A grand mansion earmarked for rescue.
If Cuba had regular TV The Block would not be the top rater it is here in Oz. With home ownership a rarity there’s not much demand for “doing the place up”. For Westerners bitten by the renovation bug Havana is a mixture of heartbreaking and mouth watering. So many grand buildings. Such a sad state of disrepair. The taxi driver on the way in to old Havana from the airport said visitors were jokingly advised to walk in the middle of the road: they were in more danger of being hit by crumbling debris from the decaying buildings than by cars.
The historic centre of Havana was listed on the World Heritage register in 1982. While I wouldn’t agree wth our tour notes that it is “one of the best preserved colonial cities in all of the Americas” you can clearly see what a spectacular metropolis it was in its heyday. Handsome, imposing Baroque and Neo-classical architecture, with Moorish, Spanish and French accents, which would be at home in any European or American city, is in abundance, some surprisingly still in reasonable repair. It’s not hard to imagine the traffic of glittering luminaries – and Mafia bosses – pouring in from Florida and Hollywood cruising around the streets in their flashy American limos cigars in hand.
The genesis of much of the built environmental ruin lay in the revolutionary policy of confiscating privately owned property and redistributing it to the general populace, for whom accommodation was out of reach. Spacious old mansions and terraces, with their high ceilings and elegant interiors, which would have housed one family, could then occupied by multiple families. The soaring ceilings allowed for extra “mezzanine” floors to be shoe-horned in, further swelling the occupancy rate. There was little respect for beauty as grandeur made way for sardine-tin occupancy.
Repairing the damage – old Havana streets get The Block treatment.
Private enterprise – making stucco rosettes and other trims under Che’s watchful eye.
New hotels are springing up on prime old Havana sites.
Now an important upcoming event is adding urgency and focus to the repair job. In November 2019 Havana marks the 500th anniversary of its foundation by the Spanish and all stops are being pulled out to get the place ship shape in time for the big celebration. Those valuable tourist dollars are being put to good use by Raul Castro to ensure the renewal program meticulously preserves the historical essence of the city while also kick-starting valuable social projects in struggling neighbourhoods. The planners have set a goal of restoring 3000 of Havana’s classic buildings by 2019. With around 200 done – not made any easier by the embargo’s restrictions – it’s all hands on deck. Perhaps they should get a few past winners from The Block to give a helping hand.
Many buildings are in surprisingly good repair.