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March 21, 2013 | Posted by | No Comments

Art Deco Havana

Edificio Bacardí, San Juan de Dios, Old Havana photo: Claire Boobbyer for The Guardian UK

According to the New York Times, 250 Cuban and foreign connoisseurs gathered last week in Havana for the World Congress on Art Deco for the hope the event would foster wider recognition of the island’s Art Deco heritage and the urgent need to preserve it.

Calle 13 corner of L, Vedado photo: Claire Boobbyer for The Guardian UK

Havana, like many of the island’s provincial cities, is peppered with Art Deco houses, apartment buildings, cinemas, theaters, hospitals and office buildings that range from the bold, vertical skyscraper style to streamline moderne with its cool horizontal lines and curved corners.

Juan Pedro Baró mausoleum doors, Catalina Lasa, Cementerio Colón photo: Claire Boobbyer for The Guardian UK

These landmarks are not as grand as the Chrysler Building in New York, and there is no Art Deco district like in Miami Beach, but fans say there is an unusual wealth and diversity of stock, much of which has remained standing — if poorly maintained — through 50 years of Communist rule.

El Tiempo (Time) in the Vestibule of the Edificio López Serrano photo: Claire Boobbyer for The Guardian UK

Havana is renowned for its crumbling elegance. Although some of the colonial buildings of Old Havana built between the 16th and 18th centuries have been carefully restored over the last 30 years, many buildings are in disrepair due to a lack of resources, high humidity, salty sea air and the fact that until a year ago Cubans could not buy or sell property.

Boudoir and bathroom of Countess Revilla de Camargo, Museo de Artes Decorativas

Boudoir and bathroom of Countess Revilla de Camargo, Museo de Artes Decorativas photo: Claire Boobbyer for The Guardian UK

Fortunately, the absence of a construction boom during the past 50 years had spared many of Cuba’s historic buildings from the developer’s bulldozer. However, architects say that poorly enforced building codes and overcrowding in houses have resulted in cheap or tasteless alterations to houses that should be designated landmarks.

Miguel de Soto Methodist Church photo: Claire Boobbyer for The Guardian UK

Regarding the meeting of the World Congress on Art Deco, “Part of our purpose is to make a lot of noise,” said Gustavo López González, deputy director of the National Museum of Decorative Arts and one of the organizers. “If we in Cuba don’t appreciate the value of these buildings, how can we expect people from overseas to do so?”

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