120 years of Luz Station

A tribute to the house of Museum of the Portuguese Language, in the year of its reopening to the public.

Luz Station is a monument-building located in a neighborhood in the central region of the city of São Paulo, inaugurated on March 1st, 1901. Designed by the British engineer Charles Henry Driver, it was the headquarters of the São Paulo Railway Company and, since 2006, it is the Museum of the Portuguese Language's home.

In the year in which the station turns 120 years old, the Museum of the Portuguese Language reopens to the public after a process of restoration of the building, that went through a fire in 2015 –the second in its history.

Here, we celebrate its rebirth.

Luz Station circa 1896. (1896/1896) by Marc FerrezMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

To talk about the Luz Station construction, it is necessary to contextualize it from some aspects of the city of São Paulo's history.

Esquina da Rua Líbero Badaró (1900) by Iconographia / Cia da MemóriaThe Football Museum

São Paulo in the 1920s.

The city of São Paulo at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th was growing rapidly, becoming the commercial and financial center of the Province. It was a period of urban transformations, such as the opening of avenues and the emergence of neighborhoods.

Rua Direita (1900/1905) by Iconographia / Cia da MemóriaThe Football Museum

In 1900, the census indicated the existence of 240,000 inhabitants in the capital.

Popular concentration at the inauguration of the first electric trolley in São Paulo. (1900-05-06/1900-05-06) by Guilherme GaenslyMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Inauguration of the first electric tram in São Paulo.

Directly related to this growth were the development of the economy and the increase in the number of immigrants, some of whom settled in the city itself, where they started businesses and commercial establishments, integrating an important group of communities of different ethnicities.

Serrinha de Santa Clara train station, 1920s. (1920/1920) by Unknown authorMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Not only the city of São Paulo, but several regions of the state underwent major socioeconomic changes, especially in the second half of the 19th century.

Workers removing the dried coffee from the yard to the bins. (1939/1939) by Theodor PreisingMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

And coffee was one of the main protagonists in this process.

Café Boa Vista Farm – Coffee harvest on a farm at Ribeirão Preto. (1928/1928) by Theodor PreisingMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

It became the main export item, moving a set of forces: urbanization, industrialization, immigration and expansion of the internal and external market.

Facade of the Bolsa Oficial do Café. XV de Novembro Street, in the background the Bolsa Oficial do Café, coffee brokers and passersby. Santos/SP, 1960s. (1960/1960) by José HerreraMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Thus, the reasons for installing the station are a reflection of the coffee economy: the aim is to expand and improve the commercial infrastructure, which includes a more efficient transport system to meet new agro-export demands.

Irineu Evangelista de Sousa - The Baron of Mauá by Museu do Amanhã and Wikimedia CommonsMuseu do Amanhã

In 1860, Irineu Evangelista de Sousa, Visconde de Mauá, founded in London “The São Paulo Railway Company Ltd”, the institution responsible for building the first railway in the state of São Paulo.

Serrinha Station in Santa Clara; Train – Martinópolis Farm – Serrana/SP, 1920. (1920/1920) by Unknown authorMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Thus, with investments from public and private initiatives, the formation of an important railway network in the interior of the state begins, linking cities such as Jundiaí, Campinas, Limeira and Rio Claro.

Retiro Santa Clara and railway from São Paulo to Minas Gerais. Private railway extension at Fazenda Martinópolis – Serrana/SP, 1920s. (1920/1920) by Unknown authorMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

A few years later, on January 30th, 1868, the São Paulo Railroad Company was created, with the objective of selling the coffee produced in the interior of the state.

Map of the train lines of Companhia Paulista de Estradas de Ferro. by Unknown authorMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Railroad path.

Construction of the Station.

Between the 1860s and 1900s, Luz Station occupied three different buildings, all in the same region of the city, in which, in the past, there was the Way of Guaré. 
Heading to Minas Gerais, the old path was born from a small indigenous trail bordered in its initial stretch by extensive pasture fields.

Map of the Luz Station area, in front of the public garden, in 1881. (1881-01-02/1881-01-02) by Unknown authorMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Later, this area would become the districts of Campos Elíseos, Luz and Bom Retiro. It was a sparsely inhabited region during the colonial period and part of the Empire and, in the 19th century, the Way was disappearing, absorbed by the growth of the city.

São Paulo. Jardim da Luz I by Guilherme GaenslyMuseu do Ipiranga

Next to it, in the beginning of the 19th century, the first Public Garden of São Paulo was established, destined to be a place of leisure and walk open to the population, also characterized as a botanical garden.

São Paulo - Jardim da Luz V by Guilherme GaenslyMuseu do Ipiranga

Luz Garden

Fountain at Luz Garden. (1993-09-01/1993-09-01) by Juca MartinsMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Luz Garden

First Luz Station building. (1880/1880) by Unknown authorMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Early projects

Luz Station had, in all, three different buildings. The first of them was built in 1867 on a land granted by the government of the Province of São Paulo, located between Mauá street and Luz Garden, as part of the São Paulo Railway Company.

