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Unlike English Colonial expansion to what now is called the Commonwealth Countries, which were mainly colonised by the middle and lower classes, Argentina was dominated by upper-class immigration for farming.

Towards the end of the 18th century, the ruling class consolidated its position, commonly called “Argentines oligarchy”. It is a group of families who own massive amounts of land, dedicated, especially, to livestock production, in the humid Pampa of Buenos Aires, as well as financiers and large merchants linked to export and import, as well as large producers in some other provinces. Unlike English colonies, these mega-farms were never broken up by their socialist governments.

Through the different Argentine governments, the most homogenous and influential sector of this oligarchy Buenos Aire’s cattle ranchers – has consolidated the best lands with the best soil and climate. What are these families that have, in their hands, the best lands in the country, capable of producing fabulous wealth? We are going to list some of  them, starting from the south of the Province of Buenos Aires:

a) Santamarina Family: had enormous extensions (25 estancias with 120,000 cows and 70,000 sheep) in Tres Arroyos and Tandil. Don Ramón and his son Antonio are owners of the most extensive art gallery in Argentina (a total of 128 works in 1974, 35 were sold for USD 5,000,000).

b) Martinez de Hoz family: extensive fields in Chapadmalal, where the stables of that name operate (and the famous racehorse “Botafogo” is buried). There they built a Norman castle. Also, they have properties in Lincoln, Ascochinga (in Córdoba) and other places in the Province of Buenos Aires.

c) Peralta Ramos family: owners of a large part of the land in the Mar del Plata area, especially Cabo Corrientes, Laguna de Los Padres, Viboratá.

c) Peralta Ramos family: also owners of large farms in the Mar del Plata area, especially Cabo Corrientes, Laguna de Los Padres, Viboratá.

d) Luro Family: same as the previous one, extending stays to Dolores. The Luro and the Peralta Ramos were the founders of Mar del Plata city. The Luro donated the Church of San Pedro in San Luis and San Martín and became the local feudal lords.

e) Familia Cobo: extensive fields in the Partido de la Costa, especially at the entrance to Mar del Plata (Mar de Cobo, Mar Chiquita, and Santa Clara del Mar – by Clara Anchorena – were owned by the Cabo – Anchorena). At the beginning of the century, Héctor Cobo had the estancia “La Armonía”, which reached from Maipü to Miramar (One of the first Cobo was married to Josefa Lavalle, sister of General Juan Lavalle and from there, the Lavalle-Cobo).

f) Guerrero Family: Carlos Guerrero owned fields, from what is today Route 2 and El Salado – where he built his castle – to Pinamar and Villa Gesell. The castle is still preserved at Km 168 of route 2. It was built in 1894 as Villa La Raquel. They are more than 1,000 hectares, 60 landscaped, with plants brought from Europe by the landscape painter Forkel. This extension was extended, by the marriage of Felicitas (the daughter of Don Carlos), with Martín de Álzaga, who owned extensive properties in the area, with a tragic outcome that we will later relate. In that place, the Valeria del Mar spa reminds Valeria Guerrero.

g) Familia Duhau: extensive fields in San Bernardo and Mar de Ajó, up to Aguas Verdes and Santa Teresita (whose name remembers Teresa, the wife of Luis Duhau). They built the Palacio de Cristal, Castillo de los Duhau, or Castillo Solimar in 1931. The estancia had a golf course, a tennis court, and the Playa Verde. The Duhau also built another palace, in Tortuguitas, on a plot of 27 hectares. The property has 36 rooms and 7 rooms.

h) Leloir family: fields adjoining the Duhau, to the north, occupying Santa Teresita, Las Toninas and San Clemente, and in the centre of the Province of Buenos Aires.

i) Ortiz Basualdo family: fields in Las Armas.

j) Lezama Family: Gregorio Lezama was a potentate. His properties were extensive, and the railway station took his surname on a railway route to Mar del Plata. He was married to Angela Alzaga. He lived in Buenos Aires, in a house built in Paseo Colon and Brazil, acquired in 1897 by the Municipality, for 1,500,000 pesos. (Today, the Historical Museum works in the park whose name remembers its former owner.)

k) Families Álzaga (had enormous extensions), Cattle farmers (they come from the farmers raised against General Roses, in 1839, “The Free ones of the South”, their descendants were dedicated to dairy farming) and Alvear: in the zone near Chascomús.

l) Tomquist family: had fields in the Punta Indio area. The town “Veronica” remembers her daughter.

