This story appeared in the September issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door nine times a year? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!
The PRC mourns the loss of a preservation hero: Dr. Eusebio Leal Spengler, the city historian for Havana, who led the effort to restore Habana Vieja, or Old Havana, the heart of the Cuban capital. Though his politics are controversial — he was a loyal friend of the Castro family — it is undisputed that his efforts to value the architectural history of Havana led to its salvation and eventual recognition of it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Serving as city historian since 1967, Dr. Leal created a model in which historic buildings were renovated for tourism purposes, and the revenue that was generated was put into restorations that benefited citizens, such as senior care facilities. He strongly believed that in order for city renovation efforts to succeed, he had to spark passion and pride in every single Cuban. He created a media empire that included books; a weekly show in which he walked the streets of Old Havana talking to people about the city’s architecture; and a radio show, “Hablando del Espacio,” in which architects, preservationists and students would discuss their projects.
Dr. Leal visited New Orleans in 2015 and gave a talk at the PRC, inspiring the organization’s staff and board. “While we were unable to visit with Dr. Leal during the PRC’s trip to Havana in November 2019, evidence of his work was all around us as we admired the beautiful historic heart of the city,” said PRC Executive Director Danielle Del Sol. “As lovers and protectors of another of the world’s great cities, we remember Dr. Leal’s legacy today with gratitude for a passion that has protected Havana for over half a century.”