Magazine AM:PM
Articles Design: Jennifer Ancizar

Nine Cuban theaters of the colonial era. Past and present

The way the development of disruptive technologies and artificial intelligence applied to entertainment is going (and I refer you to experiences such as those of Voyagethe concert that rejuvenates the Swedish group ABBA with digital avatars and high tec and which has been on stage in London for a couple of years now), it won't be long before we can enjoy a "live" concert of artists who have already passed away.

But I dare to dream of something even crazier... Sitting in a theater seat and choosing, with the right gadget, the date of the concert that someone saw from that position... two centuries ago, and living that experience in an immersive setting, where your seatmate can wear tails and a bowler hat and the theater can be lit with gas lanterns. And to live that experience in an immersive terrain, in which your seatmate can wear tails and a bowler hat and the theater can be lit with gas lanterns. Can you imagine?

Well, in Cuba we would have several locations for that. Because at least nine of the theaters still alive (at least not closed forever, I hope) of our geography, were built for this same function in the distant nineteenth century.

  1. Tacón Theater - Alicia Alonso Grand Theater of Havana (1838, Havana)

Design: Jennifer Ancizar

- It took its name from the general who ruled Cuba between 1834 and 1838, remembered as a despotic and slave ruler, but who left a mark of modernization in the infrastructure of the capital city.

- Located in the promenade that was then called Isabel la Segunda (today Paseo del Prado), in the block formed by the intersections of this with the current San Rafael, San José and Consulado streets.

- In 1906, the Sociedad de Beneficencia de Naturales de Galicia bought the entire block and the original theater was demolished.

- Between 1907 and 1915, the current building was built at a cost of 1.8 million pesos at the time, to house the headquarters of the Galician Center of Havana. The architect was the Belgian Paul Belau and the construction firm was the American firm Purdy & Henderson, which was also in charge of the National Capitol, among other important Havana buildings. The style is Spanish Renaissance (or French, depending on who describes it) with baroque elements.

- For a couple of years it adopted the name of Teatro Don Tomás Estrada Palma, in honor of the first president of the Republic of Cuba.

- In 1961, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Federico Garcia Lorca's murder, the Galician Center's Board of Directors announced that the theater would be named after the poet from Granada. In 1967 it was given the name of Gran Teatro de Ballet y Ópera de Cuba; but in 1981 it was renamed again as Complejo Cultural Gran Teatro García Lorca, stable headquarters of the National Ballet of Cuba and the National Opera.

- Between 2013 and 2015, it underwent a capital repair that covered the entire building (facades, lobbies, boxes, roof and stage), during which it was equipped with new furniture, curtains, air conditioning system, acoustics, stage mechanics, rehearsal rooms for dancers and the orchestra and a recording studio. By agreement of the Council of State, it was renamed Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso, in honor of prima ballerina assolutaShe is world renowned and founder of the Cuban school of ballet.

- Since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and up to the publication of this issue, it has been closed again, due to an aggressive infestation of termites in the woodwork and in the wooden accessories of the central hall.


  1. Lope de Vega Theater - Milanés Theater (1838, Pinar del Río)

Design: Jennifer Ancizar

- Located on the corners of Martí and Colón, in Pinar del Río. Its first version was a humble building made of palm boards and guano roof, with barely 100 seats.

- It was rented by a Spanish theater company that made constructive reforms, converting it into a wood and tile building, with 34 boxes and 150 seats. The theater was then renamed Lope de Vega.

- Between 1846 and 1847 it was again modified with interior changes in the stalls and lunettes.

- In 1880 it was bought by Dionisio Félix del Pino Díaz, who almost completely rebuilt it, enlarging it and building masonry walls. Throughout the 19th century, dozens of theatrical companies passed through the theater.

- After the war of independence, the owner decided to rename the theater after the Matanzas poet José Jacinto Milanés.

- In 1907 its roof was built, while the definitive form that it has today is due to a restoration of 1922.

- It was nationalized in the 1960s by the revolutionary government.

- The musical theater footage we see in the film was filmed there. The Beauty of the Alhambra.

- After these films, it was closed in 1989 for repairs, which lasted until 2000.

- It is active and constitutes the theater of major events in the westernmost of Cuba's provinces.


  1. Sancti Spíritus Theater - Teatro Principal (1839, Sancti Spíritus)

Design: Jennifer Ancizar

- Of neoclassical style, it was inaugurated on July 15.

- It is located in the limits of the Yayabo River, very close to the Major Parish Church. It was built by the initiative of an enthusiastic group of cultured neighbors of the Villa del Espíritu Santo and its construction, which was in charge of the Andalusian master builder Blas Cabrera, lasted only 11 months.

