Preserving La Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s Cuban Home – A Short Story

Utah’s Daily Herald has a fascinating story by J. Michael Welton of The Washington Post, recounting the amazing efforts required to preserve Ernest Hemingways fabled Cuban home. Hemingway ended his own life less than a year after leaving La Finca Vigia and all of its contents behind. Following political and economic strife in the 1980s, the home was left to decay.

A descendant of Papa’s editor at Scribner’s happened to visit the home on a trip in 2001, sparking a massive effort to restore the home, and perhaps most importantly – to preserve the treasure trove of Hemingway’s personal effects, including manuscripts, letters and books. Officials in the U.S. and Cuba cooperated with numerous individuals and organizations to restore the home.

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,” Dupont says. “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.