Speaking of Mayer Lansky, Havana, and hotels, one would be remiss not to mention the Nacional.
Built in 1930 and designed by New York firm McKim, Mead and White, the Nacional hosted celebs such as Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, John Wayne, Buster Keaton, and Gary Cooper. Ernest Hemingway also stayed at the Nacional and became an outspoken critic of Lansky in later years.
You see, Mayer Lansky and Lucky Luciano held a mafia summit there in 1946. Nine years later Lansky talked Cuban president Fulgencio Batista into letting him live in and operate one of the wings of the hotel. Lansky brought in Vegas casino operators and developed the Nacional’s casinos into the most profitable in Havana during the mid- to late-1950s. But he wanted more, so he built the Riviera (see yesterday’s posting).
Before I went to Cuba in 2004, a friend spoke of her trip there a couple years earlier and mentioned she’d stayed at the Nacional.
“It was a dump,” my friend said.
But I took an afternoon out to visit the Nacional anyway. It was nowhere near as vibrant as this 1945 ad depicts, but quite a beauty nonetheless.
I love the little paragraph in this ad, which ran a year before the mafia summit:
Right on the shore in Havana, the Nacional stands in 13 acres of flowering gardens. Two swimming pools, tennis, and many other forms of recreation offer the winter vacationist the ultimate in luxury.
One day soon I hope relations between the US and Cuba will normalize. Cuba is a beautiful country and Havana a treasure of a city. It saddens me that Americans, for the most part, aren’t allowed to travel there. Let freedom ring.