Florida — Buenos Aires’ Downtown Pedestrian Mall
While pleasant for a nice stroll away from the rumbling Buenos Aires buses and home to quite a few architectural gems, it’s admittedly not one of the city’s most dazzling destinations.
On the weekdays, Florida is flooded with office workers and vendors selling everything from tango tours to leather goods on the fancier northern end of the mall and handmade jewelry and hair braiding on the southern side.
While some vendors stick around on the weekends, Florida is decided mellower when no one is rushing from point A to point B.
Although famed as a shopping street in tourist guides, most Porteños will admit that these days Florida is better for gawking at busy people and interesting buildings such as Galería Güemes, Galería Mitre, the Bank of Boston Building and the old Gath and Chavez Building.
Florida Street’s History
Florida Street is one of Buenos Aires’ oldest. Early in the city’s history it was a simple footpath along a creek leading into the River Plate. In 1789 the municipality laid cobblestone here. Later, it was the first street to be paved in Buenos Aires. It received the name Florida in 1821 to commemorate the important Battle of Florida for independence in what is now the country of Bolivia.
As the city’s elite moved away from the southern neighborhoods and into the Plaza San Martin area in the 1870’s, Florida became increasingly commercial. Toward the end of the 19th century a tram running up and down the street was installed.
Shopkeepers successfully petitioned for parts of the road to be made a pedestrian in 1913. By the 1920′s construction was booming along Florida Street. Most of the historic buildings that remain on Florida today date from that time period.
The 1922 silent avant guarde film, ‘La Chica de la Calle Florida‘ (The Girl from Florida Street) about a girl who works in a store on the mall, revealed Argentina’s modernity with elements of drama highlighted by class divisions, so pronounced at the time and still in evidence today.
For much of the 20th century Florida remained a destination in itself, drawing visitors from all over the city. A decline of the shopping street began with the military dictatorship and rough economic times that has its roots in the 1980′s, but was fully evident by the 1990′s with the closing of the huge high-end shopping mall, Harrods Buenos Aires.
Today, with booming commerce and tourist options throughout the city, Florida has become a purely commercial area with its own automobile-free charm, but lacking the more classic character found in other neighborhoods such as Recoleta, and San Telmo.
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