RIO DE JANEIRO – Nine decades after it was inaugurated and eight years after the last tenant left, Latin America’s first skyscraper is up for sale amid the revitalization of Rio de Janeiro’s port area.
The 22-story Joseph Gire Building, more commonly known as A Noite for its first occupant, evening newspaper Jornal a Noite, is 102 meters (335 feet) tall.
When construction began in 1927, Rio’s tallest building was four stories.
Besides being the first skyscraper in the region, A Noite was also the first building anywhere of more than 100 meters to be constructed from reinforced concrete.
Designed by French architect Joseph Gire (1816-1933), who was also behind Rio’s Copacabana Palace Hotel, and Brazilian colleague Elisario Bahiana (1891-1980), the building quickly became an emblem of modernism at the height of the Belle Epoque in the “Wonderful City,” which was still Brazil’s capital at the time.
The idea for the monumental structure came from Jornal a Noite editor-in-chief Antonio Rocha, an engineer by training who wanted an iconic headquarters for what was then the country’s most influential newspaper.
Rocha inaugurated the building with great fanfare in 1929, but the following year saw the newspaper shut down along with other dailies that supported the government of Washington Luis during the coup that led to the installation of Getulio Vargas, who would go on to govern Brazil for 18 years in all.
“Getulio Vargas sent his militia to burn A Noite newspaper because it was a periodical in opposition to his movement and the most powerful media outlet,” artist Roberto Cabot, one of Gire’s descendants, told EFE.
“I have a letter … that my great-grandfather, Joseph Gire, wrote, where he describes how he saw them throw the machines out the windows, the desks, the furniture – everything out the windows – and then they started a fire, but the fire didn’t hurt (the building) precisely because it was cement,” Cabot said. “If it had been of metal, with a steel structure, they would have brought it down, but because it was reinforced concrete, nothing happened.”
The Jornal a Noite group soon recovered and the building thrived, acquiring high-profile tenants such as PanAm airways, electronics giant Philips, Radio Nacional and news agencies including La Prensa and UPI.
A Noite was also the home of the architecture firm led by Lucio Costa, credited with the plan for the new national capital of Brasilia, which was ultimately executed by his famous pupil, Oscar Niemeyer.
In 1940, Vargas expropriated the Jornal a Noite group and took direct control of Radio Nacional, which expanded to occupy four entire floors of the building and became Brazil’s most important cultural institution.
The building, like the surrounding neighborhood, fell into decline in the 1970s and has sat empty since 2012, when Radio Nacional moved out.
Since then, the government has had to bear the total cost of building maintenance, more than 300,000 reais ($53,000) a month, and officials are hoping to get at least $16 million for A Noite at auction.
Lucas Franco, the vice president of the Architecture and Urbanism Council of Rio de Janeiro, told EFE he hopes that A Noite becomes a “democratic” building: “a site where everybody can learn about and enjoy the spaces of this heritage.”
Some 12,000 people took part in the construction of the landmark.
“A Noite was a very important symbol. Each floor that was completed was cause for celebration and people applauded, because it was a total event,” Cabot said.