Pereyra Iraola Family: had “San Juan”, a more than 12,000 hectares farm. They currently have only 800 ha. The summer residence had 30 rooms near La Plata and Florencio Varela. They also have ranches in Tres Arroyos and Pehuajó.

n) In the south of the province: Flia. Ayerza, with properties near the Sierra de la Ventana.

o) Flia. Pereda: around Azul.

p) Flia. Casares: Don Vicente Casares owned important extensions. He founded “La Martona”. They were related to the Bioy. The place is called Vicente Casares.

q) Families of Del Carril and Anchorena: in Lobos. Del Carril was a wealthy San Juan landowner and married Tiburcia Domínguez, the owner of large fields. He was the grandfather of Adelina del Carril, the wife of Ricardo Guiraldes. The castle was built in a room. Next to the lagoon, not very accessible, today belongs to the Erdman del Carril.

r) Güiraldes Family: properties in San Antonio de Areco.

s) Familia Unzué and Alvear: in the Province of Buenos Aires centre. Estancia San Jacinto, with the castle built in 1924 by María Unzué and Ángel T. De Alvear. (She was the daughter of Saturnino Unzué). It had 24 rooms, with all materials of first quality, a fabulous delicacy. You could not find any functionality and had to demolish it. The town is called “La Beba”, by Angela “Beba” Alzaga Unzue de Gonzalez Guerrico.

t) Dugan family: huge expanses in Lincoln and General Pinto.

u) Anchorena Family: stay in Pergamino.

v) Perkins Family: stays in Vedia and Lincoln. w) Atucha Family: critical livestock establishment in the vicinity of Zárate.

x) Obligado families and Ramos Mejía: with necessary extensions near San Pedro. The Obligado also built their castle there.

y) Miter family: owner of farms near the Pavón stream, dedicated to exploiting cattle, was a very important farm. Also, he is the owner of one of Argentina’s most influential newspapers, “La Nación”. The power of these families appears in the Real Estate Registry’s cadastre and has been incorporated into the collective memory through popular sayings common at the beginning of the century. The mother reproaches the spoiled child who pretends everything: – Do you think you are the son of Miter? or when he asks for costly gifts: – Do you think I have the Anchorena bag? The power of the Miter and Anchorena was expressed in the various public functions starred by members of both families.

The differential agrarian income

The power of these families becomes essential in the humid Pampas. Most of these lands have been privileged by nature: they are very fertile, with a remarkable layer of hummus and an exceptional climate (which allows it to produce – especially in the wintering fields that enjoy permanent pastures – without investment in protective sheds, as in Europe, and in the best times, with little or no investment in fertilizers).

Its owners are, for this reason, capable of generating fabulous wealth. The meagre costs, about the average world cost (especially for meat), allow a super utility – called differential agrarian rent that constitutes the secret ingredient capable of explaining Argentina’s economic history and, therefore, its political history.

With a financial base of this super income, the oligarchy agreed with British imperialism (railroads, banks, sea fleet, insurance, big trade, etc.) the conversion of Argentina into “the farm for the British Empire” in that it was a semi-colony that generated very cheap food and then imported industrial equipment.

The same oligarchy – through one of its highest representatives, Federico Pinedo – has explained this question: “To say farm in Argentina is to say factories in the open air: it already comes down to a question of costs: the quality of our land and its abundance makes it not convenient for us to add value, because can we produce at lower cost, than say: the French, or indeed any other food exporting country.

For example, take a surface of x ha, producing 50 kilos of meat. Our kilo cost would be one peso, and theirs is would cost eight.

As our territory is, in addition, much larger, and therefore we produce more. So why produce steel if it is more expensive than buying it from overseas? “(Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz estimated that the cost difference would be five to one). Based on these statements by Pineda, caudro’s 1, 2, and 3 have been prepared, which make it possible to understand the mechanism upon which Argentina’s agro-export economy was based, from the last decades of the 19th century to the Second World War. (These are supposedly unrealized quilages and prices for the sole purpose of an example, but they correspond exactly to the relative values set out by Pinedo).

In a particular extension of field (x hectares), French producers achieve 50 kg. of meat, with a total cost of $ 400, which means that every kg. It cost $ 8. To the same extent, Argentine producers achieve 5 kg. of meat, with a total cost of $ 5, which means $ 1 per kg.

But since Argentina has an extension several times higher than France, it can use more fields for livestock. The 50 kg. (which cost France $ 400) in Argentina cost $ 50 (using ten more units of land). From this arises a much higher yield with more significant effort, care, investment, etc., in Argentina.

But it is also clear that even with the conditions of disinterest and parasitism on the part of our oligarchy, the producers of both countries go to the world market with notoriously different costs, in the relation of eight to one, as Pinedo maintains. Suppose now that the international market price is $ 600 for 50 kg. of meat and that, in addition, the miscellaneous expenses necessary for the sale reach $ 150.

