I just returned from a fascinating nine-day trip to Cuba, a place that I have wanted to visit for 50 years.
In 2000, the Minnesota-based Cass Gilbert Society newsletter explored the possibility that U.S. architect Cass Gilbert (1959-1934) had at least consulted on the National Capitol building in Havana, Cuba. Gilbert was known for his designs of state capitols and other government buildings. This speculation had been sparked by a photograph published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press that asserted Gilbert’s authorship of the Capitol in Havana.  As architect Tom Blanck has indicated, however, there is little evidence that Gilbert had any input on the Havana building, which was redesigned at great expense in the 1920s, under president Gerardo Machado. Just reopened now after renovation, the Capitolio is nearly ready for the 500th anniversary of Havana, as shown in this photo by Jennylynd James, taken in May 2019. (1519 is one date used for the founding of Havana.)
There was a flurry of telegrams from Gilbert regarding involvement with the Cuban Capitol in the spring and summer of 1903. A lead designer in Gilbert’s office, Steve Haskell, had volunteered in 1903 to go to Havana to press for the Capitol commission for Gilbert, who was just finishing the Minnesota State Capitol at that point. Seemingly, nothing came of Haskell’s offer, since one of Gilbert’s letters to another associate indicated that, according to James J. Hill, Gilbert’s sometime client, “there is no intention of carrying the Cuban projects forward just at present, the newspapers to the contrary….”  When I was researching my 1999 book on Cass Gilbert, I was interested to read correspondence from Gilbert to various contacts (such as William C. Van Horne, an investor in the Cuba Railroad Company) whom he thought might hire him to design structures in Cuba, since the U.S. had effectively taken over the country after the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898. Gilbert was not the only U.S. architect angling for lucrative jobs in Cuba; some firms, like McKim, Mead and White, Carrere and Hastings, John Duncan, Schultze and Weaver, Kenneth Murchison, and Walker and Gillette, actually succeeded in getting commissions there.
As writer Christopher Gray noted, “in the early 20th century the section around Obispo and O’Reilly Streets [in Havana] was home to so much bank construction it was nicknamed ‘little Wall Street.’” One of those banks (at O’Reilly and Compostela) was the now nationalized National City Bank designed by Alexander Stewart Walker (1876-1952) and Leon Narcisse Gillette (1878-1945). Walker was related by marriage to the president of that bank, George F. Baker, an advantage that benefited the firm through several decades, with 24 commissions. The bank had branches in many Latin American countries. Gillette had been trained at the Parisian Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Havana bank design reflects the classicism and composition favored by that school. The Starrett Brothers, prominent New York contractors, constructed the bank in 1925.
Built using coquina, a limestone comprised of many shells, the bank also has a tall airy lobby that helps keep the humid tropical air moving through the interior. Flat Corinthian pilasters mark the bays of the rectangular building and the frieze of the entablature is animated by shells, curling foliage and winged quasi-griffins. Four smooth Corinthian columns stand in front of the arched recessed entrance, behind an iron screen. Lots of large windows provide ample light for this bank built with sugar money.
As John Loomis has written, “ironically, the Revolution saved the historic center of Havana by neglecting it…. [T]hey lacked the financial means to demolish it.” Now with the quincentennial and the need for tourist income, Old Havana is getting some much-needed attention, despite its imperialist and colonial histories.
 Dewey Berscheid, “Was Our Man in Havana? Cass Gilbert Not Architect for Cuba’s National Capitol, “ Cass Gilbert Society Newsletter 2:1(February 2000), 1. The Pioneer Press article appeared on January 25, 2000. https://www.cassgilbertsociety.org/cgs/nls/CGS-NL-2-1-Feb2000.pdf
 About Haskell, see Thomas Blanck and Charles Locks, “Launching a Career: Residential and Ecclesiastical Work from the St. Paul Office,” in Cass Gilbert: Life and Work, edited by Barbara Christen and Steven Flanders (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001), p. 296, note 29; Letter from Cass Gilbert to George Wells, May 4, 1903, Cass Gilbert Collection, New-York Historical Society.
 Christopher Gray, “The New York Accented Architecture of Havana,” The New York Times (March 18, 2012). https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/realestate/cuba-streetscapes-the-new-york-accented-architecture-of-havana.html
 Edith Crouch, Walker & Gillette: American Architects (Schiffer Publishing, 2014).
 Harold van B. Cleveland and Thomas F. Huertas, et al., Citibank, 1812-1970 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985).
 John Loomis, “‘Architecture or Revolution?’ The Cuban Experiment,” Design Book Review 32/33(Spring/Summer 1994), note 14, p. 80.