14ymedio, Eustaquio García, Havana, 6 February 2021 — Two plaques, one from the 1930s and the other from the 1940s, are the only evidence passersby see on Obrapía Street, between Bernaza and Villegas in Old Havana, that shows that the patriot Manuel Sanguily lived there until his death in 1925. Manuel Sanguily was one of the few Cubans who participated in the two wars of independence and held high positions in the government.
If it weren’t for the plaques, nothing would speak to the history of the old nineteenth-century manor house, almost in ruins, where more than 20 families live divided into different rooms.
The facade of the house clearly shows where one of the balconies collapsed in 1990, the year Yarianna Milanés Acosta was born; she now lives in the house with her two young children. Since then, more than 30 years ago, it has remained the same, with the risk that another piece of the balcony could collapse.
The young woman says that a family began to build a large five-room house, in what was the old garage, with the aim of renting it out to international tourists, but everything stopped long ago. “The man in charge was told that they are planning to give us all houses soon, something that has not happened and we doubt that it will happen,” says Acosta.
“I arrived here in 1961, very young,” Abelina Matos Peña, who is almost 80, told 14ymedio. “Since then, my family has been growing and we have had to divide the house.” Although in the past there was some interest on the part of the Office of the Historian to repair this property and turn it into a museum, she assures us that nothing happened.
In 1975, a fire broke out in the warehouse next to the building, which was already in poor condition, and in 1989, the City Historian, Eusebio Leal, was interested in turning it into a state center. “But the Special Period arrived and all those plans were abandoned,” explains Matos.
“My mother has written several letters to all possible government agencies where she explains the poor condition of this house and the need to leave here for a better place,” adds Milanés Acosta. “Even the fact that is is the old house of Manuel Sanguily does not mean they pay attention to us. Here all the walls seep and the mice are the owners of this place.”
Manuel Sanguily’s birthplace is not the only one that has been abandoned by the authorities. The same happens, for example, with the former residence of Enrique José Varona, an intellectual who became vice president of Cuba, located on Calle 8 between Línea and Calzada, in Havana’s Vedado district. The entryway to the house is completely propped up and almost all its walls are cracked.
This is the abode where the essayist Jorge Mañach, one of his greatest admirers, visited Varona to interview him when he had only a few years to live. Mañach’s testimony was published by the modern magazine Avance.
Today, only one plaque indicates that the so-called “teacher of youth” lived there. The current owner of the old mansion, 14ymedio learned, has put it up for sale, but did not want to give further statements.
The same oblivion would be the fate of the last house of the Dominican General Máximo Gómez, if it were not for the fact that the Historian’s Office has assumed its repair to transform it into a museum.
Three years ago, the magazine El Toque showed the palpable deterioration and abandonment of that large house located in Calzada y D, in Vedado, where the great military strategist — who resigned as president of the newly launched independent nation — lived his last years until his death, in 1905. There is no trace of the bust of the hero, which was tucked in a corner of the interior garden, but one of the builders who works in the restoration assures that it was removed to be renovated.
With the Revolution, in 1959, most of the houses of historical personalities that had been converted into state centers or museums were abandoned, especially those mansions that, due to their size, repair or maintenance could only be maintained at the expense of considerable material resources.
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