Canadian designer Gerry L’Orange recently returned from a trip to Havana. He had been there years before, but this trip was auspicious in that soon tourists will be flocking down to the land of old autos and Castro. But for now Havana is the city that time forgot and these photos and descriptions by L’Orange still speak of a city on the cusp.
CORREOS DE CUBA: Made-in-USA mail chute in the Bacardi Building. STAR 1: Truck bumper with cool star cutout. STAR 2: Design on tail of warplane at the Museo de la Revolución. UN CENTAVO: I found this brand-new 1 centavo piece on the street (photographed it back in Montreal). Diameter about 5/8″. Humbling to hold a coin worth about one 2500th of a dollar.
CASA POTIN: “House of Gossip.” House in Spanish, Gossip in French. This was an up-market French patisserie at one time. In her book Castro’s Daughter: An Exile’s Memoir of Cuba, Alina Fernandez remembers that “Fidel was very fond of the French delicacies from La Casa Potín, the most famous confectionery in Havana.” Now it’s a bakery for locals. Bet there aren’t two Ps like that in the whole world. LA CASA DE LAS MALETAS: “The house of too-narrow word spaces.” No: The House of Suitcases. AVE DE LOS PRESIDENTES: Outside of Old Havana, most street names are indicated on stone markers set cater-corner at intersections. They’re never buried in snow, of course, and they last forever. Hard to see in heavy traffic, however.
BARAZAL: A family name. Heaven knows what those quotation marks are doing there. Bronze letters in terrazzo. PRESTAMOS: “We lend.” Formerly a pawn shop or loan office, I suppose. Currently a shoe repair shop. Mosaic letters in terrazzo. SLOPPY: Sloppy Joe’s Bar (and sloppy drop shadows). Polychrome terrazzo with bronze surrounds.
506: A stenciled street number on a street named Industria. 105: A front step. I don’t know how this was done. The step is marble. I think the numbers are blackened cement polished flat. I like the period. 658: Steel numbers nailed into concrete. Variable, occasional drop shadows. 3¢ a cup: This dates back to a time when tiny cups of very strong coffee were served for pennies all over the city. No tables, no chairs, just street-front counters and lots of small transactions.
1921: A street number, not a date. 1938: A date, not a street number. VR: Of the slab-serifed V.R. nothing is known. KLM: The KLM office was adjacent to the Hotel Sevilla, where a key scene in the humorous spy novel Our Man in Havana occurs. K doesn’t stand for kerning in this instance. HUMADA: Humada is a municipality in Spain and a village in Argentina. What it was in Havana is unknown to me. Nice letterforms, poor kerning. AMBOS: Part of the stoop of the Hotel Ambos Mundos (“Both Worlds”), Hemingway’s favorite.
WINGED HELMET: This fantastic mosaic is in the entranceway to a former high-end tie and neckwear shop. I have no idea as to the origin of the heroic figure. HI: This crest graces the colonnade of the Hotel Inglaterra, one of Cuba’s oldest and grandest. Winston Churchill stayed at the Inglaterra in 1895. CA: I haven’t been able to discover what this monogram referred to. ASOCIACION DE REPORTERS DE LA HABANA: This mosaic is by the same artisan as the one who made the figure-with-winged-helmet mosaic: Luis Mion. Both works are signed. Interesting that the English words REPORTERS is used. The Spanish word is REPORTEROS.