Detail of the Castelinho da Rua Apa.

Castelinho da Rua Apa: The Brazil’s Little Castle of Horror

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In 2015, work began on Castelinho da Rua Apa, or Little Castle of Apa Street, to restore it to its original grandeur. This house originally resembled a medieval French castle, but due to years of negligence, it fell into disrepair. Despite its architectural beauty, very few are aware of its horrific past.

The dos Reis Family During Happy Times

In the early 1900s, Sao Paulo was an up-and-coming town in Brazil. Many were flocking to this city to establish residency after amassing a fortune for themselves from industries such as coffee, cocoa, and sugar. The community of new wealth settled in a prominent area of Sao Paulo near the area known as Apa Street. Although Dr. Virgilio Cezar dos Reis amassed his fortune in a non-traditional industry – cinema – he still wanted to join the class of wealthy Brazilians who were lured to this side of town for its wealth and prominence. Cinema was a recent technology, but Dr. dos Reis believed that it would be the wave of the future. As a result, he joined the prominent classes on Apa street and built one of the most lavish mansions in the town.

An old photo of the ‘Little Castle of Apa Street.’

An old photo of the ‘Little Castle of Apa Street.’ (O Castelinho da Rua Apa )

With the wealth he accumulated from the cinema house, Dr. dos Reis had a fabulous home built for his wife Maria and his two sons, Alvaro and Armando. Dr. dos Reis was very fond of French architecture, and this was the inspiration for the family home. He contracted architects directly from France to start work on building his home in 1912, and within five years, the house was a dazzling structure in the city of Sao Paulo.

The structure was just as magical as the films that he showed in Dr. dos Reis cinemas. He spared no expense on his dream home. The original building was a beautiful combination of old and new architecture with circular turrets on the exterior and the interior floors made of marble that was imported from India. The furniture and carpets were also some of the finest in the world. The dos Reis family couldn’t be happier, and it appears that they had the ideal family life within their perfect family home. At least this is the way it seemed from the outside.

The ‘Little Castle of Apa Street’ in 1933.

The ‘Little Castle of Apa Street’ in 1933. (O Castelinho da Rua Apa )

A Real Life Brazilian Tragedy

No Greek drama could compare to the devastating tragedy that would plague this “happy” family. No one knew it, but there was tension brewing in the dos Reis family between the two sons. Alvaro, who had slowly made his climb as a professional ice-skater, was becoming quite the popular brother in the family. Armando, the younger brother, wasn’t as out-going as his elder brother and it was his conscious choice to avoid the limelight. This drastic difference in personalities may have been the source of tension between the brothers for many years. The depth of this friction between the two of them would play out in 1937.

In March, the patriarch of the family, Dr. dos Reis passed away suddenly. It is unclear, but he may not have left instructions on what to do with the family business in the event of his passing. This became the source of a brutal tug-o-war between his sons. Alvaro was passionate about ice-skating and wanted to take the cinema and convert it into an ice-skating rink. Armando, the more practical and traditional of the two, insisted that the cinema remain their family business - considering it was the industry that allowed them to amass their fortune in the first place.

The dos Reis family.

The dos Reis family. ( São Paulo Antiga )

Their mother Maria sided with Armando, which infuriated Alvaro. This bitter and impassioned tug-o-war lasted for about two months after their father’s passing, and on May 12 after an evening of arguing about what to do about the business, all members of the family faced a tragic end. The housekeeper, Elza Lengfelder, was in her living quarters of the house when she heard the commotion. She went to alert the security guard and upon them entering, they found all three of the remaining family members dead on the floor. 

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