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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.
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 
their music. 


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