On October 14, The Washington Post published a feature article in its Sunday Style section on the restoration of Ernest Hemingway’s Finca Vigia, just south of Havana. For the past few days, A+A has posted segments of the story with permission from the Post; today’s is the last installment. Special thanks go to Michael Connors, Brent Winebrenner and Rizzoli New York for “The Splendor of Cuba,” published in hardcover last month.
By J. Michael Welton
In 2005, the National Trust had listed Finca Vigia as an endangered site, with no objections from the Cuban government; that same year, the World Monuments Fund listed it as one of its 100 most endangered sites. When the Bush administration was slow to grant a license for the foundation to move forward in Cuba, Richard Moe, then president of the National Trust, called Phillips to say he wanted to get involved.
Once it was licensed, Cambridge-based architect Lee Cott and the National Trust’s chief architect, William Dupont, pulled together preservation architects, structural engineers and landscape architects to go to Havana to act as consultants on the house’s restoration. In Cuba, they were met by a corresponding number of counterparts.
“The Cuban architects did drawings, and we gave technical commentary,” says Dupont, now director of the Center for Cultural Sustainability at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “We used an overlay of yellow paper with notes on top of their drawings. When we were there, we were working together.
The roof was replaced and windows reconstructed. The stucco was re-plastered. Termite-ridden wood was re-framed. The Cuban government funded all of the restoration, while Phillips’s foundation raised money to send the teams. Never before in Castro’s Cuba have U.S. architects been sanctioned to practice.
“They have their fingers on the pulse of the interpolitical — the political structure working in concert with Cuban conservators,” says author Paul Hendrickson, whose book “Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961” (Knopf, 2011) was published last month. “They have heroically gone about the business of getting Finca Vigia restored and getting the boat restored.” And they’re not done yet. Hemingway’s car now sits on the property, awaiting its turn.
“It’s a 1957 Chrysler,” Phillips said. “It’s the most mangled-up and rusty thing. It looks like roadkill, but it will be restored.”
For the foundation and the Cuban Office of Cultural Patrimony, that would translate into the perfect Hemingway hat trick.