The gorgeous building at Calle San Carlos 816, at the corner of Calle Penalver, was once a warehouse owned by the famous tobacco exporter, Mark A. Pollack. In those days, not only was cigar production highly profitable, but the tobacco trade was also booming. Pollack’s tobacco was known for being of top quality.
For those who are familiar with Havana, the factory is fairly easy to find. It’s located behind the Romeo factory, Briones Montoto, and is now a Partagás worksite. Fully renovated in recent years, the building’s walls shine a gleaming white.
A short staircase, flanked left and right by towering columns, leads to the main hall and onto a lightflooded patio. Another staircase leads to the upper levels and galleys. All windows have views to the outside as well as onto the patio; each story has its own wrap-around balcony with elaborate wrought-iron railings, from which visitors can view the torcedores at work.
Once a Warehouse
According to the sign above the entrance, the building was constructed in 1902, designed by an architect named A. Padial. An 1849 map of Havana reveals that at the time, city limits reached as far as Calle Belascoain. Beyond it lay the Campo de Penalver, an open field.
Once upon a time, only the best tobaccos were stored here. Today, the massive walls house the Partagás factory.
Buildings were erected only along one side of Calle Belsacoain. It appears that the other side – where today, for example, we find the Briones Montoto factory, and where Don Pepin’s old Romeo factory once stood – was developed after 1849.
It’s hard to believe that Mark A. Pollack built this splendid structure just to store his excellent tobacco. But the tobacco trade was good business, and warehouses of the day often looked like palaces. It is not known when Pollack arrived in Cuba. In his book The Owners of Cuba, Guillermo Jimenéz claims that Mark A. Pollack originally hailed from England. However, documents in the Museo Municipal de Centro Habana identify Pollack as American.
Whichever is true, we do know that he built his business from the ground up. Situated on a light slope, his factory has four stories in the front and five in the back. Pollack’s apartment was on the top storey, at the rear, with a view onto the Campo de Penalver. He lived here with his wife, Carmen Casuso Olloa, until his death on November 8, 1946; his wife died a few months before him.
Their son, Roberto Pollack, took over the family business. Like his father, he was a skillful businessman; unlike his father, Roberto was active in several trades.
Along with tobacco warehousing, he ran a business trading in kitchen appliances, televisions, and radios, and he married well. His wife, Chita Diehl, was the daughter of Hermann Diehl, a tobacco dealer of German descent. Her marriage with Pollack united two important warehouses and their exceptional tobacco, and further strengthened the families’ connections to vegueros (tobacco farmers) and cigar manufacturers.
Chita Diehl also ran her own well-known clothing chain, Chita’s Moda. Her family was very influential, thanks to family ties to the Spanish aristocracy.
From Warehouse to Factory
We know for certain that the Pollack family still owned the building until 1958. After the revolution, the family must have left the island, like so many others.
Then, the El Rey del Mundo factory occupied the space before moving to Calle Belascoain 852. (It’s not clear exactly when the move occurred; in fact, some Havana residents still refer to the factory on San Carlos as El Rey del Mundo.) It’s likely that the building subsequently stood empty for years.
A few years ago, a rumor circulated that special, limited-edition cigars were going to be produced here. Instead, in 2012, the Partagás crew moved to Calle San Carlos. Due to disrepair, the famous Partagás factory behind the Capitol had had to be closed, and the legendary brand needed a new home.
Partagás found its new home on Calle San Carlos. Dozens of tourists have already visited the factory, which offers official group tours; buses conveniently bring visitors directly to the site.
It’s well worth making a quick stop at the Casa del Tabaco in the neighboring Briones Montoto factory.
Mark A. Pollack
Calle San Carlos No. 816
10-minute taxi ride from the Capitol
Past: El Rey del Mundo; present: Partagás
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Summer Edition 2014. Read more