The resurrection of the Vedado Tennis Club

A museum for Cuban baseball.

During November 7 and 8, 2014, I participated in a singular event: the Museum and Hall of Fame of Cuban Baseball National Colloquium, held in the Adolfo Luque Hall of the Latin American Stadium. What was debated and agreed upon there made a mark in the national sport, but it is still an on-going story in which the most important part still has to materialise.

During those days, the 12 members of the self-denominated Fan Group for the reestablishment of the Hall of Fame of Cuban baseball, led by filmmaker Ian Padrón and also made up by sports historians and journalists, presented in front of a large group of colleagues from several provinces the project drawn up to put an end to more than half a century of unfair oblivion.

As previewed in the approved project, on the second day of the Colloquium the ten new members of the re-established Hall of Fame (five from the period of 1864-1961 and five from 1962 to the present) were elected, who were honoured during the Game of Stars of the National Series last December, as should continue to happen each year. But, where are the plaques of the honoured players going to be placed?

That place was also well thought out, and approved, at the Colloquium: the Hall of Fame must be in a museum devoted to baseball, and an ideal site to house that institution existed in Havana: the José Antonio Echevarría Social Club, the space that until 1959 had been the Vedado Tennis Club (VTC).

The proposal of the VTC to house the referred museum is based on the history of that society, in the good conditions of the installation, and on its advantageous location in the Cuban capital, like its centrally located position, with excellent and fast roads to get there: Malecón, Línea, Calzada.

The history of the VTC starts in 1902, the very year of the birth of the Republic, and 12 years later, in 1914, the baseball team that represented the club, the marquises of the Vedado Tennis Club, won the first championship in the brand-new National League of Amateur Baseball. They remained the champions during the two following seasons and achieved it again in 1925 until 1928. It was the league’s only tetra champion and its dynasty can only be compared to that of the Hershey: only these two teams were able to win the crown seven times.

The VTC was a symbol for the sport in Cuba during six decades, but, what has happened with the building? In what state is it now? Will it be appropriate to locate there the museum?

Those questions were made to architect Enrique Pérez Castillo, professor of the Faculty of Architecture of the CUJAE, who is an expert on restoration; his curriculum includes, among others, the projects of the Hemingway Museum, the Che Museum, the Servando Cabrera Museum and Pharmaceutical Museum. In 2007 he was conferred the National Prize for Conservation and Restoration of Monuments.

Ian Padrón precisely resorted to Professor Enrique Pérez so that he would assess the constructed area, make a diagnosis and tell him if the building was saveable. According to this architect, “there was a partial collapse in the building; there are several spaces between two walls, of which one collapsed. But that is proof of the physical field that the mezzanine resists, because it resisted all the weight that fell on it. And the restoration is very easy, because nowadays those elements can be replaced with others, lasting and easy to assemble. On the other hand, the building doesn’t need a capital repair, but rather a partial and very punctual one. The diagnosis is that the building can be saved through minor repairs.”

But the works to restore the VTC and to turn it into the Baseball Museum have not started because the installation still belongs to the Tourism Ministry, and therefore, the professor says, “we are drawing up the project as a teaching exercise. It will be the end of the course paper of the students of the Faculty of Architecture. What we call a wish line is still missing: we have to be told everything they want to be done in that space and how they want it.” And he added: “This is still not an executive project. It would have been more advanced if we had already been allowed to start acting in the place. We had the original plans barely a week ago. But we aren’t twiddling our thumbs, but rather we are working. Right now the students are digitalising the plans.”

Enrique explained that for the execution of the works “Dr. Mabel Matamoros, a specialist in urban planning, would work from the outside toward inside, would take care of all the exterior areas, while I would be responsible for the restoration of the building, with architecture and engineering students, with their professors as advisors.”

According to the architect’s opinion, this idea of adapting the VTC to the Baseball Museum comes at the right time, because “in this area of El Vedado a good concept of urban planning is being applied: the former El Cocinero oil factory serves as the installation for musician and filmmaker X Alfonso’s project of the Art Factory. A socially conflictive site was recovered there and it is now used by young people. The iron bridge, a symbol of the city, was also rescued. Later on will be added the Girón bus factory, located on Línea and 18, which is a project for an art centre. A small theatre for children was already built there. In short, a very consistent study is being made in the entire area, which can be crowned with the Baseball Museum and the Hall of Fame.”

Finally, the draftsman added that the VTC is ideal, from the technical-constructive and spatial point of view, for what it has been proposed. And he pointed out that he has commented with the students that this project can be a really peak starting point in their professional life: “our project has the aim of recovering the principal building and the rest of the sports areas so that they resurge with all their functions. The idea is that it be a very active sports and cultural institution.”

There is no doubt that locating the Museum and Hall of Fame of Cuban baseball in the José Antonio Echevarría Social Club, as the project of the professors and students of the Faculty of Architecture of the CUJAE conceive it, as dreamed by the Fan Group, is an idea that deserves to take flight, for the good of the sport and the Cuban nation. (2015)

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