First Luz Station building, 1880. Oil on canvas. (1880/1880) by Benedito CalixtoMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Smaller and simpler than the current one, the Station was connected to the railroad linking Jundiaí, from where the coffee was exported, to Santos.

Luz Station's courtyard in the 1860s/70s. (1860/1860) by Unknown authorMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

To meet the growing demand –for passengers and the flow of coffee production–, the Company built another station in 1870. This time, in another location: between today's Florêncio de Abreu street and Cásper Líbero avenue.

The current building

The building that is currently installed between Luz Garden and Mauá street was designed by the Englishman Charles Henry Driver and built between 1895 and 1901. Not only did the architect come from another country, but also the construction materials: nails, bricks, tiles and steel frame arrived by ship. Therefore, it is said that the "Luz Station came from the Atlantic Ocean".

Its architecture was impressive: the central tower, 52 meters high, and its clock, almost 3 meters in diameter, could be seen hundreds of meters away. The main facade, over 157 meters long, created a grandiose setting in the city. There was nothing compared to the Luz Station's magnitude, which made it a landmark and a permanent symbol in urban space.

In fact, the architectural style refers to Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, both in London.

Top Euro (Bri-E) London Churches Westminster Abbey - Interior, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
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Main entrance hall in the early 20th century., Guilherme Gaensly, 1902/1902, From the collection of: Museu da Língua Portuguesa
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Westminster Abbey on the left, and the main hall of Luz Station on the right.

Top Euro Bri E London Big Ben See Also Westminister And Houses Of Parlement, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
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São Paulo, Estação da Luz, Guilherme Gaensly, From the collection of: Museu do Ipiranga
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Big Ben, left, is the name of the bell installed in the Palace of Westminster in 1859. The official name of the clock tower is Elizabeth Tower, the name chosen to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.

In addition to being a reference in the urban landscape, it was also part of everyday life and the imagination of the city of São Paulo.

Railroad worker reads the newspaper, surrounded by luggage carriers, in front of Luz Station. (1910/1910) by Vicenzo PastoreMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Workers in front of Luz Station.

Shoeshiner boys. Area between Luz Garden and Luz Station. (1910/1910) by Vicenzo PastoreMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Shoeshiners on the street between the Station and the Luz Garden.

Service providers playing marbles in front of Luz Station. (1910/1910) by Vicenzo PastoreMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Children play marbles in front of the Station.

Excerpt from a poem published in the magazine A Cigarra, issue 129., Autor desconhecido, 1920/1920, From the collection of: Museu da Língua Portuguesa
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Also, it is not uncommon to find poems and stories that mentioned the Station in newspapers and magazines.

Lembrança de São Paulo - Estação da Luz - S.P.R.W. by Guilherme GaenslyMuseu do Ipiranga

The first decades of the 20th century saw the height of the Station, when Luz was a prominent region in the city and a symbol of the coffee cycle.

Visit of the English ambassador Sir Ralph Paget. (1919/1919) by Unknown authorMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

It was through the Station that Brazilian and international authorities disembarked when they arrived in São Paulo, as in the case of the visit of the English ambassador Sir Ralph Paget, in 1919.

Crowds gather in front of Luz Station waiting for the arrival of Ruy Barbosa. (1919/1919) by Autor desconhecidoMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

In the photo on the right, the crowd welcomes Ruy Barbosa, a Brazilian diplomat who was the founder of the Academia Brasileira de Letras. On the occasion, he came to São Paulo to hold a conference.

In 1946, a fire –which lasted more than 7 hours– affected the entire east wing, the great central hall and the clock tower. The tower served as a chimney that, with the difference in pressure, concentrated the fire inside, thus preventing the west wing from being destroyed. Still, much of the station was destroyed, leaving only the platform and the west wing.

Firefighters fight fire in the north wing of Luz Station., Assessoria de Comunicação da Rede Ferroviária Federal S/A, 1946-11-06/1946-11-06, From the collection of: Museu da Língua Portuguesa
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Destroyed hall of Luz Station., Assessoria de Comunicação da Rede Ferroviária Federal S/A, 1946-11-06/1946-11-06, From the collection of: Museu da Língua Portuguesa
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In 1947, the São Paulo Railway was nationalized with the name of the Santos-Jundiaí Railroad (EFSJ), and the reconstruction works of the station were started, extending until 1951. It was in this process that the building gained another floor (in the east wing, with the same designs as the original façade) and a central platform for the use of the metropolitan train. 

Restaurant inside Luz Station. (1902/1902) by Guilherme GaenslyMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

One of the places affected was the old restaurant.

The Station expansion was motivated by the increase in the number of passengers. At the time, the city's population was already close to 2 million inhabitants.

Luz Station east facade. (1902/1902) by Guilherme GaenslyMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Passenger platform, Luz Station. (2021-07-01/2021-07-01) by Cristiano FukuyamaMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Another important intervention in the Station building was the implantation of the Museum of the Portuguese Language. Carried out between 2000 and 2006, this process involved a wide and careful restoration project which, at that time, was already listed as a heritage site by IPHAN (Institute of National Historic and Artistic Heritage), CONDEPHAAT (Council for the Defense of Historic, Archaeological Heritage , Artistic and Touristic) and CONPRESP (Municipal Council for the Preservation of Historic Heritage).

