Evita’s Buenos Aires
Horacio Paone for The New York Times
By MICHAEL T. LUONGO
Published: March 9, 2012
EVERY city has its heroes — people who, for whatever reason, leave an indelible mark. Washington is awash in monuments to past presidents. New Yorkers work and live in a grid of ancestral icons: Rockefeller Center, Peter Cooper Village, Astor Place. And Paris is studded with plaques honoring luminaries from Joan of Arc to Victor Hugo to Edith Piaf.
Yet few cities are in thrall to a single person the way Buenos Aires is to María Eva Duarte de Perón.
The wife of Juan Perón, who was president of Argentina from 1946 to 1955 and again in 1973-74, Evita, as she was known to her fans, lived in the capital for less than two decades before dying of cancer in 1952, at age 33. One of the most controversial and influential women in the Western world, to her supporters she was a saintlike defender of the poor; to her detractors, an irresponsible spender out for personal glory. Either way, her presence continues to be felt all over Buenos Aires and beyond.
This year, the 60th anniversary of her death on July 26, her legend is being refreshed. A revival of the 1978 musical “Evita” by Andrew Lloyd Webber is to open on Broadway next month. In Buenos Aires, ceremonies, political speeches and a candlelight march will occur on the date of her death; special exhibitions at the Museo Evita and other institutions will be held throughout the year.
But you don’t have to march or attend speeches to understand the bond between this city and Evita. The physical contributions she left behind throughout Argentina — a beach resort for the working class, a children’s amusement park, a shelter for unwed mothers — now mingle with museums, countless statues and extravagant monuments built in her honor. The latest: two enormous steel sculptures of her likeness soldered to opposite sides of the soaring Health Ministry Building.
“There were no other women like her, especially other first ladies,” said Gabriel Miremont, the curator of the Museo Evita. “Mamie, Eleanor, even Jackie O. do not bring tourists to Washington as Evita does for Buenos Aires.”
1. Where That Song Was Sung
THE CASA ROSADA, also known as the Pink House, is the Presidential Palace, home to the balcony that Evita often used to address throngs of Peronists — known as the shirtless ones because many were poor laborers — gathered in the Plaza de Mayo and up Avenidade Mayo. It became iconic as the setting for “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” the signature song of the musical “Evita.” Free weekend tours of the palace allow visitors to peer from the balcony themselves. The Museo del Bicentenario, sometimes called the Presidential Museum, opened in 2011 behind the Casa Rosada. It contains objects related to the Peróns, such as presidential regalia, clothing and campaign posters.
Calle Balcarce, between Rivadavia and Hipólito Yrigoyen, overlooking Plaza de Mayo: (54-11) 4344-3802; museobicentenario.gob.ar .
2. Fashionista Must-Stop
MUSEO EVITA Under Evita’s direction, the Argentine state bought this mansion in the tony Palermo neighborhood in 1947 and turned it into a shelter for single mothers. After Juan Perón was deposed in 1955, the building remained in government hands as an office for the disabled. In 2002, the 50th anniversary of Evita’s death, the building reopened as a museum showcasing her lavish wardrobe, as well as items from the Eva Perón Historical Foundation, including some of her early films. The foundation behind the museum is run by her grandniece, Cristina Alvarez Rodriguez. Its store sells Evita-related art and books. This year exhibitions will highlight the museum’s own 10th anniversary as well as the 60th anniversary of Evita’s death. The museum’s cafe, above, is popular for its light, Mediterranean menu and has become a lunch destination favored by Kika Tarelli, director of Buenos Aires Fashion Week.
3. Pay Your Respects
DUARTE FAMILY TOMB, Recoleta Cemetery. After 24 years of being shuttled aboutArgentina and even being buried in Italy for a few years, Evita’s body came to rest in 1976 in this simple black tomb belonging to the family of her father, Juan Duarte. (He is buried in Chivilcoy, a few hours away in Buenos Aires Province.) Her admirers place flowers and notes at the tomb nearly every day, and the crowds grow to the thousands on July 26, the anniversary of her death. On Oct. 17, the date Juan Perón came to power, the arrangements — many from political leaders and unions — grow in size and number.
Calle Junín 1790, at Plaza Frances; (54-11) 4804-7040; cementeriorecoleta.com.ar.
4. The Place They Met?
LUNA PARK Legend has it that a 1944 fund-raiser for earthquake victims at this concert and sports hall near the Puerto Madero neighborhood is where Juan Perón first laid eyes on the rising starlet Eva Duarte. The moment is marked by the song “Charity Concert” in the show, though some historians say it is likely that they had already met. Today the building is a great place to hear local rock favorites or aging American pop icons like the Village People and Liza Minnelli at prices significantly cheaper than they are in the United States.
Avenues Corrientes and Bouchard; (54-11) 5279-5279; www.lunapark.com.ar .
