Santiago’s house of art

The historic Puyó House in Bellas Artes was once one of the most important artistic centers in the Chilean capital. 

On the corner of Monjitas and Miraflores in Santiago’s artistic and cultural epicenter, Bellas Artes, sits a three story neoclassical building carved from white stone. From its black, shuttered windows it seems to gaze with a calm knowingness onto the bustling downtown, content in the place it has occupied for over a century. In the evening those windows open up and masked figures in black and white kimonos can be seen sparring with wooden swords, their shouts reverberating against the pharmacy and cafe across the street, burrowing their way into the ears of the people passing by on their way home or to one of the many local pubs that make this one of the most social neighborhoods in the city.
Today the house on Monjitas and Miraflores is home to Japanese martial arts and Arabian dance schools, but at one time it was one of the most important centers for the arts in the city.
One hundred years ago, at the beginning of the 20th century, Dr. Luis Puyó commissioned the era’s most popular architect Emilio Jecquier – the same man responsible for the eponymous neighborhood’s Bellas Artes Museum and the Santiago Stock Exchange – to build what would be the designer’s only residential structure. It took seven years, but when finished consisted of six separate houses joined together by a common facade, one hundred rooms in all, with balconies, interior patios lined with palm trees and even a fountain.
As time wore on, the doctor’s family began to dwindle and of his nine children two remained, Inés and María. It was Inés, a well respected painter that had studied with Chile’s first true modernist, Juan Francisco González, that invigorated the house with a life of the arts. She installed her personal studio, and after a fire ravaged the Art Museum in 1969, invited her contemporaries to set up their own studios. Soon after, a young René Poblete opened up one of the houses to the public, creating what would become the 619 Workshop, an artistic space offering courses and talks that would run for 16 years.
During the 70’s Beatriz Lawrence and Fidel Angulo both installed art galleries and the house became a living work of art. Throughout it all was Inés Puyó, who passed away in 1996, followed by sister María a year later, leaving the house to distant relatives.
“Ines would say that in her will it stated that the house should always be a place for artists or a cultural center, but it never happened,” recalls Lawrence.
The building was sold to a variety of organizations until finally ending up in the possession of a German real estate agency. Fearing demolition, many artists left the house, signalling the end of its golden era as an artistic and cultural center.
Today, thanks to its status as an historical site, the house remains. Though many of its most celebrated residents have long since gone, the house stands as a reminder to an especially notable time in Chile’s artistic community.