Today we toured Cemeterio de Colon (Colon Cemetery) in Vedado. Built between 1871-1886, the cemetery followed the plan devised by Spaniard Calixto de Loire. Designed with two main streets on a central axis, the cemetery is a gridded mini-city of the dead.
We saw some familiar names, such as the Baró-Lasa Mausoleum. Besides hiring Lalique to do the interiors of his house he also commissioned the atelier to design a mausoleum for his wife, Catalina Lasa, who was reportedly the most beautiful women in Cuba. Theirs was a scandalous relationship—they had an adulterous relationship before they divorced their respective spouses.
We then moved on the Tropicana cabaret in the neighborhood of Marianao. Owner Martín Fox decided that he needed an indoor stage, so he wouldn’t have to cancel the show every time it rained. He commissioned architect Max Borges Jr., who designed what came to be known as the Arcos de Cristal (Crystal Arches). Awarded a Gold Medal by the Institute of Architects after its completion in 1951 the structure is evidence of Borges’s fascination with concrete vaults (he was influenced by time spent with Felix Candela). The series of vaults decrease in size as they approach the stage and are all slightly offset from one another. These gaps were glazed and at night outdoor lights illuminated the palms and other vegetation for visitors to see from the inside. In addition, the vaults were painted black, with tiny pinpoint lights that created the illusion that perhaps the audience was seated outdoors. Fox also commissioned Borges to create an outdoor sage, Bajo las Estrellas (Under the Stars), the following year, and a casino a few years later. Unfortunately, we were prohibited from taking photography inside the cabaret.
Fountain of the Muses, by Italian artist Aldo Gamba, was originally located outside of the Casino Nacional. When it closed in 1952, Martín Fox bought the fountain and had it installed outside of the Tropicana.
Erica N. Morawski, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Illinois - Chicago
Erica N. Morawski is a Ph.D. candidate in art History at the University of Illinois – Chicago. She received a BA in art history at Tulane University and MA in Art History at the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently completing a dissertation entitled, “Designing Destinations: Hotel Architecture, Urbanism, and American Tourism in Puerto Rico and Cuba.” This work investigates the role of hotels in shaping understandings of national identity, which in turn shaped international relationships, through an approach that systematically ties object and image analysis with social, political, and economic histories. Her work argues that these hotels functioned, and continue to function, like diplomatic cultural attachés—their design shaped politics on the islands, and played a decisive role in shaping past and current international relations.