History Ornament History History Ornament

History

1863: Havana Walls are demolished. Development by the Reparto de las Murallas (sharing of the walls) and selling of the lands follows.

Decade 1890: Julián de Zulueta acquires the land. Pedro Tomé Verecruise starts construction of the building.

1894: Andrés Gómez Mena buys the property and finishes the first floor.

1894-1909: Building goes into commercial operation. La Bomba, El Escándalo, Frank's Store, El Sol, El Dorado, La Louvre, La Concha de Venus, La Especial, La Libertad, La Exposición are various businesses that open their doors in the building now known as the Manzana de Gomez.

1894: La Bomba opens to sell luxury furs.

1894-1899: El Escándalo another fur shop is opened.

1901: Frank's Store, selling perfume from Francisco Farnes opens.

Beginning of the XX century: La Concha de Venus (toy store, silk shop)

1906: El Sol, tailors, opens.

1907: El Lazo de Oro (selling hats) and El Louvre (furrier) are opened.

May 15, 1907: La Especial (men's clothing).

1909: El Bazar de Paris, a clothing store for men.

1909-1910: Inauguration of the theatre Politeama Habanero.

1911: La Libertad and La Exposición are opened.

1911: Debut of the Cuban composer and troubadour Maria Teresa Vera.

1913: Premiere of the first silent film filmed in Cuba at Politeama Chico.

1916-1917: Remodeling and expansion of the Manzana.

1917: The 5 floors of the Manzana de Gómez are finished.

January 11, 1917: Andrés Gómez Mena is assassinated at the entrance of the building by the Catalan watchmaker Fernando Reugart.

January 29, 1951: José Gómez Mena suffers an attack by the entrance of Zulueta Street.

1960: Expropriation of Manzana de Gómez by the Cuban state.

2009: Preliminary studies done by the Cuban architect José Antonio Choy and his team to turn the manzana into a hotel.

2014: Kempinski Hotels acquires the rights to manage and market the hotel.

2014-2017: Manzana de Gómez renovation.

2014: Beginning of renovation led by the French construction company Bouygues Batiment.

2016: 360 Indian masons and specialists are hired after completion dates are not met.

2017: Opening of Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana.

The history of the building known as Manzana de Gómez begins in 1863 when the walls that divided Havana were tore down. This led to the development of what was then called Reparto de las Murallas (Dividing of the Walls district), followed by the sale of the land. One of the first to buy a large tract of land was the rich slave trader and merchant Julián de Zulueta and Amondo, the first owner of the building.

Julián de Zulueta and Amondo acquired the land in the decade of the 1890's, and commissioned the architect Pedro Tomé Verecruisse to start work. Due to unforeseen technical problems during the excavations, the project was stopped, leaving only the beginnings of the ground floor.

Andrés Gómez Mena (also known as Chichón), belonging to one of the richest families of Cuban society, completed the ground floor, after acquiring the property in 1894. Manzana de Gómez was what the building was known as from those years onwards. In English it means Gomez' apple.

Chocolate Matías López at Central Park in the beginnings of the 20th century

From 1894-1909 most of the commercial stores of the Manzana de Gómez were inaugurated. More than a dozen high-end shops ranging from fur and tailor shops, clothes for men and women, to toy stores, hat shops, perfumeries had their venue in the first plant. Thus, the building became the forerunner of department stores in Cuba, the first ever mall that was born on the island and among the most important commercial centers in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Shoes and hat stores at the Manzana de Gómez Building in the first decade of the XX Century

The fur shop La Bomba was the first store to open, in 1894. Managed by Fernando Aedo. Its opening was one of the most popular social events of the time. A buffet was offered and served by the Hotel Inglaterra, with a stunning estimate cost of 400 pesos. In addition, artists from the Teatro Albisu and the famous singer known as La Alemany were hired for the opening show.

Subsequently, other shops opened: El Escándalo (fur shop, 1894), Frank's Store (perfumery, 1901), La Concha de Venus (toys, silk and hardware, 1900), El Sol (tailor shop, 1906), El Lazo de Oro (hat store, 1907), El Louvre (fur shop, 1907), La Especial (men's clothing, 1907), El Bazar de París (men's clothing, 1909) and La Libertad y La Exposición (fur shops, 1911).

Stores inside Manzana de Gómez Building

The tailor shop El Sol was amongst the hippest of that time. Commonly called the Casa de los Sastres Atómicos (House of the Atomic Tailors). Many celebrities living in Havana had their suits made here, amongst them the great Cuban boxer Kid Chocolate, World Champion of 1930 and 1931.

Between 1909-1910 a second floor was added. The Politeama Habanero theatre, a restaurant, skating rink, white-shot room, and two theaters, Politeama Grande and Politeama Chico opened there.

The Politeama Grande theatre, with a capacity of 1500 people plus a rooftop garden, with motives and ornaments similar as those in the Eiffel Tower and famous hotels of Europe and North America also started up. Eliseo Grenet, a Cuban composer and author of the popular song "Mamá Inés", debuted in this theater as master of ceremonies. Famous Cuban trova singer and songwriter Maria Teresa Vera, known for her classic "20 years", premiered in this same stage in 1911, when she was only 16 years old.

The Politeama Chico, a 1200-seat cinema was the venue for the first ever silent film shown in Cuba, which premiered in 1913.