That $ 350 is the utility or differential agrarian rent, in favour of Argentina, due to its low costs (eight times lower than the French costs). But what new situation arises if the producers of Argentina reach an agreement with the British imperialist bourgeoisie, for which it builds them an essential platform to develop the livestock business in exchange for a privileged price? What would be the situation, then, if the producers of Argentina accept to share the differential agrarian income, fixing a sale price of $ 400 for the 50 Kg.,

That is, $ 200 below the world market? In this case, the differential agrarian rent is shared between the producers of Argentina and British imperialists.

This last one obtains not only succulent businesses with the profits guaranteed by his investment in railroads, with the insurances in charge of Leng Roberts, with the freight of the English merchant fleet “Blue Star Line”( Vesteys)  using the French invention of refrigeration, that allows meat exporting of the highest quality at very low cost, while the oligarchy of Argentina a solid financial advantage.

The traits of the oligarchy

From this association with imperialism, as a minor member who sentences the country to semi-colony status, the oligarchy acquires the following features: parasitism, absenteeism, and dilapidation. Neither it worries about the returns nor reinvests the high profits, neither in their own fields nor in the industry, abdicating all extended reproduction (because to develop industries would break the agreement with their masters).

Because of this parasitic condition of non-reinvestment and its dilapidating consumption patterns, this oligarchy is capitalist but not bourgeois.

Here lies its great responsibility because the fabulous wealth it perceives -even yielding most of the differential rent- would have allowed it to fully develop an industrial Argentina, mining, fish farming, hydroelectric energy, expanding regional economies, etc.

In general, this oligarchy was absent. The pampas humus and the cows and bulls work for them with the help of a few peasants and an administrator. Only occasionally did they arrive at the ranch to eat an Asado (barbeque) and pamper the peasants paternally.

His life is shared between Europe (during the European summer) and Mar del Plata (during our summer). And in some intermediate months, they might prefer to inhabit their mansions of the northern districts, where they have built new homes to escape the yellow fever of 1871 found in the southern neighbourhoods.

Some of them spend some time in a Quinta de Flores. (The Argentine oligarchy, as can be seen, controls nature because it has erased the winter of their lives, changing their hemisphere). In Europe, they lead a luxurious life comparable only to the Arab Sheikhs who benefited by the oil business.

Excessive Ostentation was the hallmark.

The memories of some refer to oligarchic families who bought tableware in Buenos Aires to use it during the trip and threw it overboard when arriving at the European ports. Of the Gainza Paz it is remembered that they took cows in the trip to have fresh milk during the crossing and to make a roast when arriving.

Some bought titles of nobility, like the English Lords.

The excess reached its height when they became perplexed by the many medieval castles they found in Europe and the lack of them in Argentina, so they hired architects, usually French, to return to the country with the plans and build their palaces here.

The Palaces of the Oligarchy

1) The Anchorena Palace: was built around 1909 by Mercedes Castellanos de Anchorena. It consists of three residences where the families of Emilio, Enrique and Aarón de Anchorena lived. The total covered square meters reaches 8,000 m2. The dining room has 17 m. by 7 m.

The architect was Alejandro Christophersen. It had a tunnel used as a warehouse, with revolving walls.

It was full of tapestries, ivories, Chinese stones, porcelain, Gobelins, and spiders with caireles.

The entrance is copied from the Elisha Palace in Paris. The last private party was the marriage of Leonor Anchorena Uriburu with Alejandro Luro Roca.

The latter managed, in 1936, the sale to the State and was acquired at 1,500,000 pesos (a peasant’s salary was $ 60 per month). Until a short time ago, the Foreign Ministry occupied it. It is between Arenales, Esmeralda, and Basavilbaso. It is enough to contemplate the very high wrought iron gates and the columns, as well as the coatings and the amplitude, to be surprised that it was owned by private individuals.

The Sans Souci Palace: it is located on Av. Del Libertador y Paz, in Victoria, San Fernando, was built around 1914 by the decision of Carlos María de Alvear and Mercedes Elortondo de Alvear. It has 6000 square meters covered, with 9 hectares of gardens and another 16 hectares of grounds that reach the river.

It has 25 bedrooms of 7 meters high, and fourteen important bathrooms. The walls are more than one meter thick.

It has an imperial hall with six dining rooms, a games room, a winter garden, a living room with mirrors, a special dining room with a table of 7.5 meters long for 24 chairs, a billiard room, a library and a chapel plus lounges. When it was inhabited by the Alvear, it had 35 to 40 people at service, who lived in the 40 rooms in the basement.

