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
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 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.
bar, mezzanine floor