Buenos Aires Central Post Office
The need for a new central post office in Buenos Aires was first raised in 1888 by the Director of the Argentine Postal Service at the time Dr. Ramón J. Cárcano. Later that year a Congressional bill providing for its construction was signed by President Miguel Juárez Celman. The Ministry of Public Works commissioned French architect Norbert Maillart, who in 1889 submitted a design inspired by the recently-inaugurated James Farley Post Office, in New York.
Designating a 12,500 m² (134,000 ft²) city block on the corner of Leandro Alem and Corrientes Avenues for its construction, the Public Works Ministry chose the site as a means to beautify a land reclamation site where the shores of the Río de la Plata had reached just a decade earlier. The sudden onset of the Panic of 1890 and the subsequent crisis led to President Juárez Celman's resignation, however, as well as to the project's suspension.
The national government revived the plans only in 1905, and in 1908, Maillart returned to Buenos Aires, where his new plans for a larger post office were approved the following April. Differences later arose between Maillart and the Argentine government, and the French architect abandoned the project in 1911. Construction, which had just started, was then left to the supervision of Maillart's chief assistant, Jacques Spolsky. Spolsky reengineered the design, which featured masonry supports, to consist of a steel-reinforced concrete structure, for which 2,882 steel pillars were placed onto the bedrock, 10 m (33 ft) deep.
Limitations on the city's public works budgets resulting from the onset of World War I forced another major design alteration, in 1916. The planned construction of an elevated causeway on Leandro Alem Avenue was cancelled, and a mezzanine was quickly added to the plans to compensate for an entrance which would now be one floor below the original's. Spolsky achieved this without substantial changes to the building's exterior, though the number of delays led to considerable cost overruns on the project, and its budget was exhausted in 1923. President Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear, however, obtained Congressional support for a new appropriation, and on September 28, 1928 (two weeks before Alvear's departure), the new Secretaría de Comunicaciones was inaugurated.
The building's eclectic design, drawing prominently from French Second Empire architecture, was typical of the public buildings and upscale real estate built in Buenos Aires and other Argentine cities early in the 20th Century; indeed, despite his differences, Maillart went on to design the Buenos Aires National College and the Argentine Supreme Court, and Spolsky designed post offices for Rosario and San Miguel de Tucumán in a similar style while at work on this structure. The largest public building completed in Argentina up to that point, the building measured nine stories and 60 m (197 ft) in height and included over 88,000 m² (950,000 ft²) of indoor space. The central hall was decorated with marble throughout, features stained glass windows, numerous bronze sculptures and mail drop boxes, and a 4-story-high domed ceiling.
The grandiose setting led President Juan Perón to move his offices in the building during the early years of his 1946-55 tenure, and the First Lady, Eva Perón, designated a wing as the first headquarters of the charitable Eva Perón Foundation. During the subsequent automobile boom in Argentina, the plaza facing the post office was made into a parking lot - though opposition to the 1979 sale of the parking lot for the construction of a local Bank of Tokyo headquarters proved insurmountable, and the plans were cancelled. The Minister of Urban Development and, later, Mayor, Guillermo del Cioppo, ordered the construction of an underground parking structure, instead, and the lot above was converted into a park in 1983.
The building was designated a National Historic Monument in 1997. Most of its postal activities had been transferred to a newer structure during the Perón administration, and it handled only international mail in later years; in 2005, its last remaining postal bureau was closed. President Néstor Kirchner proposed the landmark's conversion into a cultural center that June, and two years later, plans were approved for the construction of two concert halls and an exhibition gallery for the creation of the Bicentennial Cultural Center. The center's winning design was provided by a team of architects led by siblings Enrique, Federico and Nicolás Bares, and it's scheduled for its inaugural on the bicentennial of the May Revolution, May 25, 2010.