The Alvears sold it to Monsignor Copello, who, when he died, bequeathed it to the Church, but they considered it very expensive to keep it and sold it to the Durini family. The architect was René Sargent. The garage alone was a residence. The floors are made of Carrara marble and have the most luxurious finishes found anywhere in the world.

The Errázuriz Palace was built around 1915 by Matías Errázuriz, Chilean, and Josefina de Alvear. Today you can visit it in  Liberator 1902. The hall is more than 10 meters high. It consists of 17 rooms. The architect was also Sargent. It was bought by the State in 1937 for slightly less than $ 3,000,000 and given to the Museum of Decorative Art.

4) The Luro family built a castle in 1911, in the province of La Pampa, in its Estancia San Hubert, of around 20,000 hectares. Luro agrees to that property by marriage with one of the daughters of Ataliva Roca, brother of the then president.

It has a reserve for red deer, wild boar and other animals for big game hunting, which they bring from outside parks. There he meets with family and friends to hunt. Today it has become a Tourist Hotel in La Pampa.

5) The Paz Palace: in Santa Fe and Maipú, it was built in 1906. It was the property of the marriage between Aarón Anchorena and Zelmira Paz. It costs $ 4,500,000 and is inspired by the French Louvre. The architect was Louis Sortais. In 1935 it was sold and became the Military Club.). Another mansion of the Anchorena was built in 1909 in Montevideo and Av. Alvear. It was owned by Fernández Anchorena, who sold it to Adelia Harilaos de Olmos. There she stayed with Monsignor Pacelli (later, Pius XII) when he visited us in 1934. Then, the lady donated it to the Church, and today it works as an Apostolic Nunciature.

6) Between 1300 and 1400 Cerrito Street, you can see other palaces of that time. The Pereda Palace (Cerrito 1350) is the Embassy of Brazil (built-in 1908). The Ortiz Basualdo Palace, in Cerrito 1399, corner Arroyo, is the current Embassy of France (1912).

In Cerrito 1441, the Alzaga Unzué Palace is now the Hyatt Hotel. In Cerrito 1329, the current headquarters of the Jockey Club was the Ayerza Palace.

Many more could be cited, among others, Villa Ocampo (by Victoria Ocampo, in Beccar) and Villa Victoria (of the same name, in Mar del Plata), the castle of the Ayerza or Casa Colorada, in Pedro Goyena 166, of Castelar, built by Rómulo Ayerza, with walls of 70 centimetres; the House of the Angel or Quinta Delcasse, in Cuba and Sucre, famous for its duels; the Pereyra Iraola mansion, in Arenales 1212, the Bemberg Palace, in San Isidro, the Menéndez Behety Patagonian ranchers in Libertador and Salguero, and the Bosh Alvear Palace, in Av. Libertador and Darragueyra, current Embassy of the U.S.

At that time, the parasitic and wasteful propensity of the oligarchy reached surprisingly high levels even for them. A consortium composed of Pedro Luro, María Unzué de Alvear, Pereyra Iraola, Blaquier, and others, tried to found a winter city, in Corrientes, in the vicinity of Empedrado, in 1910, for which they bought 158 city blocks and built, in the centre the Continental Hotel, with 12 roulette tables.

It was frustrated because of the First World War. It was finished in 1922 and had to be dynamited in 1942. Ernesto Tomquist built a tower in Mar del Plata, next to the sea, called the Torreón del Monje. In 1904 he donated it to the Mar del Plata commune, and in 1926 it was ceded to the Mar del Plata Gun Club, an institution that installed there a pigeon shooting club.

Another expression of the oligarchic waste is the construction of the Santa Felicitas Church, a gift of Carlos Guerrero to the Church in memory of his daughter Felicitas. She, a teenager, had married an Alzaga, already an old man. He died shortly after which the new widow, young and owner of an enormously valuable inherited estate, argued with Saenz Valiente and Enrique O’campo, an uncle of Victoria.

The latter argued with Felicitas, who kills her and, according to some, commits suicide, although others maintain that he was killed by the victim’s relatives.

The heartbroken father had the Santa Felicitas Church built in La Boca. Donations like this, to earn a place in heaven, were common at the time. The Basilica of the Blessed Sacrament, in the Barrio Norte, was donated in 1916 by Mercedes Castellano de Anchorena.

The building is located at the entrance of Mar del Plata and functions as the Saturnino Unzué Home. It was donated by the latter, a man well known for possessing the best racehorses for competing in Europe.

In Mar del Plata, other constructions speak of this oligarchic excess: the Ortiz Basualdo Castle and the Chateau Frontenac. In Greater Buenos Aires, the fabulous construction that worked at Tigre Hotel today is a state agency. An attentive tour of the Barrio de Flores allows one to see the mansions built by upper-class families for their vacations.

The economic power of dominant families

If this data was not enough, it would be enough to review the succession of Nicolás Anchorena to dispel all doubt (most of this fortune belonged to Fabián Gómez y Anchorena): valued at $ 88,007,872, would be a stay in Fontezuela, Partido de Parchment, with its 26,840 cows, 39,550 sheep, 1,688 mares and 400 horses.

And the following urban properties are almost all in the centre of Buenos Aires: Piedras 243, Balcarce 78, Moreno 67, Defensa 87, Reconquista 104, May 25, 111, Esmeralda and Arenales, Santa Fe 17, Defensa 12, Rivadavia 279, Chacabuco 24, 25 de Mayo 121, Reconquista 99, Rivadavia 571, Corrientes 89, Reconquista 287, Rivadavia 392, Pte. Perón 25, Reconquista 237, Florida 282, Maipú 254, Maipú 337, Reconquista 154, Suipacha 26.

The connection between the families

The Victoria family field is a good example of how they are related, first through political links or friendly relationships and marriages to conclude thinking similarly and defending their interests.

The field is familiarly linked with: the Bemberg, Saénz Valiente, Riglos, Ibarguren, Leloir, Pueyrredón, Ituarte, Aguirre, Bullrich and Urquiza. They have close friendships with Martínez de Hoz, Del Carril, Guiraldes, Alvear, Sansinena, Oliver, Estrada, Bioy Casares, and Bunge.

The Playboys and the great Lords of the Landed Gentry

The most scandalous playboy of the oligarchy was Fabián Gómez de Anchorena and Macoco Alzaga Unzué. Fabián Gómez de Anchorena bought the title of Conde de Castaño and was famous in European capitals for his excesses and his love scandals.

Martín Alzaga Unzué, nicknamed “Macoco”, was born on 01/25/1901. In 1918 he purchased the first Ford T racer. He inherits farms in 25 de Mayo and Adolfo Alsina. Since 1920, he has spent every summer in Biarritz.

He ran with Raúl Riganti. He owned yerbales in Misiones. He had a luxury yacht of 26 meters in length. He owned a house in La Rue Henri Martín and Sutton Place in New York. In the decade of the ’20s, he opened the first great boutique of Buenos Aires and scandalized to Buenos Aire’s Portinos  with audacious, super sexy stylish clothes.

He opened several car-importing agencies. He Imported luxury boats and gave a strong impetus to motorboats and water skiing. In 1931, he opened the most exclusive boutique in New York, “Morocoo”.

In 1952 he brought the Lido of Paris to Buenos Aires. Then he introduced kart racing. He was also dedicated to the breeding of Siamese cats. His love affairs were famous, with strong links to the European and American film stars of the day.

Among the most prestigious men of that illustrious period, we can be reminded of Felix de Alzaga Unzué (1886-1974), son of Felix Gabino de Alzaga and great-great-grandson of Martín de Alzaga.

He lived in the Alzaga Unzué Palace: Cerrito 1441. His obituary read: Felix constituted by his own merits a representative of a style that today is evoked, not infrequently, with a feeling of nostalgia.

He had the characteristics of the Argentine gentleman of the first decades of the century, whose manner and aristocratic ways, not incompatible with simplicity and simplicity, were shown brilliantly.

According to “La Nación”, the 4/29/1885. “He studied law, but he did not complete it. He was the owner of the racing stable that still bears his name. His colours, horizontal red and blue stripes, and a blue cap were for many years seen in Longchamps, Deauville, Chantilly, Cannes, and local racetrack meetings attended with his unmistakable elegance ‘, dressed in an impeccable jacket and grey top hat. He was a founding partner of the Automobile Club Argentino and president of the Jockey Club from 1934 to 1950.

In 19191, 1945, he was one of the leaders of the March of the Constitution and Liberty with Saavedra Lamas, Repetto and others, redoubling efforts to prevent the arrival of General Perón, who in the end prevailed, creating an enigma of causing Argentine to be the only first world country to become a third world one caused by ruinous fascist policies modelled on Nazism and Mussolini. “

Source: Norberto Galasso ( Translated )

Other important Estates

Hume Palace

Estrugamou Family Palaces

Estrugamou Appartments

Palacio Álzaga Unzué

Kavanagh building

Nicolás Mihanovich  (ex Sofitel)

De Ridder family

Important Estancias

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