An open-air Eden: Tropicana
When the year 1939 came to an end, Havana said goodbye with the inauguration of a new nightclub outside the city. In Marianao, right next to the College of Bethlehem, in the place where Regino Du Rapaire Truffin had had an elegant recreational estate, the Beau Site ("beautiful site" in French) was opened.
Truffin's widow was in financial trouble that she planned to solve with a second wedding, this time with an American politician. But on the same day of the nuptials, the lord died and she was forced to lease her estate. It was then when the Italian-Brazilian businessman Víctor de Correa appeared, to whom the troubled woman rented her summer estate for the astronomical sum (remember that we are in the crisis of the 30s) of 100 pesos per month!
Surrounded by lush, beautifully lit vegetation, the new cabaret had a party room for approximately three hundred people, a platform for shows, a circular dance floor and a bar. And, in a living room inside the house, a small game room.
Already in the decade of the 40, the new night center of the Cuban capital found a strong stumbling block in the College of Bethlehem: the priests of that institution tried to be closed because the "noise" of the nights, above all, disturbed the dream of students and the staff that worked at that time. But Correa paid good lawyers and the demands of the clergy were not legally accepted.
In that same decade, two events marked the future of the nothing relevant cabaret with very exact trims. Alfredo Brito - director of the orchestra of the place - proposed to his owner a song and a name to identify it: Tropicana. The tropics in the first syllable of the term and the variety of palm trees that swarm in the cabaret foliage (gray palms) were received with open arms by Mr. De Correa. That is one. The other boost was the appearance on that site of a stranger (until then) aspiring to develop casino games in the brand new cabaret: Martin Fox.
Martín Fox was a farmer who one day left the small family farm and went to the nearest city - Ciego de Ávila - to open a "stained glass" of games, a sort of minimalist casino, for poor people, where they were sold legally lottery tickets and various gambling games (these illegally). Time later, the already triumphant character of the business of luck began to visit the capital in search of new horizons, which he found in a very successful game machine manager - Alberto Ardura - with whom he made an experiment that proved very successful: make confinements of large capital gamblers in remote houses in the city and offer them all types of casino games that were prohibited at that time. These meetings were called "encerronas".
Martín Fox fell in love with Tropicana's estates and for ten years he was urging the best of his encerronas: stripping Victor de Correa of his golden cup and making it his own, to renew it and turn it into an idyllic place.
He succeeded with the complicity of his two main partners: the aforementioned Ardura and Oscar Echemendía, a man who had been working with him from Ciego de Ávila, very experienced in matters of cheating and deception.
In the late 40s and early 50s, Martin Fox kept the whole cabaret and Victor de Correa had to go into debt and with his tail between his legs to Sans Souci, to work as a maître..
Then the new owner of Tropicana began the reforms that made him the great renovator, the man who transformed the hitherto pleasant cabaret into one of the best nightclubs in the world.
Without having any academic training, the first thing Martin Fox did was to draw up a strategy to turn the weak sides that sank Victor de Correa into strengths.
He immediately founded the company Tropicals Night Club S.A., a real success, because it served as a legal niche for the cabaret. But he made a mistake: appoint Echemendía as president of it and general representative of his business. And, of course, the town buddy did not take anything to enlist in murky relations with the illicit game and put the company in trouble. Fox removed him from office, Echemendía returned to Ciego de Ávila, but from time to time he appeared in Tropicana, according to many, to collect money from the shares he had in the cabaret. It is said that Martin Fox never withdrew his friendship and always treated him with utmost courtesy.
As Víctor de Correa had serious problems with the suppliers of gastronomic products, Martín Fox called his brother Pablo, who worked in the main cafeteria of the Central Station in New York, to put himself in charge of that item in the cabaret. And it always worked perfectly.
Then he decided to change the environment of the place and called for it Max Borges Jr., one of the most renowned representatives of modernity in Cuban architecture. Borges changed the face of the Bajo las Estrellas hall, which went from being the terrace of a recreation house to a large hall for dancing and show, with the stepped floor to allow better visibility of the showsshows, with high walkways and a single central spider. He raised the Arcos de Cristal room, a true display of modernity, with very suggestive lines, excellent use of space and other virtues. Max Borges also commissioned the outstanding sculptor Rita Longa the dancer who would receive the audience at the entrance. The image achieved by the artist was so perfect that it became the logo of the cabaret, reproduced in removers, cup holders, napkins, posters and all the propaganda about the nightclub.
Once the business and physical part of the center was resolved, the conceptual aspect remained. For this, it was necessary to find an artistic director - in the 50's they were called producers- and they found him in Sans Souci: Roderico Neyra (Rodney).
The impact that Rodney had on the beauty and possibilities of the two rooms of the new Tropicana, the ideas of Martín Fox and Ardura on everything that could be done in the shows, the work facilities offered and the salary that was given to him (500 pesos a week, an excessive figure for the time) led to him, to fulfill the commitment made with the Sans Souci and start work in Tropicana, simultaneously combine both places.
There were other elements to specify that could be solved, but one could not be postponed: music. Rodney didn't think twice; He had worked with Armando Romeu at Sans Souci and he had no doubt that he was the musical director who needed the new cabaret, as he had a rich career not only in that profile but also as an author and arranger. Romeu had worked with a large number of musical groups and had traveled throughout Latin America, the United States, and Europe. He was, without a doubt, one of the Cuban musicians who had most performed jazz on the island - even with American orchestras - and had been a fundamental part of the group of artists that began a fusion that later developed under the name of Latin jazz. The big band was his favorite and moved in it with absolute ease.
Andrés García, the illustrator of the covers of Carteles magazine and designer of the famous theatrical theater Prometeo, worked hard on stage and costumes. The choreography (Rodney was definitely not a great choreographer) was performed by Alberto Alonso, Luis Trápaga and Henry Bell.
Rodney had done theater as an actor - especially in the role of the Negritoof the vernacular theater - he had choreographed some paintings in the famous Shanghai porn theater, he had been in the first Tropicana as a figurative and choreographic assistant in Congo Panther, the only spectacle of large-format presented by Victor de Correa at the end of his management there ... Then he arrived at Sans Souci where he directed the shows and did the choreographies. Now he was the great general manager of the immense Tropicana.
Martín Fox pursued a very clear end: that Tropicana's great fame came to him through the shows and not the casino. Rodney was going to achieve it with surprising speed. And it would create, in passing, an aesthetic of the show that would identify once and forever the beautiful open-air Eden in which Martin Fox had converted to a nightclub over the already famous Havana night.
(To be continued…)