- Like other theaters in the country, it was transformed into military barracks during the Ten Years War. It was restored for the first time in 1878 by Governor Pellicer.

- It was closed again because of the war and used for other purposes until the end of the century. In 1901 it was ready after a new restoration, exhibiting a pit or deep basement under the stage boards, which, it is said, was the secret of its extraordinary acoustics. It adopts the name of Principal.

- In 1935 it was declared a public monument of municipal character along with the Iglesia Parroquial Mayor and the bridge over the Yayabo River.

- In the 70's of the last century, its interior decoration was completely changed and the old roof tiles were replaced by a more modern material, far from the original.

- In 2012 it underwent a major repair, but the theater has been in decline for several years now. At the beginning of 2023 work was being done to rescue its relevance in the cultural life of the city by rethinking its services and programming.


  1. Principal Theater (1850, Camagüey)

Design: Jennifer Ancizar

- Just where a much more modest one had been located since 1839, on February 2 and after two years of construction, the neoclassical building that we know today opened its doors in the town of Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe.

- From 1868 and during the Ten Years' War, the theater became the General Headquarters of the Spanish Army Volunteers. With the end of the war, the theater reopened and continued its artistic life until the outbreak of the next war (1895).

- With the beginning of the 20th century and the end of the colonial era, it resumed its functions and shows, until an accidental fire almost totally destroyed it in May 1920.

- In 1925, the plot with the ruins was acquired by a new owner who rebuilt the theater, taking advantage of the remains of the previous structure and reopened it in 1926.

- In 1959, the then cinema-theater was nationalized. The Principal became the headquarters of the Camagüey Ballet in 1967, and has been hosting events of all kinds up to the present day. Every two years it hosts the National Theater Festival, one of the most important events of the Cuban stage movement.

- In 2022, a repair of the false ceiling and the change of furniture were completed, and the alternative space Bohemio 1850 was opened on the third floor.

- Considered one of the three architectural jewels of the city, it is located at 64 Padre Valencia Street.


  1. Esteban Theater - Sauto Theater (1863, Matanzas)

Design: Jennifer Ancizar

- Inaugurated in 1863 in the Plaza de la Vigia, it was designed and executed by the Italian architect Daniel Dall' Aglio, who, it has been said, inspired its conception in the famous Scala of Milan.

- It has 775 seats, and is covered almost entirely with wood paneling. It has three balconies, and its second floor can be elevated to convert the auditorium in a ballroom.

- The lobby is adorned with statues of Greek goddesses in Carrara marble, and the ceiling of the main hall is decorated with paintings of the muses.

- It adopted its original name in honor of the civil governor of Matanzas at that time, Pedro Esteban y Arranz. It was later renamed with the surname of Ambrosio de la Concepción Sauto, businessman and patron of the arts who contributed to its construction and splendor.

- Considered the most elegant and functional of the nineteenth-century Cuban theaters, it has become a symbol of the city. It was declared a National Monument in 1978.

- In 2019, the largest repair in its history was completed, approached with heritage rigor under the supervision of the City Conservator's Office (National Restoration Award, 2020).

- With a capacity of over 700 spectators, it is considered one of the most perfect buildings in the history of architecture in Latin America, and stands out for its exceptional acoustics.


  1. Payret Theater (1877, Havana)

Design: Jennifer Ancizar

- On the corners where Paseo del Prado (then Paseo de Isabel la Segunda) and San José Street meet, it was built by the Catalan Joaquín Payret and inaugurated on January 21. It had five floors: two of boxes, one of lunettes and two others for gatherings and "cazuela", with a total capacity for 2,300 spectators, something truly monumental for the time.

- Its builder was the Catalan master builder Fidel Luna.

- Dedicated to opera and other high-class shows, in full rivalry with the Tacón Theater and later with the Irijoa, it suffered a collapse in 1882, resulting in three deaths and numerous injuries, which kept it closed for several years.

- In 1884 the State seized the land, which was auctioned and passed from one hand to another until 1926. With time and misfortunes, the Payret lost its exclusivist air and gave way to commercial needs (Pubillones and Santos and Artigas Circuses, dramatic and lyrical plays, operettas and zarzuelas, vernacular plays, musical revues and even wrestling matches were part of its program).

- The hurricane of 1926 destroyed its roofs. Rebuilt, it began to be used as a regular movie theater in 1936.

- In 1951 it was demolished and rebuilt entirely for cinematographic purposes. However, it also continued to host impressive musical shows in its main hall, such as the Synthesis concerts in the 1990s.

- It was again repaired and restored in 1969 and 1981.

