During the 1940s, Cuban residents put on their weekend’s best and headed to Frontón Jai-Alai – a massive structure in Central Havana that housed a sport as thrilling as baseball.
This was the cultural heyday of Cuba — the island had won their independence from Spain, the famed Tropicana club was a global phenomenon, and tourists were flocking to the pastel-colored city to see the world’s top talent.
Twenty years later, Frontón and countless other structures locked their doors and fell into disarray, leaving remnants of past celebrations on dusty floors. They still sit vacant and decaying today – beautiful and eerie.
This is the post-Revolution Cuba. One where strongholds from Fidel’s government and an embargo from the U.S. sent the Cuban economy in a downward spiral. Officials can’t afford to restore these government-owned structures, at least not yet. Apartments have been built on top of many, with residents becoming unwilling caretakers. Squatters can sometimes be found inside, along with gangs of cats and birds.
Quite often citizens will find a new use for the buildings because space is a rare commodity, according to René Caparrós Aguiar. A historian and professor from Havana, Aguiar helped us to explore and understand these impressive sites, like the former Verdun theater.
Verdun is ornate with regal, pink balconettes suitable for the most formal performances. It was home to many musicals and variety shows and later became a cinema. The carved walls are now water-logged and moldy from gapes in the ceiling. If you’re lucky enough to make it inside, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by ballet barres lining the walls. The structure now serves as a practice facility for local dance companies – helping to restore its artistic pride.
Havana is a stunning city, despite its architectural decline, which is a testament to its rich history and generous people. Here are Havana’s most unique urban ruins: