Eusebio Leal Spengler, Who Restored Old Havana, Dies at 77


Eusebio Leal Spengler, who led an effort to preserve Old Havana, transforming that historic district from a forgotten slum into an architectural jewel and tourist destination, died on July 31 in Havana. He was 77.

His death was reported by Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party. In recent years he had been treated for pancreatic cancer.

In a statement, President Miguel Diaz-Canel of Cuba called him “the Cuban who saved Havana.”

Mr. Leal began his preservation efforts in the 1980s, when the old center of the capital city was a ruin. Residents lived without indoor plumbing or reliable electricity, garbage piled up on the streets, and 250-year-old buildings sometimes collapsed before their eyes.

As a historian and director of the Havana City Museum, Mr. Leal was passionate about saving Cuba’s architectural history. He once lay down in front of a steamroller to save a colonial-era wooden street from being paved over. Through his campaigning, Old Havana was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982.

Eusebio Leal Spengler was born on Sept. 11, 1942, in a working-class district of Havana. He was reared by his single mother, a washerwoman and cleaner, and dropped out of school in the sixth grade to help support the family. No other information was available about his mother or father. Survivors include his two sons, Javier Leal and Carlos Manuel Leal.

After the 1959 revolution brought Castro to power, public education in Cuba became free. In 1975, Mr. Leal earned a bachelor’s degree in history, and later a Ph.D. in historical sciences, from the University of Havana. But he had early on been self-taught, spending his youth in libraries reading about history and architecture. In the early 1960s he was made an apprentice in the Office of Historian, held at the time by Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring.

When Mr. Roig died in 1967, Mr. Leal assumed the role and oversaw the renovation of the 18th-century governor’s palace into a museum, his first restoration project.


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