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Santafesinos who today comb gray hair will remember that the city once had a chairlift. The attractive tourist service crossed the Setúbal lagoon from El Faro to the Costanera Este. These fascinating rides were short-lived. The chairlift only worked for a few years, between 1980 and ’82. The great historic flood that washed away the old Suspension Bridge wiped out everything. Later the structure was dismantled and ended up in Los Cocos, Córdoba. But the memory of him stayed forever. And his story still has chapters to tell.
In the city there are almost no traces of that chairlift. Its head was where now is the beginning of the central flowerbed of Muttis Boulevard and the Costanera. At the top of the building that was demolished was the command room and ascent platform; and on the ground floor, a restaurant with a garden.
From there you went up – upon payment of the ticket – to one of the 43 pairs of hanging seats that traveled 640 meters along 7 Jefes Avenue, passed over the Puerto de Palos confectionery (today it is the lighthouse viewpoint), crossed the Setúbal on the old railway pilings and ended their journey on the Costanera Este. There was a tourist and gastronomic complex, Piedras Blancas.
The chairlift ride over the water lasted just a few minutes. But they were unforgettable minutes, an experience that fascinated. “Traveling sitting on a chair hanging from a steel cable over the Setúbal lagoon, observing the landscape and arriving at the other shore was incredible,” says Mario Ponce, one of the Santa Fe residents who enjoyed it. This is how everyone who lived the experience remembers it.
Today, El Litoral reconstructed the same journey that the chairlift made in the 1980s. Thanks to technology, a drone traveled the 640 meters of distance to relive the visual experience of that time and thus have an approximation to the sensations caused by traveling on water.
Across the river, Piedras Blancas was a state-of-the-art complex for its time. It was at the northern end of the Costanera Este. There you could have a drink or dinner, climb the Astro Liner rocket and “travel through space” virtually. Or enjoy nature and the beach, in the middle of alpine cabins with all kinds of offers and services.
Curious fact for the time is that some bathers went topless on the beach. For this reason, the magazine Siete Días had published a report entitled “La Mónaco de Santa Fe”. Underneath the place and the habits of the people were described. “It was a revolution for the time,” says Pablo, son of Osvaldo Busaniche, who died in 2017 and is remembered for having been the promoter of Piedras Blancas, in addition to his time as president of Colón.
If you open…
On Friday, February 15, 1980, at 7:00 p.m., the Santa Fe Aerosilla was inaugurated. An advertising poster announced “It starts up.” And the next day El Litoral headlined: “The chair lift and the Piedras Blancas complex were inaugurated.”
For that celebration, great personalities arrived in the city – among which the presence of the boxer Carlos Monzón (the recent world champion lived in Buenos Aires) stood out – and the ribbon cutting was carried out by the authorities on duty, together with two of the creators of the project: Alfredo Block, chairlift mentor, and Osvaldo Busaniche, from Piedras Blancas.
The day of the inauguration of the chairlift. The Coast Archive
There was a blessing, fireworks, a parade of boats, airplanes flying over, water dance in the fountains that were lit, the discovery of a mini zoo with monkeys, peacocks, capybaras, flamingos and rheas, among other species. Later there was also a lunch and the subsequent opening to the public, from 9:30 p.m., for those who struggled to be the first to cross.
The first trip was made by the de facto mayor Miguel Coquet. “A real crowd had gathered on Costanera Avenue to participate in the show and ride the chairlift, which worked until the wee hours of the morning,” reported El Litoral the following day, in its usual evening edition. And the following Sunday, an edition of the traditional Santa Fe – Coronda aquatic marathon was held. It was without a doubt a historic weekend for Santa Fe.
A dream come true
Alfredo Block was the creator of the Santa Fe chairlift. He was a dreamer. To make it happen, he added to the project -as investors- the brothers Herbert and Roberto Norman, the Esperanto brothers Raúl and René Camissi, and Osvaldo Busaniche, with his investment in Piedras Blancas. Together they made something unforgettable for the city. Block had been inspired by his father, Federico, a German immigrant who came to Argentina escaping World War II and had installed the Carlos Paz chairlift in Córdoba. When Alfredo saw the old railway pilings in the lagoon he thought of his father and did not hesitate to ride a chairlift for her. He did so.
The entire structure was manufactured by Morsbach in Germany and traveled by boat to Santa Fe. Block, along with his three sons, were in charge of the assembly, under the supervision of engineer Monteagudo. “It was my father’s dream, just like my grandfather’s,” says architect Alfredo Block Jr., their son and grandson. He is 65 years old and from those times -when he was 22- he preserves a family treasure never revealed: it is an album of slide images from those days of splendor of the chairlift and the Piedras Blancas complex. “Do you want to see them?” he invites.
