The Casa de Las Tejas Verdes (literally, House of the Green Tiles) was designed by architect José Luis Echarte and built in 1926. It is unique in Cuba for being the only example of the German renaissance style. The materials used included masonry for the walls, marble for the floors and staircase, and green American tiles for the roof, perhaps its most outstanding feature. Two urban legends surround the Havana mansion: one, that José López Rodríguez built the house and committed suicide there. The other was that the mansion had been built by a government official for his mistress. None of these stories are true though. Finally, the house that for so many years remained shrouded in mystery reopened in September 2010 as a center for the promotion and study of modern architecture, urban planning and interior design.
The Green House: eternal home of Luisa Rodríguez Faxas
By Lucía Lamadrid
Located to the west of Havana, at the corner of Quinta Avenida and 2nd St. in Miramar, the House of the Green Tiles or the Green House, as it is popularly known, is one of the most striking mansions in this city. Designed by architect José Luis Echarte and built in 1926, it is unique in Cuba for being the only example of the American Queen Anne style with its wrap-around porch, dormer windows, cone-shaped tower and steeply pitched roof.
The materials used in this three-storied house included masonry for the walls, marble for the floors and staircase, and green American tiles for the roof, perhaps its most outstanding feature. The three-story house featured a continuous porch, entrance hall, living room, dining room, library, bathroom, kitchen and pantry on the ground floor; five bedrooms, three bathrooms and four closets on the second floor; and vestibule, bedroom with bathroom, plus the servants’ quarters composed of three rooms and one bathroom on the top floor. The cupola was used as a carpentry and furniture storeroom, while the laundry, utility room and garage for four cars were all in the basement.
But it was not the house’s architectural merits that made it famous. Two urban legends surrounded the Havana mansion: one, that José López Rodríguez, nicknamed Pote, a wealthy banker and trader in sugar, supposedly built the house and committed suicide there. Pote did kill himself, but in another house, five years before the Green House was actually built. The other, was that the mansion had been built by Carlos Miguel de Céspedes–a government official during the presidency of dictator Gerardo Machado–for his mistress, Esmeralda, who had beautiful and vivid green eyes. The story goes that he could see her from his own home, Villa Miramar–today, the 1830 Restaurant–located on the eastern side of the Almendares River.
Yet, none of these stories is true. The house was built for Armando “Cocó” de Armas, who was head steward of the Presidential Palace during president Mario Garcia Menocal’s two terms in office. In 1943, Cocó de Armas sold the house to the Jarpe S.A. Investment Company, which in November of that same year sold it to Luisa Rodríguez Faxas, who was to become the last resident of the Green House.
Born in Barcelona, Spain, on 25 November 1922 and a naturalized citizen of Cuba, Luisa, in keeping with the family’s social standing, hobnobbed with people in high society, belonged to elite clubs, and even gave piano concerts in different venues in Havana. She married Mario Cabrera Saqui, a writer and lawyer, and had three children.
In November 1959, she travelled with her husband and children to the United Sates to spend the holidays at their Miami home. Her husband suffered a massive heart attack on the very day of their arrival and she was forced to leave her children with an aunt and return to Cuba with the body. After taking care of some legal business concerning her husband’s property in the island, her plan was to fly back to Miami for her children and return to Cuba. As time passed, travelling between the two countries became more difficult until diplomatic relations were broken off between the two countries and Luisa was never able to reunite with her children again.
Doctor Pedro Hechavarría, brother of the late Luis Mariano, a very dear friend of Luisa and her husband, became her only company and acquaintance. Seeing the solitude in which she lived in, he began to visit her often and would bring her money, as well as fruits and vegetables from a farm he still owned. By the end of the 1960’s, Luisa and Pedro decided to get married, which, for her relatives in the States, was totally inexcusable. Her sons never wrote to her and her daughter did so only once in a while. Years later, trying to contact her children, she received a heartbreaking reply: to never bother them again. Some time later she got divorced and was once more alone.
During the 1970s, Luis Mariano’s daughter, Marisabel, whom Luisa loved as a true niece, came to live with her. They both shared a love for books, music and dogs, and became very close. Marisabel, who was at the time in her 20s, brought with her many friends who became regular callers, some of whom would even stay overnight. During those years, Luisa went to the movies, the theatre, ate out, went shopping, visited other provinces, and even completed a Russian course.
The house became a place for social gatherings. Luisa kept irregular hours and the younger folk followed suit. They would stay up all night and get up after noon. Every morning they would have to clear up the debris that had fallen from the ceiling. Other chores included weeding the garden and carrying water from the cistern as the water motor was usually out of service. For a while, Luisa was happy in the company of her “nieces” and “nephews”–they all called her “Aunt Luisa”. In the latter years of her life, however, she lived practically alone with Marisabel in the crumbling house.
She developed lung cancer from which she never recovered and died on 11 June 1999. She was survived by Marisabel who died only seven months later on 11 January 2000 of a heart attack.
On numerous occasions, Luisa had been offered to swap her decaying house for another in Miramar. She inspected many houses but none were to her liking and stayed on in her dilapidated dwelling. Reportedly, she never wanted to leave because she believed that the building concealed a treasure, which became another of the many legends that surrounded this house.
After Luisa’s demise, the house underwent major restoration work by the Historian’s Office of the City of Havana. Although some changes had been made to the house by its previous owners, luckily the structure was intact. Most of the interiors were in a deplorable technical state with cracked and blistered walls, leaks, loss of mouldings, naked ceilings, and decaying woodwork, among others. After an intense search and study of the house’s original plans, sketches and pictures, restoration work began by rescuing the parts of the house that were still in good shape, such as floors and frames. The distribution of the first and second floors has been kept the same, while the attic is today a lecture hall and Internet surfing room. The interiors feature works of art and combine contemporary furniture with elements from the past. The landscaped garden includes sculptures and installations. The project has been awarded the National Prize for Restoration and Conservation 2010.
The house that for so many years gave rise to numerous legends and was shrouded in mystery reopened in September 2010 as a centre for the promotion and study of modern architecture, urban planning and interior design.