V. THE NEW HAVANA
The new Havana, the city outside the old wall, is about as old as Chicago but not nearly as tall. There is no reason why it should be. Here are wide streets and broad avenues, and real sidewalks, some of them about as wide as the entire street in the old city. About 1830, the region beyond the wall was held largely by Spaniards to whom grants of land had been made for one reason or another. These tracts were plantations, pastures, or unimproved lands, according to the fancy of the proprietor who usually lived in the city and enjoyed himself after the manner of his kind. Here and there, a straggling village of palm-leaf huts sprang up. The roads were rough tracks. To Governor-General Tacon seems due much of the credit for the improvement beyond the walls. During his somewhat iron-handed rule several notable buildings were erected, some of them by his authority. The most notable feature of the district is the renowned Prado, a broad boulevard with a park between two drive-ways, running from the water-front, at the entrance to the harbor, southward for about a mile. A few years ago, rows of trees shaded the central parkway, but they were almost entirely wrecked by the hurricanes in 1906 and 1910.
A half mile or so from its northern end, the Prado runs along the west side of the Parque Central, the most notable of the numerous little squares of walks and trees and flowers. A block or two further on is a little park with an excellent statue, known as La India. Opposite that is another really beautiful park, from the western side of which runs a broad street that leads to the Paseo de Carlos Tercero, formerly the Paseo de Tacon, one of the monuments left to his own memory by one of Cuba's most noted Spanish rulers. The Paseo runs westward to El Castillo del Principe, originally a fortress but now a penitentiary. The Prado stops just beyond the companion parks, La India and Colon. These originally formed the Campo de Marte, laid out by General Tacon and, in his time, used as a military parade ground. In a way, the Parque Central is the centre of the city. It is almost that, geographically, and perhaps quite that, socially. In its immediate vicinity are some of the leading hotels and the principal theatres. One of the latter, facing the park on its western side, across the Prado, is now known as the Nacional. Formerly it was the Tacon, a monument to that notable man. There is quite a story about that structure. It is somewhat too long for inclusion here, but it seems worth telling. The following is an abridgment of the tale as it is told in Mr. Ballou's History of Cuba, published in 1854. Tacon was the Governor of the island from 1834 to 1838. At that time, a certain man named Marti was eminent in the smuggling and piracy business, an industry in which many others were engaged. But Marti seems to have stood at the top of his profession, a man of skill and daring and evidently well supplied with brains. Tacon's efforts to capture him, or to break up his business, were entirely unsuccessful, and a large reward was offered for his body, alive or dead. Mr. Ballou tells the story in somewhat dramatic manner:
"It was a dark, cloudy night in Havana, a few months after the announcement of the reward, when two sentinels were pacing backward and forward before the main entrance to the Governor's palace. A little before midnight, a man was watching them from behind a statue in the park, and after observing that the sentinels paced their brief walk so as to meet each other, and then turned their backs as they separated, leaving a brief moment in the interval when the eyes of both were turned away from the entrance, seemed to calculate upon passing them unobserved. It was an exceedingly delicate manoeuvre, and required great care and dexterity to effect it; but, at last, it was adroitly done, and the stranger sprang lightly through the entrance, secreting himself behind one of the pillars of the inner court. The sentinels paced on undisturbed. The figure which had thus stealthily effected an entrance, now sought the broad stairs that led to the Governor's suite, with a confidence that evinced a perfect knowledge of the place. A second guard-post was to be passed at the head of the stairs; but, assuming an air of authority, the stranger offered a cold military salute and passed forward, as though there was not the most distant question of his right to do so; and thus avoiding all suspicion in the guard's mind, he boldly entered the Governor's reception room unchallenged, and closed the door behind him."