Construction Supplies Coming to Papa: Christman Shipment En Route to Hemingway Document Restoration Workshop Project in Cuba

First Building to be Constructed with American Materials Since 1950s

The Christman Company (Christman) has announced that the first of four major construction supply shipments is now on its way to author Ernest Hemingway’s former home in Havana Cuba. Finca Vigía (“Lookout Farm” in Spanish), where Hemingway wrote his Pulitzer-prize winning novel “The Old Man and the Sea” among others, and left tens of thousands of unpublished documents behind, is also the site of a new restoration workshop soon to be under construction with materials procured and shipped by the Michigan-based Christman firm. Sponsored by the Boston-based nonprofit Finca Vigía Foundation, the effort to construct a climate-controlled facility to store and protect the priceless preserved documents was enabled by the U.S. government’s 2015 authorization of the exportation of building materials to Cuba. This represents the first such authorization since U.S. and Cuba relations broke following Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.   

“The complexities of this challenging project may end up making it the ‘biggest little project’ we’ve ever undertaken,” said Ron Staley, FAPT, senior vice president in charge of Christman’s historic preservation group. “While relatively small in nature – a 2,500-square foot new building – given the uncharted current construction market in Cuba, we needed to package and send every nut, bolt, screwdriver, staple, piece of lumber – you name it. In addition to coordinating logistics of a construction project within both U.S. and Cuban customs and other regulations – which obviously hasn’t been done in a while – lots of other things are also relative ‘unknowns,’ and that extends to the local construction labor market, which we anticipate needing to guide to our specifications, including safety regulations. It’s an adventure of a lifetime, to say the least!”

According to Mary-Jo Adams, executive director of Finca Vigía Foundation, this milestone in the project to protect and preserve Hemingway’s legacy, which was praised on April 29, 2016 by U.S. Congressman James McGovern, D-Massachusetts, with a 15-minute speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, has been made possible by a massive cooperative effort by individuals and organizations in U.S. and Cuba. Among them: 

  • The Finca Vigía Foundation board of directors (currently co-chaired by Jenny Phillips, cultural anthropologist and writer – Concord, MA and Bob Vila, Builder/TV host – NY, NY) who understood the need to build a document conservation center in Cuba, and who took the case to Washington and assisted with fundraising;
  • Congressman McGovern, who championed the Foundation’s work with State, Treasury and Commerce Departments;
  • U.S. and Cuban technical teams for their shared architectural designs and compilation of multiple materials lists;
  • Major funders Caterpillar, AT & T, Ford, and American Express who paid for materials and shipping;
  • William DuPont, FAIA, endowed professor of architecture and director of the Center for Cultural Sustainability at the University of Texas at San Antonio, for project design consultation and support;
  • Attorneys Michael Gurdak and Chad Dorr of Jones Day who provided legal services; and
  • Christman, who is providing construction management and logistics support. 

The team is targeting construction to begin immediately and supply shipments to be completed by the end of the year. 

The Finca Vigía Foundation (www.fincafoundation.org), a small American non-profit working in Havana, has navigated the shoals of US/Cuban relations to create a bi-national project that has saved one of the most significant monuments of American literature. In doing so, the Foundation has built bridges between Cuban and American professionals, won the support of both governments, and provided training for Cuban preservationists. Derelict and distressed, Finca Vigía and its treasures were, until just a few years ago, in danger of destruction from heat, humidity, pests, and the sheer passage of time. Through the Foundation’s initiative, Finca Vigía has made both the World Monuments Fund list of 100 Most Endangered sites, and The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Places. Due to the work of the Finca Vigía Foundation, the estate and its collection are in the process of being preserved by a bi-national team of architects, engineers, and conservators.


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