14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 2 May 2016 – The roots of a bush have grown up between the stairs and weeds hang over the marquee. The Hotel New York, a few yards from the Capitol Building in Havana, is the very picture of abandonment. For more than a decade its doors have been closed to the public and since then no strains of orchestra music are heard, no sounds of glasses clinking in the bar, no smooth sliding of suitcase wheels across a polished floor. The “Big Apple” in the heart of the capital city is rotten.
Until a few years ago, brass letters told passersby on Dragones Street, between Amistad and Aguila, that the air-conditioned accommodations had been built in 1919. The building was originally the property of Jose H. Martines, a rich rancher who spared no expense in its design, while the project was carried out by the firm Tella y Cuento, Architects and Engineers. The building was leased to Jose A. Morgado to manage as a hotel.
That story can barely be glimpsed in the ruins that remain, although some of the lost glamor remains in the memories of the hotel’s oldest neighbors. Eduardo, a retiree who proudly shows his ID identifying him as a “combatant,” has lived in the area since 1959. He tells how, when they closed the hotel at the end of the last century, “there were many who took away the bathroom fixtures and even the tiles.”
According to the old man, it was for that reason that the authorities in the area “bricked up all the entrances with cement and blocks.” But the incursions have continued and now, “it has been converted into a public restroom.” Barely a single Venetian blind remains, the metal railings around the interior balconies have been torn off, and not a single piece of glass that used to crown the doors is left.
To the left of the building, where before there was a recreational area for guests, there is now one of those cafes where the underworld reigns. Some tourists approach attracted by the music and end up as “prey” for the agile denizens who populate the place. The offers can range from an out-of-tune bolero, to a round of beers paid for by the naïve visitor, to the most sophisticated sexual acrobats.
From that hovel one can see almost 100 rooms that sheltered the guests staying there, arranged around two parallel courtyards. The press of the era reported on the luxurious furnishings and an elegant ground floor restaurant, in the style of the grand American hotels.
At the entrance, embedded in the granite floor that has resisted the neglect, you can barely make out the initials of New York. On some of the stairs of the stately entrance the complete name remains, standing out amid the grime.
Across the street a modest café sells juices and snacks. The employee says the building “is about to fall down and it could kill someone.” She remembers when it closed “several men came in trucks and took away everything of value inside.” Later, it waited to be restored by the Office of the Historian of the City, but it was delayed so long that “there’s no longer anything to save,” opines the lady.
There is a rumor in the neighborhood that the City Historian, Eusebio Leal, rejected several offers from European companies to repair the Hotel New York. However, despite several calls to his office, it was not possible to confirm this information. “No one was willing to pay the amount he was asking for,” says Eduardo, an elderly combatant whose wrinkled face resembles the cracks in the wall in the hotel. “They wanted so much that no one was interested,” he says.
The façade, which is still impressive despite the deterioration, has four rows of windows and independent balconies. Five large Corinthian pilasters give the exterior wall a touch of grandeur, and a ledge on the 4th story was built when the building was expanded. The whole place seems like a little scale model of its gigantic cousins in Manhattan.
Gone is the time when you had to book in advance to spend a night in the Hotel New York. Today, only the rats fight over the space with the tramps, who have managed to introduce several holes in order to spend the nights in its dark interior.
At all the “Accountability Meetings” held in the area – a routine of taking stock of the achievements of the Revolution – residents argue that the building has become a focus of disease and a danger to health. Nothing that makes the People’s Power delegate flinch in an area filled with buildings on the point of collapse.
Scattered around the city, objects that were part of the Hotel New York adorn the room of an apartment, are resold in the informal market or end up in the trash. An old custodian of the place keeps a screen and an antique grandfather clock that he claims he saved from the looting. “One day when they reopen the hotel, I will return them,” he says with a sly smile, but nobody believes that music will once again echo within those walls.