El Ateneo bookstore is one of the most breathtaking buildings in all of South America; the fact that it is now a huge bookstore is just a bonus. The long, sweeping balconies and the arching ceilings give it a wide-open feel that cannot be found in any other bookstore. The intricate decorations that adorn the walls and the impressive lighting — done well enough that people can read small print anywhere in the massive main room — give it a feel of class and comfort all at once. Many people ask the same question as soon as they walk through the front doors: How did a place like this become a bookstore?
The truth is that El Ateneo started out not as a bookstore but as a theatre. It was constructed in 1919 by Max Glucksman, who had just come to Buenos Aries. He wanted to create a majestic theatre and he spared no expense. The building was called the Grand Splendid when it opened, and it soon saw acts of many famous performers. The theatre stayed up with modern technology, broadcasting a radio station in the 1920s and by the end of the decade finding itself converted into a place to watch movies. Some of the first movies with sound to be shown on the continent were show in the Grand Splendid.
Finally, the Grand Splendid was transformed into a leviathan of a bookstore; it took on the name El Ateneo at this time. It still serves this purpose into the modern day. The different sections are divided by floors, so a person will need to travel from one floor to the next if they are looking for history texts, the latest fiction, or books about the mysteries of science. The basement contains toys for children to play with and books for the younger generation.
All told, anyone who comes to Buenos Aries should stop in and see this bookstore. They should buy a coffee that is sold at the stand inside and wander around between the rows upon rows up books that fill each floor of this beautiful building.