Europeans were slow to occupy this stretch of the coast, so Mar del Plata was a late bloomer. Not until 1747 did Jesuit missionaries try to evangelize the southern pampas Indians; the only reminder of their efforts is the body of water known as Laguna de los Padres.
More than a century later, Portuguese investors established El Puerto de Laguna de los Padres, with a pier and a saladero (slaughterhouse). Beset by economic problems in the 1860s, they sold out to Patricio Peralta Ramos, who founded Mar del Plata proper in 1874. Peralta Ramos helped develop the area as a commercial and industrial center, and later as a beach resort. By the turn of the century, many upper-class porteño families owned summerhouses, some of which still grace Barrio Los Troncos.
Since the 1960s, the skyscraper-building craze has nearly gotten out of control, leaving many beaches in the shade much of the day. As the ‘Pearl of the Atlantic’ has lost exclusivity, its architectural character and its calm, the Argentine elite have sought refuge in resorts such as nearby Pinamar or Punta del Este (Uruguay). Still, Mar del Plata remains the most thriving Argentine beach town.