By/ Por Teresa de Jesús Torres Espinosa PHOTOS / Fotos Néstor Martí

Artists, graphic designers and blacksmiths had a hand in the restoration

The former Colegio de San Pablo, founded by the Cuban poet and patriot Rafael María de Mendive, became in September 2018 an elementary school that bears his name.

Restored by the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana (OHCH), the building is located on 88 Prado Avenue (today 266 Prado Avenue) between Ánimas and Trocadero streets. Here, Mendive served as principal of the Higher Secondary School for Boys, a public educational institution, and opened the private school Colegio de San Pablo between 1867 and 1869. José Martí enrolled in the School for Boys around mid-term in 1865, and then, when the San Pablo School opened, the Cuban National Hero, who had already established a close relationship with his teacher, appeared on the school roll.

Architect Norma Pérez-Trujillo Tenorio, head of the Department of Rehabilitation and Heritage Preservation of the OHCH Investment Department provided some details about the building’s restoration: “Given the historical relevance of the property and at the request of Dr. Eusebio Leal, Historian of the City of Havana, a technical assessment was carried out. A team of archaeologists was commissioned to appraise the merits that remained in the building after the enormous transformations that had been performed before. The most extensive ones most likely date back to the 1950s after its purchase by the General Electric Company,” she explained.

The archeology of architecture discovered great arches hidden under false ceilings, traces of valuable mural paintings that had decorated its walls, moldings, scotias, magnificent ironwork and an impressive staircase, among other elements from the time when Mendive lived there and established the San Pablo School.

The building was totally rehabilitated after a major overhaul supported by archaeological research; significant structural reinforcement was executed, especially in the mezzanines, because it had first been designed as a dwelling, but throughout its history it had numerous non-domestic uses. The doors and windows are new, but the exterior railings are the original ones, which served as inspiration for the indoor ironwork. The actions undertaken sought to return the architectural values to the building and, to the extent possible, the nineteenth-century atmosphere to some of the rooms.

The project was carried out by the Restaura Company while the interior design was under the joint care of Patricia González Rodríguez and the creative groups Restaura Habana, Cabarroca and Renacer. The Puerto Carena construction company that operates under the OHCH was responsible for work on the building. Artists, graphic designers and blacksmiths also had a hand in the restoration.

International cooperation facilitated the intentions of the Office of the City Historian to make this a benchmark school: the City Council of Barcelona ensured the exterior carpentry and the sports area located on the roof of the building; the Aipc Pandora NGO, with funding from the Embassy of Japan, made possible the purchase of school furniture; and the Tecnalia Foundation, financed by the Basque Government, allowed implementing energy-efficient solutions in some places.

The school has 19 classrooms—one sixth-grade classroom has a nineteenth-century atmosphere—in addition to areas for sports and art, a library and a playroom. A life-size bronze statue, made by sculptor José Villa Soberón, of Professor Mendive and his adolescent pupil Martí stands in the foyer. Beautiful stained-glass windows by artist Ernesto Rancaño decorate the upper floor.

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