5. Even Her Corpse Was Controversial
CONFEDERACIÓN GENERAL DEL TRABAJO The General Confederation of Labor is a union office building constructed by the Peróns in the late 1940s. Tourists will recognize it by the portrait of Evita on its central tower, lighted by an eternal flame. Her body was embalmed in this building and it lay here until 1955, when a military coup forced Juan Perón from power. (The body was brought back to Argentina in 1974 after a multi-country journey involving Spain and Italy.)
The room where the body was embalmed is now a small museum, with photos from the period and the platform where the embalming took place. Nearby is the Fundación Eva Perón Engineering School. This imposing Doric-columned structure was once the headquarters for the Eva Perón Foundation, which she established to distribute money to needy families — and, some say, to draw funds for her personal use. The building bears a tiny plaque that is the sole remnant of its former use.
For interesting souvenirs, visit the nearby Marcelo Toledo Gallery, where the silversmithMarcelo Toledo created a commemorative silver Evita collection, along with replicas of her jewelry, which are to be used in the Broadway show and worn on stage by Elena Roger.
Azopardo 802 at Independencia; (54-11) 4334-0599; cgtra.org.ar. Fundación Eva Perón, Paseo Colón, at México. Marcelo Toledo, Humberto Primo 462; (54-11) 4362-0841;marcelotoledo.net.
6. Women Only, Please
CONGRESO AND THE SALON ROSADO OR SALON EVA PERóN The gray granite Congress building is among the most impressive neo-Classical -style structures inBuenos Aires. After women gained the right to vote in 1947, a wave of female politicians came into office. Evita opened the women-only Salon Rosado, or the Pink Room, so that they could discuss issues important to them without men around. Now called Salon Eva Perón and open to the public, the room bears a plaque explaining its importance, contains a bust of Eva Perón, and has retained its original furnishings. The building’s rotunda was a viewing site during the official two-week mourning period for Evita.
Avenida Entre Ríos and Avenida Callao, at Rivadavia, overlooking Plaza Congreso; (54-11) 6310-7100; www.congreso.gov.ar.
7. Oh I Could Tell You Stories
LA MUESTRA DE EVITA, EL MUSEO DEL PUEBLO The museum, which opened in 2009 in a union hall, houses material related to public works from the Perón era as well as objects, like rare photos and old magazine covers, from Evita’s film and radio career from the late 1930s to 1945. Visitors might also have the chance to speak to one of the volunteers here who actually knew Evita. Eighty-something Clementina Beba Gil, above, worked on the women’s suffrage campaign and will happily tell stories from the time period.
Avenida de Mayo 930 between Carlos Pelligrini (9 de Julio) and Suipacha; (54/11) 4341-8020, extension 310;lamuestradeevita.org.ar.
8. Office Life
CITY LEGISLATURE BUILDING This building, with its 318-foot clock tower, is just off the Avenida de Mayo, a few blocks from the Casa Rosada. Though its legislative chambers are still active, the building maintains one of Evita’s satellite offices for her foundation, which is open to the public. The room, now called the Salón Eva Perón, contains a desk, chair, lamp, folders and other objects she used. Nearby, see Evita Vive, a tango show celebrating her life, inside the Moreno Hotel Theater.
Calle Perú 130 and Hipólito Yrigoyen; (54-11) 4338-3167; www.legislatura.gov.ar. Moreno 364; (54-11) 4343-0463; evitavive.com.
Get Your Evita Here!
9. BOUTIQUE NORA INIESTA At this appointment-only boutique, you’ll find creative, high-end memorabilia. Look for paintings, bric-a-brac and accessories for men and women, like Evita ties and scarves.
Perú 715, between Chile and Independencia; (54-11) 4331-5459; cell(15) 5319-1119; fromUnited States or Canada (54-9-11) 5319-1119; norainiesta.com.
10. And Here She Is, 10 Stories Tall
MINISTRY OF HEALTH BUILDING One of Buenos Aires’s tallest structures, the Ministry of Health was built by the Peróns and dominates Avenida Nueve de Julio. Because it was too large to demolish during the 1960s expansion of the avenue, a process that made it the world’s widest boulevard, the road simply goes around it. A stage at the base of this building was the site of a 1951 rally at which the crowd, estimated at two million people, called for Evita to announce her candidacy for vice president. (She decided against it.) Today, the building is home to the city’s newest Evita monument: two 10-story images of Evita’s face on the central tower, made of steel. The work on the south facade was unveiled on July 26, 2011, the 59th anniversary of her death, by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a former first lady herself who has drawn comparisons with Eva Perón. A defiant Evita on the northern facade harangues the city’s wealthy oligarchs, while on the south facade, facing a poor area, she is smiling. A few blocks away, dine at El General, filled with Perónist memorabilia.
Avenida Nueve de Julio 1925 between Belgrano and Moreno; (54-11) 4379-9000;www.msal.gov.ar. El General, Belgrano 350; (54-11) 4342-7830; elgeneralctl.com.
