Havana’s Amazing Art Deco – Habana Vieja & Centro Guide

You probably know Havana has lots of Art Deco, but the sheer quantity may surprise you. Think of South Beach in Miami, unrestored, stretching for miles and you get the idea. I’ll divide things up over several posts and add some tips for Americans who want to go.  Note also that Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to many architectural styles.

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(Cuban cats love Art Deco. Note the elaborate watering system, too.)

 

Havana is divided into 15 districts but for our purposes you can get by with four or five.

Habana Vieja (Old Havana) – You may think I’m exaggerating but it’s difficult to walk a block in Old Havana and not see an Art Deco building. But even within this abundance, there are some standouts.

If you are interested in Art Deco and plan on staying in a hotel, Habana Vieja is your best bet since you can walk to many sites, by no means limited to Art Deco. There are private homes (Casa Particular) you can stay in, in Old Havana but the majority of these are in the districts further west.

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The Bacardi building, Havana’s most famous Art Deco building. Restored (mostly) since this photo was taken.

 

Although it has seen better days, the apartment building next door to the Bacardi, at the corner of Monserrate and San Juan De Dios is seriously Art Deco.

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La Moderna Poesia bookstore, Obispo @ Bernaza (c.1941). One of Habana Vieja’s more impressive Moderne monuments. A great place to find books–about Fidel. It’s been restored since this was taken, in 1999.

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March 2013, restored.

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Teatro Fausto (1938) on the lovely Paseo del Prado (#201). Not currently operating.

 

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Turn the corner at Teatro Fausto, onto Colon, and around the back, you’ll see the Tabacalera Insurance Company.

 

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Over on Calle Galiano, a dance rehearsal is taking place at Cine-Teatro America (1941). About as curvy/Streamline Moderne as you can get and a nod to Radio City, this theater is part of the Edificio Rodriquez Vazquez building which also features classic Art Deco styling.

 

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Lobby, Cine-Teatro America

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A very Art Deco door to Edifico Rodriguez Vazquez (1941), which houses the Cine-Teatro America

 

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Terrazzo floor in the Edificio Rodriquez Vazquez lobby.

 

 

Centro Habana – From Habana Vieja, Havana moves westward. Our next stop, Centro, is a half-way station between densely packed, commercial/residential Havana and the suburbs.  Centro is a little scruffy and it lacks Deco monuments like the Bacardi building.  But there are Art Deco apartments on nearly every street.  Centro looks rough but I’ve never had a bad experience there or anywhere in Havana.  If you get lost or want to step back for a better view, the Malecon (waterfront) is never more than a few blocks to the north.

 

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A typical Art Deco apartment building in Centro. Havana is home to hundreds of similar buildings.

West of Centro, things spread out to the west and south.  You’ll see fewer tourists here and the distances can make for a long walk.

Vedado and beyond – To the west of Centro lies Vedado, what I call the suburbs. From this point on, things spread out so if you love to walk, great.  At some point in our itinerary, you’ll probably decide a taxi is in order.  The Malecon, which runs along the sea wall, can be used as an express route to get a jump start westward, and that will take you behind the Hotel Nacional (worth seeing but not particularly Art Deco).

 

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Hotel Nacional. This place has quite a history but calling it Art Deco seems like a stretch to me.

 

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This has nothing to do with Art Deco. Just wanted to point out that colorful old cars are so plentiful in Cuba that if you can’t point your camera and take the lens cap off, you really can’t miss.

Postscript: There are several gorgeous coffee table books on Art Deco Havana. I’ve been asked if there is an architecture guidebook. Yes–I heartily recommend the little-known Havana Guide by Eduardo Luis Rodriguez. It has not been revised since 2000 but in a place like Havana, not much has changed. The Havana Guide has both photos (B&W) and maps to most of the important structures. It also covers Havana’s fabulous 50’s heritage which is remarkable. Note that this guide is limited strictly to architecture and won’t replace a more general guide.

In the next installment, I’ll cover some great Deco spots in Vedado and Miramar. Then, it’s on to Almendares and Kohly, whose Deco treasures are probably less well known. That should take 2 more posts. Better make that 3….  For a map of my favorite Havana Art Deco spots, click here.

Equipment used:  Canon G1X  for Edificio Albear, Teatro Fausto, Blue apartments in Centro, Hotel Nacional & the Rambler. Canon 5D mk III with 24mm IS lens for Cine-Teatro America & Edificio Rodriquez Vazquez. Olympus OM-4T w/24mm Shift lens for La Moderna Poesia (first), Canon 5D mk III w/24mm TS-II lens for La Moderna Poesia (second) & Tabacalera Insurance Co. Bicardi Bldg shot with Fuji 69W and Velvia 50 film.
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2 Responses to Havana’s Amazing Art Deco – Habana Vieja & Centro Guide

  1. Eric says:

    Nice article. Before even thinking of mentioning the Nacional, you should have posted some pics of this now derelict and grand building in Vedado.

    https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=edificio+lopez+serrano

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