The building is enormous, but, because the street is narrow and densely built-up, at first glance it appears humbler than it really is. The building is located at Calle Amistad No. 407 and 409, between Calle Dragones and Calle Barcelona.
Alonso Menéndez and José Manuel “Pepe” García, owners of the H. Upmann brand and the then-brand-new Montecristo brand, moved here in 1944. Relatively new to the cigar business, Menéndez and García had just taken over H. Upmann from the British firm J. Frankau & Co., and Montecristo had only been in business since 1935. But they chose a good neighborhood, that of the Partagás factory, to settle in.
This legendary building is almost hidden behind the former Partagás factory, along the rear side of Havana’s Capitol.
Despite its size and location – directly behind the Capitol – their factory on Calle Amistad is rather nondescript and can be hard to find. If you walk along the left side of the former Partagás factory onto Calle Dragones, turning right at the next intersection, you’ll be at the right spot. Today, the building is no longer used as a factory. Although many Cuban brands and factories were nationalized after 1960, production at the H. Upmann factory continued uninterrupted; production was relocated to Calle 23 in 2003. The building then stood empty for a few years, with neighborhood women monitoring the entrance.
As is typical in Cuba, security personnel also occupied the building, probably to prevent people from turning the abandoned space into a residence. On our last visit, we entered via the main floor: everything looked as though the workers had just gone home after their shift.
There was even a poster left hanging on the wall that featured, among other how-to’s, instructions on solving conflicts between individual and collective problems. The door of the old freight elevator still bore the date 1844 and the name H. Upmann – good visual confirmation of the brand’s existence at this location and during the correct period.
Standing next to the elevator on the ground floor, the view to the uppermost floors was open. A large, wide staircase led to the top, but, unfortunately, its use was not permitted during our visit.
Today, in 2014, the building has been fully renovated. It is now a school by the name of IPU Gerardo Abreu Fontan.
Besides its function as the H. Upmann factory, this building is firstly and foremostly the home of the Montecristo. It is not the brand’s “cradle” – the first cigars came out of a building on Calle 23 – but for over half a century it has been tied to the Montecristo name. The simplicity of the Montecristo logo, with its three stylized lines, echoes the building’s utility and functionality.
No longer used as a cigar factory, the building now houses a school.
After all, Menéndez’s priority was to create perfect cigars. A prosperous Spaniard, Menéndez had a lot of tobacco industry experience under his belt. In collaboration with an equally experienced cigar man, “Pepe” García, his goal was to produce an extraordinary cigar. They registered their cigars under the Montecristo name for the first time in 1935, having spent over a decade developing the brand and its formats. Their efforts were rewarded: the brand quickly became well known and beloved throughout the world.
In 1937, Menéndez was able to acquire the H. Upmann brand with the money he had earned with Montecristo. The cigar’s five original formats, Montecristos No. 1 to No. 5, are still available, and today, the portfolio contains everything that a cigar-lover’s heart might desire.
According to Nancy Stout’s 1998 book, Habanos: the Story of the Havana Cigar, which is filled with many personal anecdotes, there had already been a factory in this building – namely that of the Carvajal company, run by heirs to the once-famous Cabañas brand.
In theory, it is absolutely possible. Over the years, it was common in Havana for multiple occupants to use the same buildings as cigar factories or even temporary tobacco warehouses.
Because Havana’s brisk cigar manufacture took place in a relatively compact municipal area during that era, it is fascinating to constantly stumble across places that have harbored multiple brands within their walls.
However, we could not find confirmation in the factory register or in brand registers that the Carvajal brand had actually been housed on Calle Amistad.
H. Upmann Fabrica de Tabacos
Alonso Menéndez & Pepe Garcia
1944 (move-in date),
Factory until 2003;
Calle Amistad 407 y 409
One street behind the Capitol
Montecristo, H. Upmann;
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Winter Edition 2014. Read more