Man in The Hills: Hemingway’s Cuban Home Restored

February 3, 2011

Words by Eddie STATS Houghton, via CNN


Speaking of Cubans, CNN must have island fever this month because in addition to interviewing dancehall posterbwoy Skerrit, they just ran this piece on the current renovations on Ernest Hemingway’s famous home in Cuba. Which seemed like a good excuse to repost with a heap of flics from Life magazine and all ’bouts, capturing the relaxed but still top-shotta (literally; note the cheetah skin and hunting portraits) style of decor that characterized this writer’s pad on the outskirts of Havana, which Hemingway called home from 1939-1960. Read on and use the pics as inspiration–either as decorating tips for your own ballerific uptown hunting lodge or as motivation to get started on your first novel.


Ernest Hemingway hasn’t lived here in over 50 years but Finca Vigia is still his home. In the garden there’s his boat “the Pilar” used to hunt marlin and then Nazi subs off Cuba during World War II. Scrawled on a bathroom wall next to a scale are the daily records of what the writer weighed. Lizards and frogs he caught rest in jars filled with formaldehyde. Antelopes and buffalo heads taken as trophies from African safaris decorate the walls. Yellowing Time and The Field magazines are still on the shelves.


Now a museum, a visitor to Finca Vigia or “lookout farm,” could be mistaken for thinking Hemingway might walk in the door at any second. “Our philosophy was to recover the environment and surroundings,” said Ada Rosa Alfonso Rosales, the museum’s curator. “This was not just a mere house, this was his home.” Hemingway lived in the home on a hilltop on the outskirts of Havana from 1939 to 1960. The years were pivotal ones for the famed American writer and for his adopted home of Cuba. In 1953, Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize for his book the “Old Man and the Sea” about an aging Cuban fisherman’s epic duel with a marlin. Six years later revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro took control of the island, leading to the eventual breakdown in relations with the United States.

Battling depression, Hemingway killed himself in Ketchum, Idaho in 1961. Even though the Finca Vigia receives over 40,000 visitors a year, the house nearly fell victim to Cuba’s unforgiving environment. “This is a very humid climate,” Alfonso said. “We’re on top of a hill where winds and even hurricanes batter the house.”In 2005, the National Trust for Historic Preservation called the house “a preservation emergency,” citing roof leaks and shifting foundations that endangered the house. One of the people who came to the house’s rescue was Jenny Phillips, the granddaughter of Maxwell Perkins, the editor who first pushed for Hemingway’s work to be published and worked with the writer for the rest of his life.


One of those experts was home improvement icon Bob Vila, who is also Cuban-American. Vila said helping to save Hemingway’s house transcends politics. “It’s the best cultural bridge we could have hoped for between the American people and the Cuban people. And I emphasize people, I am not talking governments,” Vila told CNN. “The Cuban people and the American people have a warm relationship that goes back many decades. It’s a very important project.” -CNN