Your intrepid museum enthusiast is laid up with a heckin bad headache today, owing largely to sinus pain. As it is a cold, rainy day, fabulous conditions for staying in with fuzzy socks and hot chocolate, I’m going to write this one up anyway.
Finding myself in the barrio of Boedo earlier this week, I checked Google Maps for a museum I might burn a little spare time in. I stumbled upon Museo Monte Piedad, which is the museum of Banco Ciudad, or City Bank, which, if I am remembering the tour correctly, has been in continuous operation for 140 years. The museum is in a very small space, and has been curated with great care. I was the only visitor.
As I have mentioned before, my Spanish is shaky, at best. The docent/staff member/could-have-been-the-actual-curator-I-did-not-catch-her-name did not speak English. But I gathered that I had wandered in at roughly the time for guided tours, and she was game for taking a shot at educating me. The only available English material was pretty bare, and since I was on a tour, I did much more attending to what I was hearing than reading, so please forgive my shoddy memory.
The guide is a credit to her profession as an educator. I understood that school children are the primary visitors, and they must be well-served. She was a very competent communicator, able to convey the meanings of important words not yet in my vocabulary through examples. Top notch.
The museum is located on the 2nd floor (3rd by US reckoning) of this building:
The museum, to borrow a phrase from La Nacion, tells the story of the bank and its relationship with the community, and its exhibits are given historical context. The history of the bank starts with an influx of immigrants in the last half of the 19th century.
The poor who came to Buenos Aires frequently found themselves victims of usury and other predatory financial practices, and Banco Ciudad was founded to help combat these practices and serve the vulnerable population. The bank gave loans secured by any items of value the borrower had with minimal interest. Today, the bank still makes these sorts of loans, but only with two types of items: fine art and precious metals/gems. Two gemologists are still on staff, in fact.
The museum hall includes some of the city history in the late 19th/early 20th century, as the bank was beginning its development–the movement of the population following the yellow fever epidemic, the conditions working class families lived in, and the political and labor movements of the time.
Next, there is a neat collection of work-related items from the 1910-1930s. As Argentina didn’t really do any manufacturing, this stuff came from abroad.
There is an area of the museum dedicated to the cafe Biarritz, which used to occupy the space the museum building takes up now. That cafe was a center of art in the working class neighborhood (la peña Pacha Camac, an artistic club in the 30s that I really need to learn more about), an important part of the history of Boedo.
Next up, the bank in the 1940s! The tellers actually got chairs for the first time.
Reforms during the Peron era led to the employment of the ladies.
There’s also a lot of advertisements for auctions held at the bank:
The displays moving into the 60s include examples of uniforms:
Ever the fan of incorporating multimedia presentations/interactive exhibits in museums, I was pleased to see (although too unskilled to use) an oral history archive, given by former bank employees:
There is also a very interesting artifact and display from the bank’s more recent history: the 2001 economic crisis. The government collapsed and panicked bank customers beat the bronze door railing, which is here:
On the whole, it was a fascinating museum! My deep appreciation to my guide, who was fantastic. If you understand zero Spanish, this museum won’t be able to offer you much, but if you can at least get by, and have an interest in local history, it is worth a visit.
The museum is at Boedo 870, a couple of blocks from the Boedo stop on the E subway line. It’s open Monday-Friday from 10am to 5pm. Guided tours are at 1030 and 230 during the school year. Plenty of places to eat or have a coffee right around it, including the Notable Café Margot and Esquina Homero Manzi.