The monumental building from the late 1800s designed by an Italian marquis that houses a boarding school in Recoleta

In the heart of Recoleta there is a huge building complex of great heritage value that few know about. On Azcuénaga at 1600 a sign says Mercy College, but behind the walls that surround the block there are also three charitable entities: the Nursing Home, the Girls’ Home and a University Residence. Is about a small city of 6000 covered square meters where some 500 people circulate daily, between employees and those who inhabit the place created by the Society of Mercy, an entity born 150 years ago, one of the most active and oldest charitable associations in the country.

The September 14, 1872 The work of Mercy was born when a group of porteñas decided to unite in order to create a large asylum to help indigent families, giving work and education to their children. After having occupied other properties, the mayor Torcuato de Alvear granted them land between Azcuénaga, Peña, Larrea and Pacheco de Melo streets. He was handed over under title of property in perpetuity for asylum.

The monumental building seen from above
The monumental building seen from aboveRicardo Pristupluk – The Nation

“However, since then and until today it has become increasingly difficult for us to maintain and conserve these centuries-old buildings. We do the impossible to overcome the great economic difficulties we are going through without any type of state or government support. We are 100 volunteers and 250 employees who do everything with a lot of love and lungs”, says Angélica Riglos de Gowland, president of the Ladies of Mercy Society, during a tour with THE NATION.

Once the land was obtained, the lifting of the Girls’ Home began with plans drawn ad honorem for the prestigious architect Carlos Morra, Marquis of Monterochetta, author of several “palace schools” such as Presidente Roca, Mitre, Sarmiento and Belgrano. He also designed the National Lottery building, later National Library on Mexico Street, and many other properties. Among them the Federal Tire and the Nation Bank.

The corner of Azcuénaga 1700, in the Recoleta neighborhood
The corner of Azcuénaga 1700, in the Recoleta neighborhoodRicardo Pristupluk – The Nation

The construction of the orphanage was the work of Francisco Pinaroli. Began in 1884, and it was finished and inaugurated three years later. The funds came from public charity and the national government of President Miguel Juárez Celman.

Walk inside this today asylum that owns the only boarding school for girls left in the city holds a number of surprises. In the first place, it is an octagonal building and with autonomy. It sits apart from the other expansions suffered by the complex over the years. Secondly, its calm, long-suffering and calculated elegance is appreciated, where a large central patio with trees stands out, an oasis in the midst of the noise of the city. Around the patio are the classrooms, the colorful bedrooms of the girls, the bathrooms.

One of the internal courtyards of the building
One of the internal courtyards of the buildingRicardo Pristupluk – The Nation

The retail visitor will find here and there doorknobs, majolica and even original glass. In general terms, maintenance is good, although there are sectors that need to be upgraded. The 20-foot-high ceilings and 12-foot wooden windows are striking. All this gives an idea of ​​the magnificence of the construction according to the Sarmiento’s hygienist ideas in vogue at the time where spacious rooms were favored, with air circulation.

The high ceilings respond to the hygienist ideas of Sarmiento
The high ceilings respond to the hygienist ideas of SarmientoRicardo Pristupluk – The Nation

In the place, the iron profiles of the Vasena workshops, the railway-type structures with vaults, the marble bathrooms and stairs stand out. The Dining Room of the Home is covered with bright red majolica tiles and there are cast iron foot tables and Carrara marble tops. The kitchen oven was donated by the Mater Admirabilis de Retiro church after it was destroyed in the attack on the Israeli Embassy. At Mercy they repaired it and today it is used daily to prepare a total of a thousand portions of food.

The construction of the orphanage was the work of Francisco Pinaroli
The construction of the orphanage was the work of Francisco PinaroliRicardo Pristupluk – The Nation

Mercy volunteers keep a low profile and barely publicize their work. However, whoever walks through the buildings immediately perceives the great effort made on a daily basis. “More than 160 girls attend the Home. They are pupils from Monday to Friday and on weekends they return to their homes. The age ranges from 4 to 14 years and they come from poor neighborhoods of the city and the Buenos Aires suburbs. They are given initial and primary education, sports and artistic activity workshops, ”they explained from the Board of Directors.

For its part, the chapel, within this architectural ensemble, is a link between the almost hidden space of the Hogar de Niñas, and the exterior of the neighborhood. It is in the Gothic style, with sober and elegant lines and large pointed windows. In 1912 it was reformed. They also did some new work on it a couple of years ago, but had to put it on hold due to lack of funds.

The Gothic-style chapel was renovated in 1912
The Gothic-style chapel was renovated in 1912Ricardo Pristupluk – The Nation

A few years earlier, in 1896, the first pavilion for low-income elderly women was inaugurated, which today is called the Elderly House. The plans were made by the Belgian engineer Julio Dormal, author of the Ortiz Basualdo Palace, of the Ministry of Government of the Province of Buenos Aires and one of the architects of the Congress of the Argentine Nation and of the Teatro Colón. Over the years several more pavilions were inaugurated and, in 1979, under the presidency of Riglos de Gowland, the last one was enabled.

One of the rooms in the nursing home
One of the rooms in the nursing homeRicardo Pristupluk – The Nation

As the woman explains, “in the Nursing Home today, older women with delicate economic situations and high vulnerability continue to be received. They can enter from the age of 60, they pay 70% of their retirement and it is a condition that they are self-validating. 65 women reside, they have individual rooms and they can even bring their furniture”.

In 1890 they decided to set up a school for external girls from families with financial resources that would help support both works. It worked in two small houses on the corner of Azcuénaga and Melo. In 1900, a new building was inaugurated in Azcuénaga y Peña for the already baptized Our Lady of Mercy College, built by architects Duncan and Clerici.

The room where the girls sleep
The room where the girls sleepRicardo Pristupluk – The Nation

Today 750 boys and girls are educated in Mercy. On the other hand, in 1927 a new pavilion was opened which was called Boarding Home for University Students, that still works today receiving young people from all over the country. To cover the large amount of expenses involved in charitable works, the volunteers created the Flox business in the 1990s, on the same block. It is a house that sells gifts and decorative items.

They also set up the OGA Misericordia Vintage Fair where clothes and all kinds of used objects are regularly sold in the school’s inner courtyard. “Despite all these efforts, it seems that nothing is enough today to sustain us. That is why we ask that they contact us to collaborate”, assured Riglos de Gawland.

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courtesy Ladies of Mercy Society
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courtesy Ladies of Mercy Society
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courtesy Ladies of Mercy Society
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Ricardo Pristupluk – The Nation
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Ricardo Pristupluk – The Nation
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Ricardo Pristupluk – The Nation
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Ricardo Pristupluk – The Nation
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Ricardo Pristupluk – The Nation
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Ricardo Pristupluk – The Nation
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Ricardo Pristupluk – The Nation
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The monumental building from the late 1800s designed by an Italian marquis that houses a boarding school in Recoleta