Mezzanine in the Luz Station main hall. (2019-12-16/2019-12-16) by Ana MelloMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

The Museum of the Portuguese Language

Headed by the architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha and his son, Pedro Mendes da Rocha, the conversion project carried out a series of architectural interventions to enable the use of the monument for a new purpose, respecting the characteristics of the construction.

The same approach adopted by this project was applied to the restoration carried out in the building between 2016 and 2020, as a result of the second fire that hit the Station, in 2015. This new project also had the same pair of architects.

Reconstruction of the station's roof. (2018-04-05/2018-04-05) by Ana MelloMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

One of the challenges was the reconstruction of the roof of the third floor, where one of the museum's public's favorite experiences is located: Praça da Língua.

Reconstruction of the roof of "Praça da Língua". (2018-12-04/2018-12-04) by Ana MelloMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Rua da Língua, installation at the Museum of Portuguese Language. (2020-10-19/2020-10-19) by Ana MelloMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Praça da Língua experience

Paint layers identified in the restoration process. (2021-08-26/2021-08-26) by Cecilia FariasMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

The west wing of the Luz Station administrative building has always been considered the most preserved part, containing original elements. In the process, the old  revealed layers applied to the walls were preserved.

Restoration of the administrative area of the Museum of Portuguese Language, in the west wing. (2019-08-13/2019-08-13) by Ana MelloMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Also in this wing, the complete restoration of the floors and the recomposition of decorative paintings were carried out.

Restoration of the west wing, where the administrative area of the Museum of Portuguese Language is located. (2019-06-10/2019-06-10) by Ana MelloMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

In the photo, a detail of the restoration of the painting of one of the main rooms in the west wing of the museum.

Detail of the restoration of the administrative area, in the west wing. (2019-07-12/2019-07-12) by Ana MelloMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Restoration process for boiseries and baseboards.

Restoration of the main lobby mezzanine. (2019-05-22/2019-05-22) by Ana MelloMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Repairs were made to the mezzanine.

Restoration of hydraulic tiles from the original project, from 1946. (2021-08-26/2021-08-26) by Cecilia FariasMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

The tiles were also treated by removing stains, painting, replacing damaged parts with new ones, sanding, polishing and waxing all floors.

Detail of the clock at Luz Station showing the date of construction of the tower: 1900. (2021-06-28/2021-06-28) by Cristiano FukuyamaMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Also the watch has undergone care. Made in Brazil, the Michelini watch had replaced the English model Johnny Walker Benson, destroyed by the 1946 fire.

Augusto Fiorelli at Luz Station's clock. (2021-07-01/2021-07-01) by Cristiano FukuyamaMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Important to say that the watch has its secret story. Throughout its history, only three people were responsible for its maintenance: Júlio Miller, Augusto Fiorelli and their grandson, Augusto César Sampaio Fiorelli.

The story of Fiorelli and his family is mixed with that of the Station itself and, as such, of the memory of the city of São Paulo. In 2021, Augusto shared his memories with the Reference Center of the Portuguese Language Museum. The interview is now part of the museum's collection.

[Teaser] Voices from the Station: Fiorelli, the watchmaker (2021-06-03/2021-08-24) by Museu da Língua PortuguesaMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Encounters of many paths

As with Fiorelli, the Station is the place where various people and stories intersect and which also marks the constitution of a diverse territory composed of the Luz and Bom Retiro regions. Its residents, workers and passersby. Migrants from various regions of the country and abroad. Russians, Lithuanians, Poles, South Koreans...

West facade of Luz Station seen from Júlio Prestes Station and part of the train yard. (2021-07-01/2021-07-01) by Cristiano FukuyamaMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

Main facade of Luz Station, where you can see the east face of the clock tower. (2021-07-01/2021-07-01) by Cristiano FukuyamaMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

One of the most important train stations in the city of São Paulo, Luz Station was designed by British architect Charles Henry Driver. (2018-08-09/2018-08-09) by Governo do Estado de São PauloMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

In 2003-2004, as part of the building's conversion process, the facades and roofs were fully restored, respecting the smallest constructive details.

Entrance to the Museum of the Portuguese Language. (2021-07-01/2021-07-01) by Cristiano FukuyamaMuseu da Língua Portuguesa

The building that houses the Museum of the Portuguese Language has in its surroundings the Pinacoteca de São Paulo (first art museum in the country), the Jardim da Luz (which once served as a zoo, meteorological observatory, horse racing, fairs free), the Sala São Paulo, headquarters of the State Symphony Orchestra (installed at the Júlio Prestes Station) and the Resistance Memorial, in the building where it once belonged to State Department of Political and Social Order of São Paulo.

Paulo Mendes da Rocha, who was also at the head of the Pinacoteca's implementation, argued that new things should not be built, but rather, the existing structures should be transformed, adapting them to new projects and contemporary needs.

It is to him, and to his thought, that we dedicate this exhibition in celebration of the reopening of the Museum of the Portuguese Language.

In memoriam

Paulo Mendes da Rocha

Credits: All media
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