Vidigal Beach, in São Conrado, one of the most beautiful and reserved of the Zona Sul, almost became private property of the Sheraton Hotel in the 1960s – much to the despair of the residents of the favela that have been going there since the 1940s. As incredible as it sounds, it only was saved due to the union – until then unheard of – between the “morro” (the favela) and the “asphalt” (a term for non-favela residents).
“There was a lot of residents who had mansions on Av. Niemeyer who also felt hurt by the project”, remembers Armando de Almeida Lima, ex-President of the Residents Association of Vidigal in the 70s. “It was the people from the asphalt that brought down the lawsuit. But our union was also very important. We succeeded in getting hundreds of signatures against the construction of the hotel both in the morro and on the asphalt. When you find yourself being squeezed, it’s no longer about social class. Shortly after the construction was halted”, he says.
The Sheraton was built in 1967 in the place of the old Hotel Colonial, that shared the beach with an old colony of fishermen – who were also removed during the construction process. The plan to stop access to the sea was barred in court after a petition was passed around the mansions and the shacks of the region. Armando says construction was only retaken when the owners of the hotel promissed to put in a new stairway to the beach in place of the old one that went through the hotel.
“They first made one of wood which rotted quickly. Only later was a cement one built, the same one that’s there today”, he says.
Colony and Colonial share the beach
The history of Vidigal Beach has always been directly connected to the favela. Many will say the first residents of the favela were fishermen from the old colony. The furniture upholsterer Luis Alberto Corrêa e Castro, 64 yrs old, and a resident of upper Vidigal since the 50s, says the beach was always a kind of extension of the favela.
“Today we still have an ‘Olympic village’ (a gym of sorts), but it’s at the very top of the hill. And a soccer field in the neighboring favela. But the beach is really the residents’ preferred way to have fun. When the summer comes everyone comes down the hill”, says Armando.
(Just before the construction really began – source)
According to him, tourists, residents and fishermen share the space in peace. “I remember this kind of thing happened back when the Hotel Colonial was standing, too. The guests stayed in some cabanas at the edge of the beach and sometimes they’d offer cold water to kids from the favela. In any event, we have many rich neighbors and this was never a problem”, he says.
About the Sheraton project regarding the privatization of the beach, he guarantees that he never thought it’d become reality. But, of course, he was worried about it. “The beach is public and everyone knows it, but you can’t mess around! I think the hotel owners wanted to put in a deck, a dock, or something similar. For them it would be great but it didn’t stick”, affirms Luiz Alberto. “The beach doesn’t belong to the Sheraton. The Sheraton is the one that was build on our beach. ‘Ours’, no, it belongs to the whole city! It made a lot of noise back in the day but they sorted things out afterwards. And today the beach continues to be where we have a lot of fun”, he says. – Source (PT)
Click the source link for a poem by Vinícius about the beach, about when he used to go there in the 50s and 60s.