Emigrating from Spain to Cuba in 1830, Don Facundo Bacardi and his family worked hard establishing themselves as business owners in Santiago de Cuba. Life must have been brutal, but Cuba had become the largest producer of sugar in the Caribbean. In 1862 the family bought its own rum distillery in Santiago and called it Bacardi. When Don Facundo’s sons took over, the secret rum formula was improved even further. During the 1880s and 1890s Emilio Bacardí (1844–1922) and his family were heroic supporters of Cuban freedom and independence.
By the end of the century Cuba had become very wealthy from exporting sugar, rum, tobacco and bananas, and the tiny island was a ready target for predatory super powers. Hundreds of thousands of Spanish troops outnumbered the much smaller rebel army of locals who therefore had to use guerrilla tactics to save their own homeland. The Spanish military governor of Cuba herded the locals into fortified camps where a quarter of a million Cuban civilians died from starvation and disease.
Spain and USA declared war on each other in Ap 1897. A year later the war ended when the two countries signed the Treaty of Paris; Spain ceded Puerto Rico and other, more distant islands to the USA. But what a nightmare for Cuba. From 1898-1902, and again from 1906–1909, Cuba was occupied by the USA. Under Cuba's new constitution, the USA retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and to supervise its finances and foreign relations! Self-government was not restored to Cuba until 1909.
central tower, Mexican free-tailed bat symbol
During the time of Prohibition (1920 on), Emilio Bacardi and the next generation of the family exacted revenge on the USA government. Cuba had become a popular destination for American tourists and by the 1920s the family was inviting those same tourists to come to Cuba to beat Prohibition at home. These were the boom years for Cuba, when Deco became the symbol of a vibrant future, with its distinctive buildings and colourful, extravagant shapes.
The Bacardi Building is one of Havana’s principal landmarks, standing on the western edge of the city’s historical centre. Its architect, Esteban Rodríguez Castells, originally won the international competition for its construction with a neo-Renaissance proposal. But after visiting the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris, he completely reworked his design into the Art Deco style. Located on the Avenida de Belgica/Belgium, the Bacardi building of 1930 is one of Havana’s first sky scrapers (12 storeys high) and remained the highest point in Havana for a long time.
Cubaism (Cuba Tourism) described the building in great detail. The façade was lavishly decorated with red Bavarian granite, inlaid with brass embellishments. The upper floors and the tower, both raised in a pyramid shape, were of the exquisite and bright design that combined blue and dun stripes with bright gold panels. The upper part of the building was faced with glazed terracotta reliefs of geometric patterns, flowers and female nudes by the American artist Maxfield Parrish.
Its sumptuous interior details included blue mirrors; stucco reliefs; brushed and polished brass; mural paintings; mahogany and cedar panelling; stained and etched glass; richly coloured inlaid marble from Germany, Sweden, Norway, Italy, France, Belgium and Hungary. The lamps and other fittings throughout the building were of course in the most modern Art Deco style. The colour of the ceramic flagstones covering the upper floors was bright yellow, referencing the white and gold rums exported by Bacardi.
1930s advertisement for Cuban Bacardi Rum. Note the yellow and the bat.
The company opened rum production facilities in Mexico in 1931 and Puerto Rico in 1936, as well as the New York based imports company in 1944. After the Cuban revolution, the company moved from Cuba to its Mexico and Puerto Rico factories, and build new facilities and offices in the USA, the Bahamas and Bermuda. Bacardí family members were now reputed to be strongly right wing and anti-Cuba, having close ties to the American right wing and to the CIA.
bar, mezzanine floor
In any case there was no money in the island nation for supporting its architecture, once the USA's obscene and brutal embargo on Cuba started in 1960. There was barely enough money for the 11 million Cubans to have food and medicine. Buildings start to moulder and crumble, including the once beautiful Bacardi edifice.