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Passing through Belascoain

Ireina-y-belascoaín-580x321n 1850 the urbanization of Havana reached the Calzada de Galiano, with which the total urbanized area reached about four square kilometers and the population was around 140,000 inhabitants.

This development continued uninterruptedly towards the West and already in 1870 it surpassed the Calzada de Belascoaín, with an area of ​​seven square kilometers and some 170,000 inhabitants. The capital was then enclosed between the Chávez River, the sea and Belascoaín, and for a definitive Havanan like Manuel Sanguily, everything that was beyond that road was simply “the countryside”.

Belascoaín linked San Lázaro with Monte. As later, Infanta linked San Lázaro with Agua Dulce. In Monte and Belascoaín there was a marsh. It was filled and the Four Paths emerged. The path to the Cerro began there, which continued to Quemados de Marianao thanks to the Puentes Grandes. From the Esquina de Tejas started the Jesús del Monte road with its Agua Dulce bridge, which the chronicler always heard about, but never got to see.

The Jesús del Monte farmhouse already existed in the 18th century. He left behind the village of La Víbora and entered Arroyo Apolo where, in La Palma, it forked towards Santiago de las Vegas and Bejucal, and, if it turned to the left, towards El Calvario and Managua.

It was Captain General Leopoldo O’Donnell, the so-called Leopard of Lucena, Governor General of the Island between 1843 and 1848, who gave this street its name in honor of his friend Diego de León, Count of Belascoaín, who tragically died in 1841. Until then it was called Calzada de la Beneficencia and ran between Calzada de San Luis Gonzaga —Reina— and Calle Ancha del Norte —San Lázaro—, that is, from the hermitage of San Luis Gonzaga to the House of Maternity and Charity. And in the opposite direction, he passed Reina and reached Monte. It would run from the sea to the Four Paths. Since 1911 his official name is Father Varela.

The hermitage was demolished in 1835 when the Paseo Militar or Tacón was built —later Carlos III and now Salvador Allende. The Charity suffered the same fate in the mid-1950s when the State acquired the old mansion and the land where it was located to build the building for the National Bank of Cuba, which after a meticulous process of remodeling and readaptation houses the Hospital Hermanos Ameijeiras, although the Treasury of the Nation is still kept in the vaults located in the basements of that nursing home.

Some of the curiosities of the Calzada de Belascoaín will be discussed shortly. In Belascoaín and Zanja, where the minimax La Mía is now located, there was at the beginning of the 17th century, a pipe for the manufacture of sugar that enriched its owner. To make this trapiche possible, the man cleared the grove and cultivated a cane field.

On the same corner, but on the opposite sidewalk, crossing Zanja, the OK cafe prided itself on making the best sandwiches in Havana, which was not far from the truth. A few blocks from there, at the Café Strand, on the corner of San José, Alejo Cossío del Pino, Minister of the Interior (Interior) under President Grau, was gunned down on the night of February 11, 1952. attack with which some tried to justify the coup d’état of March 10.

At the Hotel San Luis, at number 73 of Belascoaín, Rómulo Gallegos, the author of Doña Bárbara and president of Venezuela, recently overthrown at the time, spent time. And beyond, in the Vista Alegre café, on the stretch of street that runs between San Lázaro and Malecón, Sindo Garay and his son Guarionex, Graciano Gómez, Chepín and Manuel Luna, among other composers and performers, established, in the first decades of the 20th century, a kind of general headquarters of the Cuban trova, and there emerged outlined, said Eduardo Robreño, no less than fifty of the most popular melodies of our popular songbook.

Cristóbal Díaz Ayala, a prominent Cuban musicographer based in Puerto Rico, was born 90 years ago in the small hotel or guest house that opened its doors on the upper reaches of Vista Alegre.

House of the three kilos
Movie theaters deserve a full stop on this road. The Cuatro Caminos cinema, in Belascoaín between Tenerife and Campanario, does not exist. There is also no Oriente cinema, on the corner of San José. The Belascoaín (Astor) cinema in Belascoaín between Peñalver and Concepción de la Valla, is closed. The Bayamo (formerly Miami) on the corner of San Rafael, is a store of the Fund for Cultural Assets. El Favorito, on the corner of Peñalver, is the headquarters of a choreographic company.

The Palace cinema, in Belascoaín between Virtudes and Concordia, is now a warehouse…

Although it is a street very populated with houses and residential buildings, Belascoaín is also an eminently commercial street, especially from Carlos III towards the sea.

In front of the Masonic National Temple, the House of 1, 2 and 3 cents, better known as House of Three Kilos, today Yumurí, opened its doors, a fabric, electrical effects and household goods store, which reopened with that name in the 1970s as part of a commercial chain called Amistad.

Before, passing the Troya fur shop, almost arriving in San Rafael, and using the facilities of the Le Grand Paris store, the Primor fur shop had opened its doors, which manufactured, exclusively, shoes for girls who would be fifteen or older. that they would marry. El Siglo XX was very famous, on the corner of Neptuno: candy store, cafeteria, confectionery and fine food trade, which had advanced with the century.

The Fifth Police Station, on the corner of Concepción de la Valla, was dark because of the crimes, abuses, and torture that took place there. In Machado’s time, he was commanded by the infamous Captain Constantino Albuerne, who narrowly escaped being lynched at the fall of the dictatorship, and in Batista’s day, his supervisor was none other than the bloodthirsty Lieutenant Colonel Estan Ventura Novo.

The National Police Investigations Bureau also operated there before it was transferred to 23rd Avenue, at the entrance to the Almendares Bridge. Today the old police unit is a basic secondary school, while the Higher Institute of Design is located in the so-called Casa de las Viudas, in Belascoaín and Maloja, so called because in the Colonia it served as a shelter for women whose spouses —all officers of the Spanish army—had died in their struggle against the independence of Cuba. The Ministry of Health worked there for years.

At the time, the crime that remained in the popular imagination aroused many comments, such as that of the beautiful Murcian, in Belascoaín and Nueva del Pilar. In Belascoaín and Virtudes, the car in which journalist Ramón Vasconcelos was travelling, who was then immersed in a campaign for the vindication of the Liberal Party, was shot at by Joven Cuba militants, who had been disqualified by President Grau because of his support for Machado. The so-called Golden Feather of Cuban journalism, the most widely read journalist on the island, was seriously injured in the attack.

It is not possible to talk about the Calzada de Belascoaín without referring to its warehouses and tobacco and cigarette factories. Competitor Gaditana, the so-called “unique cigar” in that company’s advertising, was, in its own way, the fifth Cuban producer, and the same place, but as regards the production of tobacco, it was the factory of the Romeo y Julieta brand. .

The woman who, for economic reasons or because of the “disgrace” of having taken a “bad step”, was unable to take care of her child, could deliver him to the Maternity Home without having to show her face or reveal her identity. identity. For that, on the side facade of the building that overlooked the Belascoaín road, there was a lathe.

The infant was placed in it and the tank rotated at the touch of a bell. On the other side, the abandoned child was received by a nun from the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, a congregation that attended that semi-private institution that tried to make up for official negligence in its attempt to redeem evils that the State did not suppress or remedy.

Upon entering, the children were given the surname Valdés in memory of Fray Jerónimo Valdés, a bishop who had the noble gesture of giving them his and who did much for the health and education of the most needy. They received education there and were trained for a trade. The most intellectually gifted were helped if they decided to pursue higher studies. A boy from that House, Juan Bautista Valdés, became a doctor and became director of the institution. The poet Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés, who would make the pseudonym Placido famous, was also a foundling.

(By: Ciro Bianchi Ross)

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