Calle Galiano (Avenida de Italia) Centro Habana

                 Centro Habana is the most densely populated part of the city and it’s main artery is Avenida de Italia (called Avenida de Italia since 1917) or, as Habaneros know it, Calle Galiano (it’s original name). On this very cosmopolitan street you will get a glimpse of true Cuban life. People here go about their business paying very little attention to the few tourists who wander over to this part of the city that’s so close to the hordes that visit the more famous Municipality, Habana Vieja, that borders it.
                  Calle Galiano runs from the Malecón to Calle Reina , crossing the Boulevard de San Rafael and the Barrio Chino (Chinatown). It gets it’s name from Don Martin Galiano, a once Minister of the Interior & Fortifications of the colonial government under Captain General Miguel Tacón, who began the works of this street at the end of the 19th century. The original reason for it’s construction was to facilitate transportation into Old Havana allowing better access. It wasn’t long afterwards, by the early 1900’s, Galiano became the most cosmopolitan and commercial street in Havana and the corner of San Rafael and Galiano streets was the apex. Galiano was the preferred place to do your shopping and old newsreels attest to that. Several of the more popular stores of the time were, ‘The English Bazaar’, ‘El Encanto’ and the ‘Casa Grande Palace’. Nothing much has changed since it’s heyday except for the obvious deterioration, it’s like stepping back in time when you take a stroll along this characteristic roadway…..Galiano is always full of people. Nobody could imagine that at the corner of Galiano and San Lazaro, where Galiano begins, there used to be a quarry and the stones taken from it were used in the construction of the street itself.
                  Some of the better know or more popular establishments along Galiano begin at the Malecon with the Hotel Deauville, what I would consider a budget hotel with a great view. The hotel was constructed as a casino hotel in 1957 by a consortium owned by American mobster Santo Trafficante Jr. The construction began in 1956 and by the time it was completed cost $2.3 million to build. It was 14 stories high with 140 rooms, a rooftop swimming pool and at that time had a cabaret and two casinos. The hotel was primarily owned by the Trafficante crime family boss Santo Trafficante Jr. The casino was sacked by mobs in early January 1959 as Fidel Castro’s rebel army overtook Havana. On July 1960 the hotel was nationalized by the Cuban government. Hotel Deauville is located on Galiano, no.1 e/ Malecón y S. Lázaro.
                   Hotel Lincoln is another edifice with a little history. On February 23, 1958, the Argentine Formula One driver, Juan Manuel Fangio, was kidnapped at gunpoint in the lobby of this hotel by members of a group belonging to the July 26 Movement, led by Fidel Castro. At the time it created huge headlines in many of the important newspapers around the world. The objective was to embarrass the dictator Fulgencio Batista who was using the race to promote his regime. Fangio was released after 26 hours having been treated favorably to the point of him saying so once released, giving his captors his endorsement for their cause. The hotel is located on the corner of Galiano & Virtudes. 
                  Another famous establishment located on Galiano  between Concordia and Neptuno , is the Teatro América , an excellent example of Art Deco architecture in Havana. The America building (it’s actually called the Rodríguez Vázquez building) had 10 floors and more than 70 apartments when it was built. The theater was at it’s peak in the 1940s but still continues to host musical concerts as well as comedy and salsa nights. The film Casablanca was premiered here and acts such as Josephine Baker performed in the theater. It first opened it’s doors on March 29, 1941 and today it’s recognized as one of the most important Musical Theaters of Cuba. Calle Galiano no.253 between Neptuno and Concordia. Phone: 8625416 E-mail: [email protected]
                 One of the best and most popular nightclubs for locals as well as tourists located next door to Teatro America is Casa de la Música (where Radio Cine was once located). All of the more important and popular groups on the island have played here at some point. It wasn’t long after opening it’s doors in 2003 that this club earned the reputation as the best venue for salsa. Calle Galiano e/ Neptuno y Concordia  (+53) 7 862 4165        
                 The church of Our Lady of Montserrat is located on Galiano and Concordia. The original structure that was located between Obispo and O’Reilly, built in 1675, was destroyed in 1836 and rebuilt in this location in 1844. The land the church is on today was once owned by the counts of Buenavista.
                 Galiano was a major hub for department stores and one of the more famous ones, that’s still in operation, was ‘La Epoca’ on the corner of Calle Neptuno. It opened at the beginning of the 1900’s and started the department store concept in Havana with it’s window dressings and escalators (which today don’t work). I’ve been told that it’s only a shadow of what this store used to be like many decades ago. Be aware that you’ll have to check your bags and purses outside before entering the store if you want to go in. You’ll find a supermarket on the basement floor and an assortment of furnishing etc. on the other floors. The building was completely restored in 1990 by the Office of the Historian of Havana.
                Another famous department store of that era that’s still in existence is ‘Flogar’. Sadly, today Flogar sells inferior merchandise priced in CUP, the National Currency. Flogar also had an episode with sabotage on December 24, 1960 at around lunch time with the detonation of an explosive device in the cafeteria. 15 people were injured, including several minors. Corner of Galiano #402 y San Rafael.
                One of the more famous of the Department Stores unfortunately is no longer there, ‘El Encanto’ at the corner of San Rafael. It’s been said by many that the modern department store concept was introduced here. It was a favorite place for well-to-do people to do their shopping. It fell at the hands of opponents of the revolution who firebombed it burning to the ground on April 1961. It was replaced with a park in honor of the person who died in the fire….Parque ‘Fe del Valle’. I have walked through this park many times without knowing it’s name and history. There’s always a lot of activity going on within this space….it’s also a designated WiFi area.
                There was also a Woolworth’s on Galiano, one of eight in Cuba that were nationalized between 1959-1960. Woolworth’s first opened in Cuba in 1924, they were referred to as the ‘Ten Cent’. It’s now called ‘Variedades Galiano’, a government owned shop that sells cheap prepared foods to locals in National Currency. It has a long counter where people can sit and eat their food like in the old Woolworth’s….in fact they look like the original. Located on Galiano #252.
               ‘Trasval’, located at the corner of Galiano e/ S.Miguel #255 y S.Rafael, is a large, 2 story hardware store….Cuba’s version of Home Depot (not quite). You’ll find an array of stuff you won’t find anywhere else in Cuba such as tools, paint and leisure furniture but the quality will be limited as will the variety and prices will be very high. It would be impossible for a Cuban who doesn’t have a private business or money coming from relatives outside the country to be able to shop here. This business has been here for about 10 years now.
                Once you’ve reached Galiano y Zanja you’ll be at the entrance to Chinatown to your left and if you keep going you’ll reach Parque de La Fraternidad and the Capitolio. If you continue to go straight after Galiano ends, walking through some marginal neighbourhoods, you will eventually find yourself in front of Havana Bay. I went straight and ended up by the bay, it was an enjoyable walk that I will have to take again but more slowly.
                 To walk the length of Calle Galiano would take 15-20 minutes depending on whether you’re going up or down the slope and traffic lights. If you’re stopping now and again to check something out and you take pictures, it could take 30-45 minutes….or more.

Hotel Deauville

Teatro América in The America building (it’s actually called the Rodríguez Vázquez building)

The church of Our Lady of Montserrat

Teatro America

La Epoca

‘Variedades Galiano’….the old Woolworth’s

San Rafael

Flogar

Where the road ends…..Calle Reina