Peter Moruzzi’s ‘Havana Before Castro’ travels through time

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A few weeks ago I wrote about L.A. writer Rachel Kushner and her new novel, ‘Telex From Cuba,’ set in the Anglo-corporate community in the days right before and during the revolution.

So I was pleased when a new book recently crossed my desk, ‘Havana Before Castro: When Cuba Was a Tropical Playground,’ by Southern California architectural historian Peter Moruzzi (Gibbs-Smith: $30).


I won’t claim to be an expert on the time or place, but the book, like Kushner’s novel, really put me there: It made me feel like I was staying in towering modernist hotels, ogling dancing girls at nightclubs like the Montmartre, swilling mojitos with Graham Greene and Meyer Lansky, and tapping my toes to the Orquestra Aragón. (We’ll leave the brewing political unrest and income disparities aside for the moment.)

It’s no surprise — given the midcentury period as well as Moruzzi’s involvement with the Modern Committees in L.A. and Palm Springs — that the book’s illustrations, from old postcards, photographs and posters, favor the sleek simplicity of modern design.

‘Havana Before Castro’ is an oversized, image-heavy book that resembles much of the output of Taschen, but with considerably more text than most. It’s published by Gibbs-Smith, the fine architectural press whose books include ‘The Leisure Architecture of Wayne McAllister,’ by fellow modern cultist Chris Nichols, and ‘George Washington Smith: Architect of the Spanish-Colonial Revival,’ by Patricia Gebhard.

— Scott Timberg