- It has been closed since 2008, pending a capital repair that would initially accompany those of the nearby buildings of the Capitol and the Gran Teatro de La Habana.

- In 2018 it was vox populi that it was going to be demolished to build a large hotel that would cover the entire block. In the face of protests from Havana residents on social networks, the city historian, Eusebio Leal Spengler, confirmed that the plans were to rebuild the historic cinema-theater, which, on the contrary, would benefit from the Payret Hotel construction project. Five years later, there is no public access to new official information on the fate of the Payret Theater.


  1. Irijoa Theater - Martí Theater (1884, Havana)

Design: Jennifer Ancizar

- Located on the corner of Dragones and Zulueta streets, very close to Havana's Capitol, it adopted the surname of its first owner, the Spaniard Ricardo Irijoa.

- Of neoclassical style, on three levels and with a capacity for 2,500 spectators, it maintained a program that ranged from cultural functions, circus and even political debates, until a bomb exploded in 1898 in the theater, which had already been renamed Eden Garden.

- Renamed Teatro Martí since the beginning of the Republic in honor of Cuba's National Hero, it became "a reference" of Havana's nights with a billboard that included the incomparable Rita Montaner and characters of Cuban buffo theater such as El negrito, El gallego and La mulata. During its "golden years" it premiered works as representative of Cuban performing arts as the zarzuelas Rosa the Chinese (Ernesto Lecuona), Amalia Batista (Rodrigo Prats) and Cecilia Valdés (Gonzalo Roig).

- Intervened by the revolutionary government in 1959, it was open until 1965, when it stopped its programming for a few months to undergo repairs.

- In 1974 it closed its doors due to humidity, erosion and deterioration, and remained closed for 40 years, until the Historian of Havana, Eusebio Leal and his team of architects and restorers undertook the complex task of rescuing it.

- It reopened in 2014, when it regained its status as a venue for prestigious events and music festivals.

- On May 6, 2022 it was damaged by an explosion at the nearby Saratoga Hotel due to a gas leak, but it was minor and the theater is still active, with mostly high quality programming.


  1. La Caridad Theater (1885, Santa Clara)

Design: Jennifer Ancizar

- Its construction was financed by Marta Abreu, considered a benefactor of Santa Clara and her husband, Dr. Luis Estevez Romero. It was said that its proceeds would be used for humanitarian and charitable work with the poor people of the city.

- The work was conceived by the engineer Herminio Leiva y Aguilera and occupied a surface area of almost 2,000 square meters, which included a restaurant, barbershop and premises for recreational societies.

- Of neoclassical style and built in the shape of the classic horseshoe, it has three levels and four side boxes at the edge of the proscenium, eight main boxes, 16 stalls and eight seats for the audience, 244 lunettes and 76 seats, in addition to those located in the audience and bleachers. All the spaces were decorated with refined taste and displayed pieces of visual arts created by Cuban artists of the time.

- It has remarkable patrimonial, environmental and architectural values, standing out as part of the urban complex that surrounds the Leoncio Vidal Park in the heart of the provincial historic center. It has been a national monument since 1981.

- On the occasion of the 320th anniversary of the founding of Santa Clara, it underwent a lengthy restoration, after which it was reopened on July 15, 2009.

- It is currently closed for repairs.


  1. Tomás Terry Theater (1890, Cienfuegos)

Design: Jennifer Ancizar

- Don Tomás Terry was a financier and merchant of Spanish-Irish roots who settled in Cuba, where he accumulated a notable fortune. Upon his death, his heirs settled in Cienfuegos laid the first stone for the construction of the theatrical colossus in 1887.

- Inaugurated on February 12 and fully electrified in 1910, it has historically been one of the main cultural institutions of the so-called Pearl of the South.

- It is the only one of the Cuban theaters that has its four geographically oriented facades visible.

- It was closed for repairs in 1965-1970. Since 2010 and until 2020, it was closed again to the public for a major repair, which included the rehabilitation of the central ceiling located at a height of 14 meters, with an oil painting showing images of great historical value; the total repair of the stage's small board, the stalls, the marble of the entrance and other areas of the building. In addition, work was undertaken to rescue the three Venetian mosaics located at the top and front of the coliseum.

- It continues to be one of the most emblematic and coveted venues by national and foreign artists thanks to its beauty and magnificence.


*This text was published in the No. 11 of Magazine AM:PM

Avatar photo Darsi Fernández Hyperlink with human figure. He has a bad memory only for what suits him. He dreams of retiring to read. More posts

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  1. Rosa Marquetti says:

    Excellent account and reminder of what was the theater scene and theaters in the architecture of the cities that hosted them and what they could be. Thank you, dear Darsi.

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