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two architectural gems in madrid and havana
some related personal stories
by gonzalo fernández

ITT (International Telephone and Telegraph) was formed in 1920…by Colonel Sosthenes Behn and his brother Hernand. The brothers had acquired the Puerto Rico Telephone Company in 1914 along with the Cuban-American Telephone and Telegraph Company and a half-interest in the Cuban Telephone Company. (They got full ownership a few years later.) ITT's first major expansion was in 1923 when it consolidated the Spanish Telecoms market into what is now Telefónica. Telefónica, S.A. is a Spanish broadband and telecommunications provider in Europe and Latin America. Operating globally, it is the third largest provider in the world. The company is the former public monopoly of telecommunications in Spain.1

TheTelefónica building is a prestigious construction. When it was inaugurated in 1929 it became Madrid's first skyscraper… US architect Lewis S. Weeks was brought in to help with the construction. Weeks designed an American-style building with a metallic concrete structure that was completed by architect Ignacio de Cárdenas Pastor, who gave the finishing touches in Madrid's typical Baroque style…2

The Cuban Telephone Company building in Havana closely resembles the Telefónica building in Madrid. Both have similar towers that remind the top of The Giralda. The Giralda (named for the giraldillo or weather vane on its summit) was the minaret of the mosque that was replaced by Seville Cathedral. It was built in 1184-96, (during the Moors occupation of Spain.)3

A friend of mine, Juan B Ablanedo, provided the following information, obtained from a book written by Orestes Ferrara: The Madrid building construction started in 1926. The Havana building was completed in 1927. It is listed among the many buildings designed by the Cuban architectural firm Morales and Company. It seems that there were crossover design decisions between the Madrid and Havana architectural firms, with both buildings based on the metallic concrete structure concept of architect Weeks.

I am very familiar with this type of construction. My father was a residential and business building contractor. I was born in a house built by him in 1925. This house has a metallic concrete structure, also called reinforced concrete (hormigón armado.).

The day after we arrived to Madrid in August 1966, I walked to the corner of Hortaleza street and Gran Vía, where the Spanish telephone company (Telefónica) building is.

I found time to admire the well painted building and compared it in my mind with the decaying phone company building I had left behind in Havana. The Cuban telephone company and its building had been confiscated by the Cuban government in 1960. One of my last paperwork actions in Havana, required to obtain our exit permits from the Cuban government, was to return our home phone subset. I went to the phone company building. The floors were dirty; the employees were very slow in their handling of the phone subset return. I got a receipt at a desk and had to go to two other desks to get rubber stamp approvals on the receipt.

I had just left Havana, whose business pace had changed from dynamic to crawling after six years of Communism. Madrid was bursting with its heavy traffic and people, other than tourist, rushing in all directions.

Time went by. In 1969 I started working for ITT Corporation. My employment with ITT was based in Argentina, with light travel assignments to affiliates in Chile and Brazil. My job with ITT lasted seventeen years, until my retirement. I had ITT business trips visiting companies ITT had owned or owned (telephone companies and/or manufacturing telecommunication equipment operations,) in Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, Río de Janeiro, San Juan-Puerto Rico, Paramaribo-Suriname, Brussels, Amsterdam, London, Taipei and Madrid. All were nice modern high rise or distinctive old buildings, but none as splendid as the two architectural gems in Madrid and Havana. My trip to Madrid was in 1980; the Chief Engineer, and I, the Chief Financial Officer, went to Madrid to negotiate an over five million dollar contract between Telefónica and the ITT subsidiary we were working for.

When I walked through the front door of the splendid building at Gran Vía, for a meeting with Telefónica’s Finance Director, my mind went back to the day I stood in front of it in 1966, in my way to my first job hunting effort.

In 1966, I had only twenty dollars in my pocket, money that a friend of ours gave me upon our arrival to Barajas, the Madrid airport, flying from Havana, with my wife and three children. The $1,200 airfares for our family group had been paid by José López Neira, a friend in Lima, Perú. All our possessions had been confiscated by the Communist Cuban government, from bank accounts and car to pots and pans in our kitchen. We had been allowed to take with us only one bag of clothing for each of us.

We had been taken from the Madrid airport to a boarding house where we got a room with a king bed, no bathroom, for the five of us. I talked to the boarding house owner, Don Antonio, the next morning. I explained to him that we didn’t have money but some friends were sending us dollars from the United States. I wanted the one room lodging and one meal a day on credit. Don Antonio sized me up and said, OK, no problem (vale, no hay problema.) It was eye-to-eye credit scanning, faster than modern computer credit clearance.

Something like twenty four hours before, my wife and I had walked toward the Iberia jet at Rancho Boyeros, the Havana airport, with tears running down our cheeks and our hands holding our children’s hands. There are not words to describe the deep sorrow of walking some thirty yards of an airport tarmac, up the aircraft steel stairs, and into the plane carrying you and your family into exile.

1 Source: wikipedia.com
2 Source: http://www.esmadrid.com/en/portal.do?TR=C&IDR=463
3 Source: www.sacred-destinations.com

This article includes excerpts from my book “Cuba’s Primer,” Lulu, 2009. www.cubasprimer.com


Gonzalo is a business consultant. He is one of the coauthors of The Handbook of Financing Growth, Wiley, Second Edition, 2009, Marks, Robbins, Fernández, Funkhouser and Williams. In Cuba's Primer, Lulu, 2009, he writes with the conviction and knowledge of a personal witness.

more about gonzalo fernández


no regrets
exiled cuban story
by gonzalo fernández
topic: general
published: 3.22.10

for those that are too young to remember .
by gonzalo fernández
topic: general
published: 4.7.10


gonzalo fernández
9.16.11 @ 10:33a

I recommend reading also my article "no regrets" for a better understanding of my personal stories.

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