Awnings and Advertisements / Fernando Dámaso

Havana. Source: Cuba Before Castro – Odalys Ruiz

Fernando Damaso, 24 August 2017 — The narrow streets of Havana, in the colonial and early years of the Republic, were covered with awnings from one side of the street to the other, to protect passers-by from the inclement tropical sun and heavy rains. They were mainly placed, along with their commercials, by the owners of the establishments located in them. The awnings and advertisements were part of the image of the city and helped to make it more colorful. Corroborating this are the chronicles of visitors and photographic and cinematographic images, as well as different works of art.

With the development of the city and the widening of its streets, the awnings adapted to the new conditions, occupying only the space of the sidewalks, whether narrow or wide and, without disappearing totally, giving way to the portals in our main shopping streets (Galiano, Reina, Monte, Belascoaín and others) and, in the fifties, returning to the modern avenues of the newly urbanized areas and their commercial centers, enriching the urban environment with their striped designs and colors.

Something similar happened with commercial announcements: small and mainly textual in their beginnings, they were transformed, gaining in size and artistic quality, until becoming the original illumination of the fifties, adorning the streets and avenues of our cities and towns , Enriching them by day with their color and at night with their luminosity.

Starting in 1959 the awnings began to disappear, destroyed by the weather and indolence and never restored, and the commercial announcements were removed from cities and towns and even prohibited. Then came the unique political propaganda, directed and controlled by the Party: streets, commercial establishments, public fences and artistic and sports centers, still today, display their heavy ideological, dogmatic, repetitive, boring and unbearable weight. Only in some international event that requires it, are the spaces of the propaganda enlivened with some commercial advertisements. It is a secret to no one that commercial advertisements could serve to defray the costs of maintenance of these facilities.

Currently, due to one of the many absurdities, both the installation of awnings and advertisements, especially if they belong to the self-employed, require a long and complicated chain of authorizations and bureaucratic procedures, excessive payments and regulations, which make them unlikely, even if this is detrimental to the comfort of customers and the advertising of businesses.

It would be interesting to know which urban bureaucrat can be blamed for these barbarities and which leader approved them. Awnings and advertisements, in every city in the world, embellish sidewalks and boulevards. In Havana, in addition to the streets, they existed everywhere: at first in front of the restaurants, cafes and bars, as the famous ones in the “open airs” of Paseo del Prado, in front of the National Capitol, and later, also surrounding the whole environment, on the roofs of buildings, both in Central Park and Fraternity Park as well as and along the Malecon, just to name a few.

The authorities of the city and the National Institute of Physical Planning should be more interested in solving the serious problems that affect Havana, than waging a war to awnings and advertisements. This schematic application of the austere, monotonous, gray and unbearable socialist order, has brought as a consequence public spaces (stadiums, sports halls, cinemas, theaters, shops, establishments and even parks) that are ugly, cold and unfamiliar, something different from what happens in any self-respecting city. Regulation is one thing and prevention is something totally different: our authorities have always been prodigal in the second.

If by day our streets are bustling and broken, dirty and stinking, at night they become somber and dark. Then, only the small spaces dedicated to international tourism shine, as if the foreigners were the only ones who deserve to enjoy the beauty and the light, perhaps for the currencies that they contribute to the coffers of the State; while this is denied to Cubans.