A LUXURIOUS AVENUE IN HAVANA
Updated: Sep 3, 2020
Havana’s streets are so different, so unique and original, that one can quickly feel captivated by the city and its people while walking them. They are of all kinds: narrow like “Obispo”, with its constant coming and going of people all the time; others are broader, like “Prado”, which attracts our attention with its exquisite neocolonial atmosphere; and there are others, truly avenues, with large parterres and wide areas for walking, filled with exuberant vegetation, such as the imposing Fifth Avenue in Havana.
The Fifth Avenue, formerly called Avenue of the Americas, is one of the main streets in the residential neighborhood of Miramar, in Playa municipality, just beyond Old Havana. This is without doubt one of the most fabulous places in the capital, not only for its perfect harmony with respect to its optimal urban design
but also for the countless precious buildings that lie there showing a great taste for modern architecture. Architectural styles such as Art Deco, neocolonial, Rationalism, or the purest eclecticism, are some of the many that we can appreciate there. So if you are an admirer of architecture, you cannot miss the opportunity of visiting the Fifth Avenue and going through its magic and elegance.
This avenue, which opened in 1930, starts in the famous tunnel that connects it with Calzada Street in Vedado and is considered a spectacular work of Cuban engineering. This tunnel passes under Almendares River, one of the major rivers of the capital which once was a recreational site of the Cuban bourgeoisie. It was precisely the wealthy class who gradually began to populate this area and starting to build imposing mansions that better respond to changing times and had nothing to do with their old colonial houses in Old Havana.
The New Yorker John H. Duncan was in charge of designing this avenue, along with Cuban architect Leonardo Morales. Duncan was the author of the monument to Grant in the United States and Morales had studied at Columbia University. Maybe that's why they both had in mind the famous Fifth Avenue in Manhattan as the main reference. Consequently, the layout of the Cuban avenue can remind us the rectangular blocks of Manhattan Avenue. However, the Cuban Fifth Avenue incorporated several trees in its central promenade that enriched the urban design of the area; and also, every block is conceived as a unique block, because all architectural styles vary and all the houses along this street are different.
Just when crossing the tunnel and starting our tour along this avenue, it welcomes us the beautiful Fountain of the Americas, designed by the architect George H. Duncan, who also was the author of the clock tower located on the same street. Both monuments remarkably embellish Fifth Avenue and are important symbols of the place.
Because Fifth Avenue was the preferred place by the Cuban bourgeoisie of the early twentieth century, the buildings that are located there evidence great luxury and lavishness. Their interiors are noted for the predominance of comfort, something that was not quite privileged in Old Havana’s houses. This means that these residences show the evolution of Cuban architecture, at a time in which the layout of the house plant is much more spacious, the composition of the exterior is much more varied, there is greater freedom in the use of materials and motifs, and the sculptures gain prominence in the interior design of the spaces.
On Fifth Avenue, we can find mainly houses, projected in different styles. But there are also religious buildings, and in this regard, we can mention some churches like the Church of Santa Rita, the National Shrine of St. Anthony of Padua, and the Church of Jesus of Miramar (which is the second largest in Cuba). In this avenue, there are also important recreation centers of Havana, as the formers Greyhound Track (Cinódromo), the Coney Island Park and the Havana Biltmore Yacht and Country Club.
Excepting the churches and shrines, the use of the rest of the buildings was completely modified after the revolutionary triumph in 1959. So today many of those old houses are embassies or diplomatic missions, museums, commercial brands offices, shops, or work centers related to various Cuban institutions. Also, the Government has done several hotels along this avenue, some of them very famous as is the case of “Occidental Miramar” Hotel.
From its starting point in the tunnel to its end in Santa Fe neighborhood at the west of Havana, the Fifth Avenue dazzles us by its beauty and elegance. It is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful avenues in Cuba and walking through it is like traveling back in time in Cuban modern architecture, with its varied styles and special features.