The Ghost of Ayestaran Street

The building is located on the corner of Ayestarán and Estrella streets, in the Havana municipality of El Cerro. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 28 October 2021 — This week marks the 20th anniversary of the fire in the building that formerly housed the pharmaceutical and perfumery firm Warner-Hudnut, located on the corner of Ayestarán and Estrella streets, in the Havana municipality of El Cerro. Two decades after the flames devoured part of the structure, passersby avoid passing under its portal for fear of an imminent collapse of the remaining walls.

The building also housed the hotel El Sol for men and became, after 1959, family apartments full of wooden platforms colloquially called ’barbecues ’ — raised built in the rooms to increase the living space. That was precisely what happened, that fateful October 25, 2001, and it took firefighters many hours to put out the fire that spread at full speed through the beams, planks and false ceilings.

The construction housed no fewer than 60 families and, according to one of the victims speaking to Cubanet in those days, it had been declared uninhabitable ten years earlier. However, even in its dilapidated state it remained one of the most beautiful buildings in the neighborhood, with its shape sticking out like the prow of a ship with neoclassical and baroque details.

“But the only option they had given us was the shelters, none of the families agreed to move to those barracks,” said the man. “It is preferable for the building to fall on you than to spend ten or fifteen years living in those places, which according to what we have been told are unbearable.”

It was said then that one of the neighbors must have left a stove on in one of the apartments, but there was also talk of a candle or a cigarette. The years without maintenance and the amount of wood did the rest.

Shortly after the accident, an agricultural market was set up on the ground floor of the building, ironically nicknamed “los quemados” [the burned ones] by the residents of the area, but which was closed when debris began to fall and the balconies ended up falling off into the street.

Since then, the only ones who dared to go there were the couples who used it as a free “motel” in a city where staying in a room is a luxury that few can afford, until, a few years ago, the property was completely bricked up to prevent people from sneaking inside.

Two decades later, there is still the mass, without being demolished, like an architectural ghost, with trees growing out of the holes of the windows. One more witness to the urban decomposition of the once opulent Havana.


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