The images were used to promote visiting the city and enjoying the chairlift. Each of the slides transports you to another era and imprints the atmosphere of those days. Alfredo’s father had to obtain authorization for the project from the authorities on duty, in the midst of a military dictatorship. He first obtained the permission of Colonel Miguel Coquet, in charge of the Santa Fe administration, and then of the national authorities in charge of the FF.CC piles.
Now he had to overcome a new obstacle. How to get the money to carry out the project. “My father was not a person with money, so he looked for a shareholder partner,” Alfredo recalls today, along with El Litoral. That’s how the Normans, the Camissi and Busaniche joined.
“I remember everything perfectly, I was 14 years old and it was a really innovative project for the region,” says Pablo, the son of Osvaldo Busaniche. Piedras Blancas had a five-star restaurant that was visited by all the personalities who passed through Santa Fe. “I remember, among others, Alain Delon and Mirtha Legrand,” he says.
Among the many anecdotes, Pablo brings to the present two in particular. The first has to do with the first crossing. “A military man of the time did it and he ended up with water up to his waist, because the cables lacked tension and the chair went down to the river,” he says and laughs. And the second anecdote was one night, “when the manager turned off the system at the end of the day and forgot a couple who were crossing and were left hanging in the middle of the lagoon (laughs). The boy had to jump into the river and swim to the shore to let them know that they had been forgotten”.
Then Alfredo Block (h) contributes: “In ’81 the flooding of the Paraná was already felt, and the last section of the chairlift before reaching the Costanera Este, passed at the level of the water, until it reached it”.
-Who was the first to cross?
-When with my father and my brothers we finished adjusting the 24 mm steel turnbuckles. and the concrete counterweight, my brothers Federico and Rubén hung the first chair and pressed the button. And further back my father followed them in another. So they went down in history as the first to cross, says Alfredo.
Has anyone ever jumped into the river?
-Repeatedly. It is that he only had a bar that crossed the waist and it was very easy to remove. Then some young people made the mischief of throwing themselves in the middle of the trip. A sign had to be put up to indicate that jumping was prohibited.
The chairlift worked for a short time. Just two years. The flood of ’82 took it away, as did the Hanging Bridge and part of the old Costanera. For Herbert Norman, that wasn’t the only reason Santa Fe missed the chairlift. “The truth is that at that time the city was not so touristy and there was not enough to sustain its operation,” he said in an article published by El Litoral in 2018. The truth is that when the river descended it had swept the complex on the Costanera Este . And crossing the chairlift to the devastated land no longer made sense.
“Where Piedras Blancas was, the water covered everything. The alpine cabins were buried under three meters of water,” recalls Alfredo. It is that the old Costanera Este was almost a sandbank and had not yet been refulada, so it had a very low level. With the bravery of the water there was nothing left. It was the end of a great tourist investment for the city. And only the memory endures in the memory of those who comb gray hair.
where is the chairlift
But what happened to the chairlift? “My old man was a German who had an idea and he did it,” says Alfredo. “So he went looking for a hill to mount the chairlift. Until he got a piece of land in front of the Los Cocos labyrinth, in the Cordoba mountains. He looked for new partners, bought mountains, prepared the ground, moved it and set it up.” The structure was inaugurated in 1985. It no longer has the old chairs and much of its structure was replaced.
His mentor had an obsession with chairlifts. He had already built the one for Carlos Paz -together with his father-, the one for Luján (Bs. As.), and the one for the Martial glacier (Ushuaia). Death found Alfredo Block traveling on Route 19 towards Los Cocos, in 1994, in a traffic accident. His children carried on the legacy for only a couple of years.
The pillars of the FF.CC. from Setúbal to where the chairlift columns were supported are still erected in the middle of the lagoon. A resolution of 1983 annulled its use. They are the symbol of another time. First, from the passage of the train; later, from the chairlift; and in recent years, some pedestrian bridge project, among other ideas that never prospered. The management of Mayor José Corral ordered technical studies to recover them and give them some use. But it came to nothing.
In 1999 the new Costanera Este was inaugurated, with a paved street and a roundabout, as it is known today. The historical descent of the river these days left uncovered the remains of the old Piedras Blancas complex, at the northern end of the waterfront. The rubble tells about what was beautiful. Soon the river will recover its usual level. And, just like this story, everything will be submerged in the memory of the Santa Fe community.