Gift Guide

Havana Before Castro: When Cuba was a Tropical Playground

Paperback (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $5.69
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 81%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (13) from $5.69   
  • New (4) from $11.02   
  • Used (9) from $5.69   


Through vintage and contemporary photographs, brochures, and artifacts evocative of time and place, Havana Before Castro tells the story of the city that was the most popular exotic destination for Americans during the forty years between World War I and Castro's revolution.

See how Havana evolved from Prohibition haven and rich man's playground to a heady blend of glittering nightclubs, outrageous cabarets, all-night bars, and backstreet brothels.

Visit Havana's seamy Shanghai Theatre as well as its glamorous Tropicana, roam the stately Hotel Sevilla-Biltmore and ultramodern Habana Hilton.

Savor a daiquiri at La Floridita (one of Hemingway's favorite watering holes), rub elbows with movie stars at Sloppy Joe's bar, and learn why Cuban cigars remain the world's most highly prized.

Celebrate the influence of Cuban music on American popular culture-the rumba, mambo, cha-cha-chá, and salsa-from its earliest stars such as Xavier Cugat and Desi Arnaz to modern acts like the Buena Vista Social Club.

Celebrate the city's architectural heritage, a Havana Modernism unique to Cuba's topography and climate.

Follow the parade of corrupt presidents who, along with American mobsters such as Meyer Lansky, welcomed the mass tourism that led to Havana becoming a tropical Vegas swirling in a haze of rum and cigars, backed by a conga beat.

Born in Concord, Massachusetts, in 1961 and raised in Hawaii, Peter Moruzzi graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and later attended the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. An architectural historian by profession, Moruzzi is an acknowledged expert on mid-century Modern architecture and design. He resides in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles and in Palm Springs, California. He has been obsessed with the history of Cuba since 1987.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Andy Garcia
A most extraordinary book that fills my heart with profound love, sadness, and deep nostalgia.
Desi Arnaz
The glamour of Old Cuba with its music, nightlife, culture and tropical beauty is perfectly expressed in these pages.
If you're looking for images, "Havana Before Castro" has them in bulk. Peter Moruzzi's infatuation with Cuba is illustrated in grand and grandiose style. It's a pop-culture potpourri.

— Peter M Gianotti

Los Angeles Times
[The book] 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 Aragon.
Wall Street Journal
A juanty, poignant portrait of the city in its pre-revolutionary heyday as a Caribbean playground. [The book] goes a long way toward filling in the mental picture of a city that has been enticingly evoked by movies such as "Our Man in Havana" (1959) and "The Godfather: Part II" (1974)."
Newsday - Peter M Gianotti
If you're looking for images, "Havana Before Castro" has them in bulk. Peter Moruzzi's infatuation with Cuba is illustrated in grand and grandiose style. It's a pop-culture potpourri.
Library Journal

A fascinating look at Havana, visually rich with hundreds of photos and other unique images, this addition to the literature on one of the world's urban architectural treasures is authored by an architectural historian. Moruzzi's fluid text embellishes the illustrations, drawn mostly from his own collection. Havana enjoys a captivating history, and the legacy of gambling, hotels, drugs, sex, and nightlife makes for an unparalleled reading experience. Moruzzi emphasizes the building boom of the 1950s, when American mob characters benefited from President Fulgencio Batista's corrupt regime and tourists flocked to the enchanted island a mere 90 miles from America, helped by airlines and cruise lines offering tour packages to Havana. The vivid descriptions of casinos and hotels, many still standing, bring a lost era to life. This attractive book is written for a popular audience but is highly recommended for academic as well as public libraries.
—Boyd Childress

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781423603672
  • Publisher: Smith, Gibbs Publisher
  • Publication date: 7/1/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 398,821
  • Product dimensions: 8.90 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

An architectural historian by profession, Peter Moruzzi is an acknowledged expert on midcentury Modern architecture and design. He is the founder of the Palm Springs Modern Committee, an internationally recognized historic preservation organization, and the writer/director of Desert Holiday, a documentary film chronicling the history of Palm Springs as seen through vintage postcards. He resides in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles and in Palm Springs.
Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

The discovery of Havana in the 1920s by America's wealthy led to it becoming their winter playground with the establishment of country clubs and racetracks, a national casino, yacht clubs, golf courses, and suburban mansions. At the same time, other Americans arrived in Havana simply to escape Prohibition and enjoy a cocktail at Sloppy Joe's Bar with impunity and, at the same time, experience the city's romantic foreignness or, perhaps, its notorious reputation as a "goddess of delights."
Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Preface 6

Acknowledgments 8

Prologue 9

Introduction 10

From Spanish Colony to Cuban Republic 12

Sugar, Rum, and Cigars 24

Havana between the World Wars 34

The Tragedy of Cuban Politics 54

Cuba's Postwar Tourist Explosion 64

Drinking, Dining, and Dancing 78

Tropicana 106

Havana at Night 124

Life as a Habanero 140

Cuba's Incredible Music Scene 158

Havana and the Mob 170

Havana Riviera 182

Habana Hilton 202

Havana's Other Fabulous Hotels 220

Havana Modern 234

New Year's 1958 and Beyond 244

Bibliography 252

Index 254

Photo Credits 256

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2008

    Great Photos!

    All Cubans dream of returning to Cuba someday, but sadly the Cuba of the 1950s, when Havana was truly the Paris of the Caribbean has been lost. Gone are the days when Cuba was truly an international destination with first class hotels and hundreds of bars, restaurants, and night clubs - from sketchy little neighborhood joints to fabulous casinos. Here you could hear Olga Guillot at the Tropicana and see spectacular stage shows under the stars. As today, the streets were filled with the latest American cars-- only at that time, many were fresh from Detroit assembly lines. Buildings in even the poorest sections of the city were well kept and crisply painted. Someday, Havana may regain some of its lost luster. Until then, a new book 'Havana Before Castro' takes you back in time to relive this great city at its prime. Author Peter Morruzi has put together a great collection of vintage photos in both color and black and white. The book documents life in Cuba from the beginnings of the Cuban republic to the glory days when locals and tourists packed Sloppy Joe's Bar and La Floridita --'the cradle of the daiquiri.' In 'Havana Before Castro,' you'll get a taste of a dynamic city where popular nightspots abounded along the Prado, central Havana's promenade, and along Calle 23 in Havana's Vedado district. A chapter on the Havana Riviera provides stunning images on this resort casino where Cuban sculptors created beautiful pieces of art. The Riviera's lobby is itself a work of art with a breathtaking circular staircase and architectural details that present the best of 50's modern. We especially liked the chapter on 'Life as an Habanero.' You can almost smell the aromas of fresh Cuban bread, strong café cubano, and fritas frying on a street corner grill, all carried along the streets of Havana by swift, sea-scented breezes. 'Havana Before Castro' is well researched and well written, providing an engaging read that goes beyond the beautiful photos. . For those who remember these glory days, the book is truly a trip back in time. For those who never experienced Cuba before Castro, the book is a revelation: Havana was truly a beautiful, world-class city! Hope and pray that it can happen again...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)