Politeama Habanero building in 1910

Yet the Politeama complex had a brief existence. Soon after, it was demolished, leaving only the facades and the main staircase of the theater. Andrés Gómez Mena hired the architect Francisco Ramírez Ovando, and put him in charge of remodeling and so did the expansion began that lasted for over a year.

The building's fifth story was completed in 1917, being one of the most elegant and modern of its time. It was built using steel-reinforced concrete and featured materials as expensive as marble, copper and ashlar stone.

Four more floors were added over the years, and according to historical documents, in addition to the large marble staircases, the building had 8 elevators that were equipped with the latest technology available making for an ornate steel elevator car, folding gate, light on the car, announcer, handwheel, pulley-motor, safety devices and automatic brakes.

Manzana de Gómez building, at the right side, viewed from the Albear Square in 1920 decade

In the building were located the offices of the Gómez Mena family’s sugar company, bank and 560 other office spaces located on the upper floors that were leased to eminent lawyers, trade academies, physicians and consulates. Rumour has it that the space lease alone reported on a staggering 1000 pesos a day, a fortune on its own right in those hectic years. The prestigious Ibero-American Institution of Culture, the Show magazine -the only internationally known Cuban farándula (show business) zine- both had offices in the Manzana.

Manzana de Gómez Building viewed from the Central Park

At this time 25,000 people visited or passed by on a daily basis through the Manzana’s interior passages which crossed diagonally at street level.

Andrés Gómez Mena did not see his property reach its cusp though, as he was assassinated on January 11, 1917. The Catalan watchmaker Fernando Reugart, allegedly performed the assassination as a payback for the Cuban tycoon had been “disrespectful” with his wife. He was shot dead at the very entrance of the building.

Following Andrés Gómez Mena’s death, the property stayed in the family, which was by then regarded as one of the most prominent and elevated of Havana’s upper class, and certainly the most powerful sugar clan in the whole of Cuba.

On January 29, 1951, yet another member of the family, this time José Gómez Mena, was brutally attacked at central Zulueta St., while entering to the building. Although he received injuries in his face and one his legs, he came out to be lucky enough to not lose his life.

After the 1959 Cuban Revolution succeeded and a new order came to power in the island nation, the property went to the hands of the State and was rebaptised as Julio Antonio Mella building, as a homage to the iconic revolutionary leader, but people continued calling it the Manzana de Gómez.

The building then was redefined to fit multiple other purposes, education being the most important. In the upper floors, there was a primary school and another one specializing in the teaching of English language. The ground floor maintained commercial stores, some of them like La Exposición remained opened until the 1970's.

Although without the splendor of the high-end Republican years, the ground level held still a variety of shops selling groceries, clothes, trinkets, perfumes, cosmetics, shoes and drug supplies.

In 2009, prestigious Cuban architect José Antonio Choy, heading a team of specialists composed by Julia León Lacher, Adriana Choy Leon and Olivia Choy Leon, began the preliminary research and study to revamp the Manzana and turn it into a five-star luxury hotel.

Swiss operators Kempinski Hotels acquired the rights to manage and market the Hotel Manzana in early 2014.

To date, Kempinski Hotels has been working together with Gaviota S.A. and the state-owned operator Habagüanex since 2014 in this project. Bugra Berberoglu, one of the executives, made a statement of Kempinski's commitment to excellence saying: "We want Kempinski Manzana de Gómez to be the pride of the nation. None of our hotels is the same as another, we have a different conception of what luxury is." (FITCuba, 2014).

The restoration works of the Manzana, began in 2014, under the management of the French firm Real State Enterprise Almest and Bouygues Batiment, the largest of its kind in France.

Manzana Hotel restoration work

At the start of the construction works in 2014, only Cuban workers were employed, but in 2016, due to delays, 360 Indian construction workers and masons were hired. Their salaries averaging $1600 per month were much higher than those received by Cubans.

The Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana finished in 2017. Gala company brought the final touch in respect of interior design and furniture. The hotel stand out not only for its well-accomplished elegance and luxury but also for a Premium service devoted to satisfying the highest of demands in the industry.

The Hotel Manzana have a spa (1000 m2) managed by Resense that includes beauty services, massage and acupuncture, showers and bathrooms with lockers. In addition to a gymnasium located at the top of the building, the Hotel Manzana have cafeterias, a nightclub, a smoking lounge, 4 business rooms and 3 restaurants, one of them with panoramic view and capacity for 104 people.

Entrance of the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinsky in Old Havana

The commercial gallery located on the ground level have 16 premises offering high-end designer products by world-class brands such as Gucci, Mango or Lacoste.

Floors 3, 4 and 5 are destined to the rooms. 246 bedrooms of maximum comfort divided into three types: double queen, junior suite and master suite.

One of the biggest attractions is an underground history museum, which showcase part of the fascinating history of this building, built on the ruins of the Walls of Havana.

A swimming pool crown the top of the hotel, overlooking the Central Park and Old Havana’s district featuring emblematic Bacardí building, the Gran Teatro de La Habana and El Capitolio. To the west, this magnificent view features the Paseo del Prado promenade.

Hotel Manzana
Hotel Manzana

San Rafael street between Monserrate & Zulueta
Old Havana, Cuba

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