One of the direct consequences of opening the construction site is to be able to publicise the ongoing research, as well as it shortcomings. On several occasions, there have been public calls to try and collect photographs and films about Vila Itororó, thus improving the knowledge about this territory (seeherehow to collaborate). The Milu Leite Archive has made its way through to the project by means of “word of mouth”. This is undoubtedly a very valuable photographic collection, that remains, however, shrouded in mystery, lacking deeper scrutiny.
Milu Leite herself describes the family photo album as a trace of a forgotten memory: “the photographs belonged to my father, died in 2008. He probably inherited them from his only aunt, called Maritza. In order to understand how these photographs got into his possession, I have created a hypothesis: there is a yet unexplained link between my great-grandmother Elisa – a German woman who moved over to Brazil at the end of the nineteenth-century – and the wife of the Portuguese man who built Vila Itororó”. The Portuguese national referred to by Milu is Francisco de Castro, creator of Vila Itororó – a little known character. Sarah Feldman’s and Ana Castro’s research (soon to be made available on this site) describes him as a Luso-Brazilian entrepreneur, rather than Portuguese. This is one of the many myths surrounding Vila Itororó that new research, part of the restoration process, is challenging. He would have been born in São Paulo countryside and only later moved to Portugal as an infant. He returned to his birth place as an adult and started working in many jobs, until he started his project at Vila Itororó, in 1916.
Milu continues: “Perhaps they [Elisa and Francisco de Castro’s wife] were friends (I have photographs where they appear together, the Portuguese lady looking a bit older). My great-grandmother Eliza is perhaps one of the women photographed in Vila Itororó. Besides, as far as I could find out, the wife (or sister) of Francisco de Castro was my father’s maid-of-honour. Perhaps my granny has worked as a maid in her house, after she married my grandfather (Elisa’s son). And finally, the last suspicion: one of Martiza’s brothers was a photographer. He certainly did not take the pictures featuring Vila Itororó, as he was born later, but who knows if he didn’t follow his father’s professional footsteps, my grandfather Bernard? I like to imagine that my granddad was the author of these pictures… Suppositions by the handful, as you can see. I have no precise information about the first years of my grandparent’s residence in Brazil, unfortunately. All I know is that they have come from Berlin”.
The fragmented memory that the photographs bring on to Milu Leite mirrors the brutal transformations through which the city of São Paulo has undergone in the course of the twentieth-century. Such transformations create interruptions in time and these become visible in the traces that Vila Itororó bears in its architecture. The city grew by erasing itself and thus also by erasing the possibility for its inhabitants to remember their own histories. This why reflection about heritage today must be read as a struggle for the right to memory, a struggle that to a great measure involves the right to the city, that is, for the right to actively participate in the changes in our surroundings and, therefore, in our past and our future. What should be restored? What should be destroyed? Restoration work is a lot more than a technical gesture, or, in other words, restoration is primarily a critical choice that participates in the definition of what should or should not be erased, discussed and rehabilitated.
The photographs also point at a wealth of details regarding the building and the population who frequented the site. A careful gaze may detect the changes in Vila Itororó’s outlook, changes in its very project, like the progress of the paving of the streets around the block, the diversity in the physiognomy of the builders, dwellers and working men – among other elements that a deeper analysis could touch.
Milu Leite presently lives in Florianópolis, Santa Catarina.