Cool book: Havana before Castro


Top: The Riviera lobby in 1957, Bottom: The same view in 2007

Peter Moruzzi sent me a copy of his gorgeous new book, called Havana Before Castro. It's loaded with photos of the beautiful mid-century architecture of Havana's resorts, casinos, and restaurants. On his website for the book, Moruzzi has added some “then and now” images to his Havana site.

Chris Nichols says: "It’s really the most freakish time machine place I’ve ever seen. I mean...the art! the chairs! The silverware! It’s all still there. So weird and wonderful."

Havana before Castro


  1. I think it’s awesome, actually, that those things are preserved. Certainly Castro’s communism is a far cry from Mao/Xiaoping/Zemin/Jintao’s communism.

  2. Peter, besides being an architectural historian, is also the founder and president of the Palm Springs Modern Committee, which works to preserve mid-century architecture here in the desert. I’ve had the opportunity to see his 3-D slideshow from the Cuba trip, taken with a vintage 3-D camera. The images are quite amazing.

  3. re: #1
    Part of the difference is that China can afford to buy new stuff thanks to the fact that we trade with them. The Cubans haven’t preserved all this mid 20th century decor just because they really love the 1950s. It’s kinda cool for us to look at, but probably sucks to be them.

  4. @3
    That sounds pretty cool, Antinous. Did he say anything about making those pics public, or are they the same ones in the book?

    Old Havana always strikes me as such a beautiful and surreal place. Some day, when the trade embargo is lifted, I hope they decide to keep a lot of that old stuff in place, maybe only restoring it instead of remodeling entirely. Maybe Havana will be a romantic destination again.

    1. RJ,

      The pics require 3-D glasses. He could put them online, but you’d need the glasses to view them correctly. I vote for a reality where computers come with a pair of 3-D glasses.

  5. After the revolution, didn’t Cuba go through a “no-frills communism” phase until about 15-20 years ago Capitalism became the “new communism” and those buildings were renovated from miserable “halls of the people” *back* into decadent foreign tourist paradises…

    It would be nice to see the interim photos.

  6. Thanks for the link, I just ordered the book!

    I was in Havana earlier this year and one of the highlights was going to the Polynesian Restaurant (formerly a Trader Vic’s) in the Havana Libre Hotel (formerly the Hilton).

    The restaurant looked almost identical to the photos from the restaurant opening in 1958 (year of the revolution) hanging on the wall.

    I also had the pleasure of staying in the Havana Libre, whose lobby is a pretty great example of 1950’s opulence.

    NickP is totally right though… the ‘preservation’ of all of this mid-century architecture (and kitsch) is out of necessity although there are preservation efforts in old Havana to protect older buildings of historical significance. I’d really recommend Estrada’s Havana: Autobiography of a City. It’s an amazing read and puts a lot of perspective on the architecture and history of the city.

  7. Hi. I’m the author of “Havana Before Castro” and I agree that the preservation of mid-century Havana has not been planned but is really “preservation by neglect.” Nonetheless, when the travel ban is lifted I intend on working towards convincing Cubans to preserve what’s best about Havana both as a tribute to their incredible past and as a means of generating revenue from heritage tourism.

  8. I guess us Canadians are a bit privileged to be free to travel to Cuba, but I’ve said it over and over again to my American friends…

    Screw the travel ban and do everything you can to defy the embargo.

    I’m not going to romanticize Cuba. It is a poor country with a lot of problems but it is without a doubt an intriguing place with amazing people. The embargo only hurts the people and empowers the Cuban government by giving them someone to blame for everything that is wrong.

  9. That trade embargo has kept Castro et al in power.

    If you’d traded with Cuba from the off, it’d be safely back in the hands of the mafia before 1980.

  10. The embargo has been terrible for the Cuban people, but the utter mismanagement of the economy by Castro’s government has made things much worse. The city is crumbling away because people can’t own their own homes – so there’s no incentive to maintain the buildings. Only recently have people been allowed to sell farm produce at open markets and you cannot operate your own business unless it’s a restaurant with 8 tables or less run out of the living room of your house. Mass transportation is so lousy that people pack into old American cars that serve as taxis to get from one place to another. Most people are poor and a huge number are unemployed. This is why so many have attempted to risk their lives to escape to the U.S.

    But, through it all, Cubans are generally proud of their country and do not want it to return to the days of corruption, U.S. dominance, and mafia control. When Castro goes the transition will be hard, but I think that lessons will have been learned about what NOT to do so as to retain their independence and amazing culture.

  11. it must be time for the USA to stop the silly restrictions on Cuba. The fact is even with all the hardship in cuba the general population are better off than they where before castro . Come on America be the big man and help a poor country out criminalising people for going to a near neighbour is wrong

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