Barrio Italia or Barrio Santa Isabel, as it was formerly known, is a historic neighborhood of Santiago that at present comprises the communes of Providencia and Ñuñoa.
The origin of this sector of the capital of Chile was linked to the processes of urbanization and industrialization that took place towards the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, characterized by a series of social, historical and architectural elements that made it a valuable Cultural heritage of the country.
During the 19th century, the Mayor of Santiago, Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, in an initiative that sought to organize the growth of a city that was already beginning to develop with too much energy, delimited the city by creating the "Way of Waist" Was demarcated by the Avenue that at the moment bears his name. This generated that the aristocracy of Santiago found in the present sector of the Barrio Italia a good alternative to live in a peaceful environment, of provincial tranquility, but always very close to the benefits offered by a city like Santiago. Thus, the current Bustamante Avenue happened to know like "the Way of the Quintas".
Once the commune of Providencia was created, in 1897, Barrio Italia consolidated its semi-rural identity, with an unusual mixture of commerce, beautiful residences and cittes. Historically, this sector was known as Population Juan García Ballesteros (1896) and soon like Population Italy.
The construction of the Girardi hat factory in 1905 was one of the most important events in the history of the neighborhood. An Italian family of the same name settled in the sector and employed hundreds of workers who decided to live near the plant, in cités and conventillos located in Calle Condell, and Avenues Italy and Francisco Bilbao.
In 1936 another important event occurs for the development of the sector. In charge by Marco Girardi to the architect Héctor Davanzo, that year the Italian Theater was built. Located on the corner of Avenida Bilbao with the current Avenida Italia, this giant and symmetrical work of modern architecture was the great impeller of life in the Barrio that finally took its name in honor of this building. Today, in the former theater Italy are presented fairs with varied themes, but focused mainly on design.
Another cultural axis of the Neighborhood was the San Crescente Parish, located at the intersection of Santa Isabel and Salvador Avenues. The place not only fulfilled its primary objective, as a place of prayer and recollection of the faithful Catholics; Also served as the headquarters of different grassroots neighborhood groups.
At the end of the first half of the 20th century, the Barrio was consolidated. In it could be observed the development of an incipient commerce, composed of bakeries, tailors, butchers and repairers of footwear, among others. The owners were the same residents, among them Italian, Spanish and German immigrants. This economic development, however, was contained by the authorities' efforts in the Nueva Providencia project, which gave rise to a much more powerful urban-commercial center. This, in the long term, favored that the Barrio Italia maintained its original seal, characterized by its heterogeneous conformation, composed of different social classes and different nationalities, all coexisting in large properties of the more affluent families and cités of the residents of minors Income, whose children attended the same public schools, generating a very special social mix.
In the mid-1950s, however, a change in land use began to take place, and the upper classes began to leave the sector and move further into the East. Residences are becoming increasingly scarce and charities, factories, mechanical workshops and industrial warehouses appear due to the decline in property value. The local commerce that characterized the neighborhood also decays. Some companies, such as Girardi headwear, reduce their staff to a minimum. The neighborhood gradually begins to decrease its population.
After the military coup of 1973 and after decades of continuous decay, the first important change in the life of the Barrio happens with the arrival of people who were dedicated to the recovery of furniture and objects that soon sold to the antiquarians. Eventually they managed to settle down on Caupolicán street, where they leased old houses as workshops. With the crisis of 1982 this type of business did not continue to bear fruit so they decided to take over and get their furniture for sale, learning over time about the art of restoration. Since then, they have been part of the neighborhood's identity.
This process, which evidenced the cultural potential of the current Barrio Italia, was also forged in the 1980s by the construction of the Bustamante Park equipment and the housing boom in the Jesuit-Santa Isabel sector. Today the street Caupolicán - between Salvador and Condell - is ideal for strolling in the evenings and immerse yourself in furniture and objects of all kinds that are waiting to be discovered by collectors or those who like to decorate their houses.
Seeing the success of the tradition of furniture and restorers, visionary design and decoration shops opted for the Barrio Italia as a new circuit of design and contemporary art, with a future that many associate with the neighborhood of Palermo in Argentina. In addition, the earthquake of 1985 accentuated the deterioration of housing and the decline of the sector, however, this situation encouraged the arrival of several artists who saw in the neighborhood the opportunity to install their workshops in spacious, historic and good quality housing For a low price.
