20, and the national government sent the sailors to different parts of the country: 250 to Córdoba, 200 to Santa Fe, 100 to Mendoza, 50 to San Juan, and the rest to Martín García Island.
In December 1943, 350 of them were transferred in a special train to Colonel Pringles, and from there, in trucks of the Army until they reached the Club Hotel, where they were dedicated to working on refurbishing its facilities:
He rebuilt the electricity, the boilers, the heating, and the cold-storage rooms were re-operated; The gardens flourished again, and the seamen became quite integrated into the local community. In fact, the orchestra of the battleship, which they called “The Viennese”, became famous in the area because on Saturdays, they performed in concerts and dances for the benefit of German locals in Tornquist and Coronel Suárez.
Among them were cabinet makers and carvers who sold or gave away their work, like an Argentinean shield carved by Gerard Ludwig, destined to adorn a crest on the Argentine flag.
But the war ended, and in February 1946, the crew were brought back to Buenos Aires and from there to Germany as prisoners of war. Later several returned, and some married Argentine women and stayed on to live in the country.
The Final Decay
But the hotel went back to silence and no longer woke up. Then began its final decline, abandonment, and worse, looting: pieces of tableware appeared in Mar Del Plata Or Bahía Blanca, and some furniture was seen in Necochea.
In 1961, the Congregación Salesiana obtained a concession to install a recreational centre there, but it lasted little time.
Then it was established by the Institute of Instituto de Ordenamiento de Vertientes e Ingeniería Forestal Florentino Ameghino, and there were some renovation efforts. Then there was talk of full rehabilitation. There were plans and even called for a tender, which was presented to several companies.
In 1974, for a short time, it became occupied by units of the Command of the Body V, which was exercised in the area. They cleaned some rooms, and the old giant seemed to be habitable again. But again, it lasted little time.
In 1978, the then Under Secretary of Agrarian Affairs of the province of Buenos Aires, engineer Salas, said that the hotel should be demolished because it had no historical interest or value and maintenance was not justified. But even this wasn’t fulfilled.
In 1980 it was bought by the Commercial and Industrial Corporation Guarani, with the promise of investing five million dollars in rehabilitating it as a tourist centre, with a project elaborated by a study of Architecture La Plata.
Again on the night of July 8, 1983, there was talk of restoration and reopening, but the legendary hotel was devoured by fire.
The surveys spoke of an accidental fire, and they specified it was caused by lightning in the middle of a storm, but the rumours of an intentional fire also ran faster than the fire. What an ignominious end for an icon that was a past parade of luxury and opulence.
The Club Hotel de la Ventana had a small train station, with terraces and all, and a large entrance hall and reception room, where guests entered. Facilities included:
-Large Party Hall with up to 150 seats where films were shown
-Mezzanine for card games and a nightclub
-Three Casino Rooms
-Two Nursery Rooms
-Large closed Gym
-Torre Mirador, from which you could enjoy the Serrano landscape
-Music Room for concerts
-Large Pavilion for staff
-Confectionery in a separate building
-Water Inlet and cistern for water supply
-Golf course with Clubhouse
-Polo, football and tennis Courts
-Farm, orchard and fruit trees for supply.
It was inaugurated on November 11, 1911 (11/11/11), and closed on March 14, 1920.
Source: El Clarin