02/20/07 - Cubanow (Havana) - Biography of La Rampa
By Ciro Bianchi Ross
Cubanow.- Every city-every country-has its history and its small history.
With the first one you make the annals and the anniversaries, you write down
text books and you fill up academic and official discourses, they are
incorporated to the collective flood and serve as meanings and example. With
the other one, condemned to be forgotten, obliged to be transmitted from
person to person at the most, are written novels and pages such as this one.
How many of the thousands of Cuban and foreign walkers who come forth and
back every day through La Rampa know of the precedents of this piece of
street that has been for several generations, the heart of Havana?
It is the piece of the 23 avenue that goes from Infanta up to L street in
Vedado. Or it can be also said that it is the 500 meters that are between
the place where the Ministry for Foreign Commerce is to be found and the
Habana Libre Hotel.
There is an aerial picture of La Rampa when it was still not important. It
was taken a little more than 60 years ago from the sea. To the left you may
see the building of the Montmartre Cabaret and to the right, the Natioanal
Hotel. But none of them is found properly in La Rampa. What is to be seen
then in the picture? Nothing. Almost nothing... To the right, the building
of the current Ministry for Labor, further up, the building Alaska which has
already disappeared, constructed in 1930, and crossing the street the
building of the Caballero funerary. Nothing else. Twenty years after this
picture, another one is taken from that same perspective and La Rampa is
already la Rampa.
THAT SEA ENTRANCE
It was September 1919. On the 9 a hurricane is felt strongly on the coasts
of the country and provokes a sea entrance close to Havana. The Valbanera, a
Spanish ship weighting 7000 tones and with 200 passengers and crew members
on board, unable to enter into the bay, decides to face the natural disaster
out in the sea and disappears forever.
After the whirlwind, a family went out in their car to watch the damages
produced by the hurricane, they went through the way that is today La Rampa
and never came back home: they drowned when the vehicle fell in one of the
wholes of the place.
That was La Rampa still during the 1920s and even after that: a road
surrounded by very deep drains. In one of those wholes, next to the National
Hotel, was the Marina stadium, famous because of its boxing competitions,
and another one served as an improvised baseball stadium. In the corner of
23 and L where the famous ice cream shop Coppelia now lies, which even
offered 54 different ice cream varieties during the 1960s, was at the time
the Reina Mercedes Hospital. That hospital functioned until 1954. Its land
which coasted 7000 pesos in 1886 were sold then for 300 000 A building
company wanted to build a hotel with 500 rooms there. In front of the
hospital and in L, where today lays the car parking next to the Yara cinema,
was the house of General Alberto Herrera, the chief of the Army's General
Staff from 1922 up to Machado's fall in 1933.
Havana in 1909 was practically over in Infanta. El Vedado was just the
neighborhood of La Chorrera, to some houses in Calzada Street and to one or
another incipient urbanization in Linea.
The owner of the land that surrounded La Rampa was Bartolomé Aulet and he
build his house at the bottom of a whole close to what today is the venue of
the Cuban Radio and Television Institute. When he dies, at the beginning of
the 1940s, he leaves his niece Evangelina as his only heiress. But the young
woman, according to one of the clauses of the testament was not able to
dispose of her properties up to 1975. Evangelina didn't wait that long. She
looked for a good lawyer and he found support in Colonel Pedraza, the second
man in charge in Cuba at the time, and between the two, they convinced a
corruptible judge of the unfairness and arbitrary of the death's will. That
was said and done: the niece and her buddies became rich from one day to the
The Italian Amadeo Barletta was one of the first buyers. A fascist, an agent
of Benito Mussolini and the organizer of the Black Shirts in Havana, this
man had been expelled from Cuba during Second World War and he reappeared in
1946 as the representative from the General Motors. In reality, he was the
leader of one of the four mafia families that operated in Cuba up to 1959.
He had many cover business: Unión Radio, the newspaper El Mundo, channel 2
from TV. and of course, the Ambar Motors, which was found in the current
building of the Ministry for Foreign Commerce, where there were many lawyers
offices and offices, among them the one from Doctor Domingo Santos Domingo,
the Cuban lawyer for Ernest Hemingway. There was also a dealers school,
employees from the casinos.
It would be Goar Mestre, the all powerful owner of the CMQ, who realized
before anybody else of the possibilities of La Rampa. He decided himself for
this spot against the suggestions of those who advised him to build Radio
Centro in the crossing of Monte and Prado. Mestre thought that if he were to
build the building of his business in La Rampa, the near land would become
more valuable and the area would be immediately populated. The journalist
Guido García Inclán connected him to Evangelina and they closed their
business. Radio Centro was inaugurated on March 12, 1948. Some time before,
on December 23, 1947, the Wagner Theater, the current Yara cinema, had
opened its doors with a gala function to which President Grau San Martín
assisted. The U.S. movie Night and Day was premiered and the entrance to the
theater cost ten pesos.
>From that moment onwards La Rampa, which was called that way because of its
deep inclination, was constructed very rapidly: apartment buildings, such as
the Retiro Médico with its mural painted by Lam, restaurants and night
clubs, bank and publicity agencies. The building that houses the different
airlines today used to be a shopping mall. In April 1953 there was an
exhibition in an art gallery of the artists from the mythical group of Los
Once (The Eleven), who revolutionized Cuban visual arts in their time. There
was also a shop, La California, where a weak before he was assassinated,
Frank País gave some members from the 26th of July Movement direct
instructions he had straight from the Mountains.
It is impossible to talk about La Rampa without mentioning the collection of
art works that are present in its sidewalks: a very good selection of Cuban
paintings may be found on those granite flagstones. It is also impossible
not to mention the Cuba Pavillion. It was built in seventy days and its
architects Juan Campos and Enrique Fuentes projected a work open to breeze
and perspective; a display of aerial architecture where the easy falls
advance between the vegetation and the crystal clear waters. It was
inaugurated in 1963, with the celebration in the capital of the World
Architect Congress, where 600 architects and around 1300 persons
participated in total. It was destined for an exhibitions center and it
accepted among other events, the First Cuban Culture Show, in 1967, and on
that same date, the important May Salon, which brought Cuba from Paris
whatever took place in the world in the field of the visual arts.
The Cuba Pavillion was inaugurated with a great rumba. And even the
architects danced behind the group from the Ministry for Construction that
came uphill through Rampa, while Pacho Alonso y Los Bocucos on one side and
El Jilguero de Cienfuegos on the other, let people listen to the best of
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