Since the mid-2000s, the physical space transformations have begun to become visible, with the main emphasis being on the installation of various shops in the sector, which include restaurants, furniture workshops and design in general. These are installed in old houses of which they maintain their facades and adapt their interiors for the different items of the businesses. Over time these merchants were grouped under the name of Barrio Italia, mainly, due to the fact that most of the shops were installed, in the beginning, in the avenue of the same name. The newly installed businesses are an offer for people of a higher socio-economic level than the pre-existing ones and the leases, as well as property prices, go up. This situation has intensified over the years, generating a displacement of small merchants and families both renters and owners who, or could not sustain themselves due to the high costs of living in a booming neighborhood or who were simply pressured to sell their homes.
Today, striking showcases are concentrated in Av. Italia and Condell, between Marín and Caupolicán streets, making these a true design route. There you can find exclusive clothing for men and women, others for children, creative and sustainable decorative objects, gardening articles, Chilean handicrafts, antiques, and much more.
The neighbors who live in Barrio Italia are proud to live in the more settled face of Providence; An alternative to the commercial hustle and bustle of the avenues that only invites you to walk slowly, to stop and look at bright little things that catch our attention, to share a coffee, a dinner or a drink. Among the Francisco Bilbao, Sucre, Bustamante and José Miguel Infante Avenues, Barrio Italia seems to have found the perfect balance between the residential and the commercial, because there live, day by day, small stores, furniture restorers, design shops, galleries Art, restaurants, bars, people who have lived there all their lives and others who only walk tourists.
The social diversity that characterizes the neighborhood is also reflected in its architectural variety. Both on Avenida Italia and on Avenida Santa Isabel (streets that give the neighborhood its name), it is easy to find aristocratic mansions, mixed with cités. This heterogeneity is not only based on the lifestyle transmitted in part by Italian residents, but also based on the companies that settled there and gave it a little-known industrial imprint. Factories such as Lucchetti briefcases, Girardi headwear, Fantuzzi aluminums and Sermini spinning mills, all created by families who, besides their industries, had their houses there, along with those of their employees, set the tone for the neighborhood.
The beginnings are also linked to the populations of Juan Garcia Ballesteros and Salvador, who like the industries took advantage of the proximity of the railroad.
Several of these shops have been grouped together in large old houses, with high ceilings and glazed walls, to offer visitors, in a single pass, novel alternatives in costume design, furniture, art galleries, bookstores, toys, handicrafts And restaurants.
In gastronomic terms, traditional Italian food is added to the offer of Mexican, Peruvian, Japanese, Chilean and organic food, as well as rich pastry shops and warehouses offering their own coladas. Most of them are on Avenida Italia and Calle Condell, between Santa Isabel Avenue and Caupolicán Street.
A traditional warehouse that has been in the neighborhood for more than 30 years (Calle Caupolicán # 474), the old Colchonería Marín (Calle Tegualda # 1462), the rocker Bar de René (Avenida Santa Isabel # 0369), the imposing architecture of Casa Fresia (Fresia street corner Avenida Salvador) and the characteristic San Crescente Parish (Avenida Santa Isabel corner Avenida Salvador), are some of the landmarks that comprise the patrimonial circuit of Barrio Italia.
For its part, the cultural circuit has several galleries of contemporary art and bookstores located mainly on Avenida Italia. Among its attractions, it is worth mentioning the only museum inserted in the Italian Quarter: the Casa-Museo Eduardo Frei Montalva. There they lived the two former Chilean presidents (father and son) with his family, for more than 40 years, and today is the only house-museum that exists of some Chilean president. From Tuesday to Sunday and public holidays you can visit the rooms with their original furniture and a private collection of Chilean painting, as well as the original portrait that Guayasamín made of Frei Montalva.
The only fact to enter is to make a trip to Barrio Italia from the 50's, in a space where time stopped. La Peluquería Morales, located in Emilio Vaisse street on the corner of Avenida Santa Isabel, bears the name of its owner and hairdresser, who 56 years ago cuts men's hair in the most traditional style: only with a razor.
Another of the trades that can be found in the neighborhood is the Henry Wilson Tailor Shop (Avenida José Miguel # 1000), which has been manufacturing men's and women's costumes for more than 30 years. Right next door, there is a little shop that on the outside does not attract much attention, but inside it is full of old clocks that need to be repaired, including the cu-cus clocks, which sound the song of their little bird every hour.