EVEN in Cuba they know it’s a waiting game, waiting for the Castros to exit the stage, and for Cuba to open up. When Americans finally do arrive in quantity, New Yorkers will notice something familiar about Havana, for a string of New York architects found it fertile ground a century ago.
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01. OUR MEN IN HAVANA: Buildings by New York architects in Havana include the central station by Kenneth Murchison, shown in 1913.
Havana’s central station, shown about 1913, was designed by Kenneth Murchison, who did the Erie-Lackawanna Terminal in Hoboken, and various buildings around New York.
02. Holy Trinity Church, now demolished, was designed in 1905 by Bertram Goodhue, the architect of St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue and West 53rd Street. The image is from “Great Houses of Havana,” by Hermes Mallea.
03. The Havana branch of the National City Bank of New York is by Walker & Gillette, who designed the Fuller Building at Madison and East 57th Street. It was built in 1925 of coquina, a rough, shell-studded rock.
04. The Hotel Sevilla-Biltmore with its 1924 multistoried addition. The hotel was made over by Schultze & Weaver, who did the Waldorf-Astoria.
05. The Roof Garden of the Sevilla-Biltmore. The image is from “Hotel Sevilla-Biltmore, Habana, Cuba,” published in 1924.
06. A vintage postcard view shows the 1914 mansion of the Marqueses de Avilés, left, in the Vedado section of Havana. Designed by Carrère & Hastings, it is much more splendid than their comparable Frick Mansion in New York.
07. The 1918 pool house at the residence of Pablo González de Mendoza in the Vedado is by John H. Duncan, the designer of Grant’s Tomb.
08. The 1930 Hotel Nacional as it looks today. It was designed by McKim, Mead & White.
09. The Bank of Nova Scotia, shown in 1916, is by Arthur Lobo, born in the West Indies and trained at Columbia. He designed the apartment house at the southeast corner of West End Avenue and West 96th Street.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Cuban capital was spectacularly rich, Newport-rich, with a large cadre of highly trained local designers. In 1902 The Real Estate Record and Guide gave some idea of the sophisticated level of regulation; cornices, balconies, ornament and even colors required approval, and the architect had to present an elevation drawing of the entire block, to make sure the house was aesthetically agreeable.
One of the earliest buildings by a New York architect was Bertram Goodhue’s Episcopal cathedral, designed in 1905 and architecturally optimistic on a very Roman Catholic island. Goodhue, a recognized master of ecclesiastical architecture, was firmly a Gothicist, but for Havana developed a Churrigueresque design, a flowery version of the Spanish colonial. Where it stood is unclear, but it is gone now.
The oldest section of the city, Old Havana, fronts on the Bay of Havana, with narrow, almost medieval streets. But in the early 20th century the section around Obispo and O’Reilly Streets was home to so much bank construction it was nicknamed “little Wall Street.” In 1913, Arthur Lobo, born in the West Indies and trained at Columbia, worked out a lush neo-Classical facade for the Bank of Nova Scotia at O’Reilly and Cuba Streets. Shoehorned into a tight intersection, Lobo’s bank rounds the corner, making a sheltered half-circle vestibule of double height.
Copyright Christopher Gray, NYT.