You're certain to notice this grand marble building overlooking Plaza San Martín. The Círculo Militar is one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Buenos Aires, and it seems to have been plucked out of France's Loire Valley. It was built as the mansion of the Paz family, the owners of the newspaper La Prensa, whose original office was on Avenida de Mayo and is now the Casa de Cultura. The Paz family was one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in the whole country, and some will still call this building by its two old names -- Palacio Paz and Palacio Retiro. But it is now officially called the Círculo Militar, named for the society of retired military officers who bought the building in 1938, when the economics of the Depression made such a building impossible to keep. It was built in stages spanning from 1902 to 1914, under the direction of the French architect Louis H. M. Sortais. The commissioner of the project, family patriarch José Clemente Paz, died in 1912 and never saw its completion. (If you go to Recoleta Cemetery, don't miss his tomb, among the most impressive.) Marble and other materials throughout the building were imported from all over Europe.
Most rooms are reminiscent of Versailles, especially the bedrooms and the gold-and-white music hall with an ornate parquet floor and windows overlooking the plaza. Other rooms are in the Tudor style, and the Presidential Room, where men would retreat for political conversation, is the most unusual. Very masculine and dark, it is lit by strange chandeliers decorated with naked hermaphrodite characters with beards and breasts, whose faces contort as they are lanced through their private parts. It is unclear why this was chosen as the decorative theme of a room intended for politics. The six elevators are original to the building and the overall height of the building is eight stories, though it actually has only four floors with very tall ceilings. The most impressive room is the round Hall of Honor, which sits under an interior rotunda and even has a balconied second level overlooking a stage. It was a private mini-opera house, covered in multicolored marble and gilded bronze, used now for conferences.