Two Become One
Palacio Aldama is a massive, forceful cigar palace of architectural elegance. In its heyday, the patio, with its marble fountains and fresco ceilings was a sight to behold. For many years, this Palacio was home to the famous manufacturer La Corona.
The Palacio’s fascinating history began to unfold long before the sweet scent of tobacco filled its halls. It started as two adjacent buildings, built in the 1840s by the then-renowned architect Jose’ Manuel Carreras. They were then later conjoined.
The Palacio’s primary address, Calle Reina No.1, refers to the right side of the villa, originally the larger of the two, located on the corner of Calle Amistad. In this house lived Domingo de Aldama, an immigrant from the Basque Country who had grown wealthy in the sugar industry. The Palacio still carries his name today.
The other building’s address was Calle Amistad 142, which reaches to the corner of Calle Estrella. Aldama built this home for his daughter, Rosa, who married a man named Domingo del Monte.
Very little is known today about the Aldama and Del Monte families. Quite possibly, the family was related to famous Cuban author and critic Domingo del Monte, who was suspected of participating in the organisation of a slave rebellion and forced to flee the country in 1844. He died in 1853 in Madrid. If the Del Monte family of Calle Amistad 142 is indeed related to Domingo del Monte, members may well have continued to fight for Cuban independence after his departure. It’s likely that the family had already been under the watchful eye of Spanish authorities for many years.
In 1869, tragedy befell the residents of both houses. During the previous year, Cuba’s first battle in the decades-long struggle for Cuban independence from Spanish colonial power had begun. Without warning, Spanish troops stormed the Del Monte house and searched the buildings, leaving behind a wake of destruction. It became apparent that del Monte family was suspected of collaborating with rebels and believed to be hiding a stockpile of weapons in the home.
Concerned about losing its power, the Spanish administration suspected sympathisers and secret supporters everywhere. In the case of del Monte, no weapons or any other incriminating material were found that would have justified the harsh proceedings of the officials.
The del Monte family wasn’t the only one to suffer a great loss in the search. Officials also ransacked the adjacent Aldama family home, destroying a large portion of the interior decoration. It’s remarkable how little consideration the authorities took, even though they were dealing with a high profile and prosperous family.
Aldama and his family were so enraged by this indiscriminate act that they emigrated to the US shortly after. War raged on the island, even if Aldama family members did not support the struggle for independence directly, they still feared for their lives. Everything the Aldama family left behind, including the Palacio and all its treasures, was confiscated in its entirety. In the subsequent years, both buildings remained empty for a long time.
Fragrant Tobacco Fills The Halls
It wasn’t until 1889, twenty years after the events of the first war, that the Aldama building was sold at auction. Segundo Alvarez and Perfecto Lopez, owners of the La Corona brand, purchased the building. Strangely, they were the only bidders. Years before, one of these gentlemen had already purchased the nearby Del Monte family building.
Over the next ten years, something like peace returned to the island, life returned to somewhat normality and more investments were made. In 1882, Segundo Alvarez, a descendent of an old tobacco family, purchased La Corona. He then started developing his own cigar production in 1885.
Some years later, with Perfecto Lopez, he founded the company Alvarez, Lopez y Cia, the corporation subsequently converted into a cigar manufacture bearing the name La Corona. Together with Perfecto Lopez, Segundo Alvarez created the brand that, many decades later, is still world famous.
Bigger & Better
For many years, production continued on the biggest scale. However much changed when the Americans entered the business. The American Tobacco Company had purchased a large amount of trademarks and factories, and with such great amounts of cigars being produced, it needed an even larger factory.
The so-called “iron palace” has since housed the production of many well known brands, including La Corona’s. Although production of several brands was moved from Palacio Aldama, the building was still used to produce cigars until 1932. The building was shut down during the general strike of cigar rollers. Production was then shifted to the Palacio to Trenton, New Jersey, where Cuban tobacco continued to be used and a number of Cuban immigrants were employed as rollers. That was the end of Palacio Aldama’s time as a manufacturer. From 1933 on, the space was used only for storing, processing and selling tobacco.
In 1945, the company sold the building, a shopping centre was built, and the rest of the rooms were used as offices. Today the Palace still houses a number of offices, along with the Institute for Cuban History.
From 1961 to 1996, after the Revolution, cigar history was written in the Palacio once more. Cubatobaco, a newly-founded organisation that was to be responsible for the production of all Cuban Cigars, established its headquarters here. But this was only a brief interlude. The golden days in which the Palacio Aldama played a role in the cigar industry were gone forever.