Havana’s Quinta Avenida

Visitors to Havana are often stunned by the wide, palm-tree lined Quinta Avenida, or Fifth Avenue, after emerging from the narrow, winding streets of Old Havana. Coming out of the tunnel that connects Fifth Avenue with Calzada Street in Vedado, it feels like you have entered a completely different city. If the straight and level road complete with a grand pedestrian boulevard are not enough to settle the nerves after a trip through the backstreets of Vedado, then the mansions, fountain and clocktower should at least provide a welcome distraction. Then, there is the once famous Coney Island Amusement Park.

Tourists acquainted with New York City often chuckle at the Coney Island Amusement Park before a confused look passes over their faces. Yes, it is not a coincidence. The well-known twentieth-century American architect John H. Duncan, who designed the Wolcottt Hotel and Grant’s Tomb in New York City worked alongside the Cuban architect Leonardo Morales, a graduate of Columbia University, in designing this thoroughfare. It is not by chance that Miramar, with its rectangular blocks of 100 x 200 meters, is reminiscent of Manhattan.

The avenue’s original name was the Avenida de Las Américas, or Avenue of the Americas, which explains why the fountain situated at its very entrance is called the Fountain of the Americas. A little farther west sits the clock tower whose four bells reproduce the sound of Big Ben in London. Both landmarks were built by Duncan.

Many legends abound about this splendid avenue, most of which are connected to the mansions that line the street and the people who once inhabited them. Make sure not to miss the manion on the corner of Fourteenth Street that was ironically nicknamed “The Shack” by its owner, President Ramon Grau San Martin. The “humble” abode contains nineteenth bathrooms, not counting the ones in the garages and pool of course. The mansion of the Countess of Buenavista on the corner of Sixth Street is also worthy of attention, This grand building, which won the 1929-1930 Facade Contest of the Rotary Club, is now a tenement house home to 23 different families. The most famous house is perhaps the Green House on the corner of Second Street. Somewhere in the great house, they claim, lays hidden a magnificent treasure. Today this mansion is a center for the promotion and study of modern architecture, so you will have to fake interest in architecture if you want to go in search of the treasure.

Walking or driving down Quinta Avenida is a treat in itself. Not only is it one of the longest arteries in Havana, it is one of the loveliest. Whether you join the multitudes of joggers who run the street in the morning or the hordes of families who take their children skating or bike riding in the evening, Fifth Avenue is not to be missed.

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