11. Bronze Goddess
EVITA MONUMENT AND THE NATIONAL LIBRARY There was no official monument to Evita until 1999, when this bronze statue, reminiscent of a 1960s church sculpture, was unveiled. It’s on a hillside below the National Library, which sits at the site of the former presidential residence, where Evita died. (The residence was demolished after the coup.) The statue roughly marks the spot where Juan Perón had planned to build a colossal monument to himself, Evita and a symbolic worker, or Descamisado. After you’ve seen it, have coffee nearby at Un Café con Perón inside the presidential archive and research office Instituto Nacional Juan Domingo Perón, where tourists and locals pose with a statue of Juan Perón.
Calle Aguero 2502 at Avenida Libertador: (54-11) 4808-6000; www.bn.gov.ar; Austria2593 (54-11) 4802-8010; jdperon.gov.ar.
BEYOND THE CITY
The impact of Eva and Juan Perón extended far beyond the capital city, and was particularly strong in the Province of Buenos Aires, where Eva grew up. If you have soaked up all the Evita you can in the city, there’s plenty more a short drive or train ride away.
12. QUINTA SAN VICENTE MUSEO DE 17 DE OCTUBRE AND JUAN PERóN MAUSOLEUM This country home of Juan and Eva Perón was built in 1947 in the well-to-do San Vicente suburbs, about an hour southwest from Buenos Aires. The interior dates to a renovation done in the 1970s, when Perón returned to power after being in exile for 18 years throughout Latin America and Spain. The museum contains his car collection and a car from the presidential train, as well as statues from a monument he planned to erect in Evita’s honor on Avenida Libertador before the coup. The museum garden is the now the final resting place for Perón, whose body was moved here from Buenos Aires’s Chacarita cemetery in 2006. A companion tomb was built for Evita, but her family will not allow her body to move here, saying it has been on too many journeys since her death.
Intersection of Lavalle and Avenida Eva Perón, off Highway 58 in San Vicente: (54) 2225-482260; www.ic.gba.gov.ar/patrimoniocultural/17deoctubre.
13. CIUDAD EVITA This homage to Evita is visible only by airplane (and Google Maps). The original street grid for this working-class neighborhood, about 13 miles southwest of downtown Buenos Aires, was designed to look like Evita in profile so that her face would be the first thing visitors flying in to the capital would see.
Intersection of Highway 4 and Highway Ricchieri, near Ezeiza Airport.
14. REPÚBLICA DE LOS NIÑOS; LA PLATA Built by Juan and Evita in 1951, this children’s amusement park, with a central fairy castle and munchkin-size buildings was said to be the inspiration for Disneyland in California. Just 45 minutes from Buenos Aires, La Plata is also home to the church where Juan and Evita had a secret Catholic wedding in December 1945.
Camino General Belgrano and Highway 501, Gonnet, outside of La Plata; (54) 221-484-1409; www.republica.laplata.gov.ar. 15. LOS TOLDOS On May 7, 1919, Eva Duarte was born in this town, about 190 miles west of Buenos Aires. Her first childhood home is now a tiny museum. The building where the birth took place — on La Union ranch, where her mother, Juana Ibarguren, worked — was demolished by the owner so it would not become a shrine. Eva’s father, Juan Duarte, was a wealthy rancher married to another woman; he is buried about 50 miles east, in Chivilcoy.
Evita Museum at the intersection of Eva Perón and Belgrano Streets, Los Toldos; (54) 2358-442473; evitadelostoldos.org.
16. JUNÍN In the film version of “Evita,” this town, 156 miles west of Buenos Aires, is full of gauchos, dirt roads and wandering chickens. In reality, the place, with a current population of 80,000, where Eva spent her late childhood and early teenage years, had a thriving cultural scene that helped inspire her acting dreams.
Eva lived in a few houses here, and though none are officially open to the public, owners will show visitors around. The Museo Histórico de Junín has a desk and other objects related to the civil marriage of Eva Duarte and Juan Perón, which took place here in October 1945. Numerous buses and, twice a day, a train, connect to Buenos Aires, letting you follow Eva’s journey to world fame.
Museo Histórico de Junín, intersection of Quintana and Newbery Streets; (54) 2362-631629; www.junin.gov.ar.
17. COLONIA CHAPADMALAL, MAR DEL PLATA Chapadmalal is the site of an enormous Bavarian-style beachside complex built by the Peróns for poor and working people in 1952 outside Mar del Plata, the country’s largest resort town, about four hours south of Buenos Aires. Though partly in disrepair, the complex contains an Evita museum with some of her clothing and other objects. Through this and other hotels in Mar del Plata, the Peróns transformed what was once a wealthy vacation spot into a working- and middle-class one. While anyone can visit the complex and museum, staying overnight involves a lengthy application process. Instead, stay in Mar del Plata at the recently renovated Hotel Presidente Perón.
Colonia Chapadmalal Complex, Ruta Provincial 11, kilometer 549; (54) 223-469-9291;chapadmalal.org.ar. Hotel Presidente Perón, Tucuman 2600, Mar del Plata; (54) 223-495-1689; www.uthgramardelplata.com.ar.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 10, 2012
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. His surname is Webber, not Weber.