By Pedro Widmar, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – After nearly two years of planning, January 6, 2010 marked the last day of Help Discoteca’s existence. For some the establishment’s closing signifies the end of a golden age, for others it is a welcome change and a significant step towards Rio’s first-world aspirations.
For years the Copacabana beachfront property stood as an icon of Rio de Janeiro’s well-known prostitution business.
As the club doors opened each night hundreds of sex workers would stream into the lounge, attracting the predominantly tourist clients. By 11PM the club was full, and usually bustling until 4AM, dominating any would-be competition.
The name of the club said it all. From local Cariocas to sex tourists, anyone could go inside for a few drinks and come out accompanied, for a price. The club started as an upper-middle class discotheque in the Eighties, but its success soon caught the ambitious eyes of Brazilian call-girls who recognized the captive audience.
Synonymous with Copacabana prostitution, the club has been a top Rio nightspot for over two decades. Its closing will affect the lives of many, including Help employees and the those who benefited from its existence. While opinions differ on the social and economic implications, what is clear is despite all the false starts and delays, Help is now closed.
Officially expropriated as of January 9, 2010, the building and land, which have been subject to several legal disputes in the past, will serve as the new grounds for the Museum of Image and Sound (MIS). The Museum, which celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, currently functions as an archive of Rio’s musical history and is mostly used by researchers.
The move into Copacabana will mark a reformulation of the museum’s concept by opening the collection to the general public. Aiming to be the cities foremost culture museum, the project is a mixed initiative between Rio de Janeiro’s State Government and the Fundação Roberto Marinho. As Governor Sergio Cabral explained, “the state can’t take care of everything on its own, through partnerships and collaboration we can make things more efficient.”
As for the nightclub, which was operated by the Windsor Hoteís group, it seems to have become a page of history. Aside from speculation that it would reopen in the former Arpoador Bingo building, also owned by the group, sources claim that the Help Discoteca name was bought in order to prevent the club from reincarnating.
At the January 19th Cornerstone launch of the MIS, Governor Cabral denied the move as being morally founded “This is a present to the city. All morality aside, it’s a radical change from what used to be here. The MIS will add cultural value to Rio.”
The expropriation proved to be a complicated and time consuming process for the state government. The property still belongs to Jadwiga Lewandowski Swirski, who has been deceased for over 10 years, and rent payments for the venue have allegedly been made to her daughter Krystyna Swirski. There is however, a long-standing legal battle for ownership of the property.
The earliest records show Stefania Plaskowiecka in Nodari originally owned the property. After Nodari’s death, Jadwiga, her servant and eventually adopted daughter, took possession of it fighting off distant relatives in a legal dispute that reached Brazil’s Supreme Court. However, other claims made by distant relatives and suppressed decades ago, were reopened in 2002.
This web of intricacies was one of the factors that delayed the MIS project, which was originally scheduled to open in 2010. To sidestep this conundrum of litigation and legal ambiguity the state government has deposited the indemnification amount in holding awaiting the resolution.
And with that, the second semester of 2012 will mark the inauguration of what is planned to be amongst the most modern museums in the world.