Obama, Baseball & the Architecture of Cuba

President Obama made history today by being the first president to visit Cuba since 1928. “The history-making trip is designed to cement the Administration’s diplomatic outreach to Cuba, making it hard for any future president to return to the half-century old policy of isolation that Obama and his team consider a failure,” NPR writes, in a recent article.

The Tampa Bay Rays also landed in Cuba on Sunday to play an exhibition baseball game against the Cuban national team this Tuesday. “The contest is a nod to the popular past-time the two countries share, and comes as Major League Baseball is negotiating a deal to let Cuban ballplayers sign with big league teams without having to defect,” NPR writes. The team was picked at random from a lottery of teams that volunteered for the trip.

So, in the spirit of the U.S. and Cuba finally getting along, and with promises from airlines to start scheduling more flights to the Caribbean country – here are some beautiful architectural sites to visit!

It has been said that traveling to Havana, Cuba is like traveling back in time: the weathered buildings, the old classic cars and the rich, almost mysterious history of a city that so many Americans have not been able to travel to for so many years. It’s less known however, that at the beginning of the 20th century, Havana underwent an extraordinary boom period, bringing an enriching architectural movement with international influences such as art nouveau, art deco and eclectic design.

Barcadi Building

Maxfield Parrish reliefs grace the Art Deco Bacardi Building in Old Havana.

Capitol bldgHavana’s domed capitol dominates the historic heart of the city.

Cristobal Colon Cemetery

Cristóbal Colón Cemetery.

garden room

The garden room at Casa de la Amistad, a 1920s house in the Vedado neighborhood that is now a restaurant and bar.

Havana streetscape

Standards of the Havana streetscape—arcaded pastel buildings and brightly colored pre-1960 American automobiles.

Hemingway Museum

The Hemingway Museum at Finca Vigía, the Havana-area farm where the novelist lived from 1939 to 1960.

Hotel Habana Riviera

Original furnishings lend a Mad Men vibe to Hotel Habana Riviera, which U.S. mobster Meyer Lansky opened in 1957.

Hotel Sratoga's Bar Mezzanine

Hotel Saratoga’s Bar Mezzanine.

La Guarida Hotel

At the grand entrance to La Guarida restaurant in Old Havana, a hand-painted revolutionary speech joins a headless statue.

Museum of Dec. Arts

The staircase of the Museum of Decorative Arts, a former sugar magnate’s mansion dating from the ’20s.

Revolution Plaza

Enrique Ávila Gonzales’s sculpture of Socialist hero Camilo Cienfuegos dominates a building on Revolution Plaza; it bears the famous Cienfuegos comment YOU’RE DOING FINE, FIDEL.

The Hotel Nacional de Cuba

The Hotel Nacional de Cuba, completed in 1930, is a work by the American architecture firm McKim, Mead & White.

Unv. of Arts

African villages inspired one section of the National Art Schools (now the University of Arts of Cuba), a 1960s masterpiece by architects Ricardo Porro, Roberto Gottardi, and Vittorio Garatti.

If architecture isn’t your forte, Cuba is also known for its white-sand beaches, rolling mountains, cigars and rum! And don’t forget the dancing! Salsa emanates from the city’s dance clubs and cabaret shows are performed at the famed Tropicana.

Photos and descriptions provided by Architectural Digest.

The St. Petersburg Pier Project – My 2 Cents

*UPDATE 04/15/16* Today we received an email from the City of St. Petersburg containing a link to a virtual tour of the new pier design. Previously, as you can see below in my original blog post, I did not feel great about the new pier design. I felt even more worried after they announced that the design did not fit in the budget and they were planning on eliminating most of my favorite design elements to keep it in budget. Well, today I am filled with hope and happiness for our landmark. The email stated, “On Thursday, April 7th, the St. Petersburg City Council passed resolutions approving both the schematic design and funding for the new St. Petersburg Pier. The votes authorized city staff and the design team to proceed with the next phases for design and construction for the Pier.” The article states that initially, funds were allocated for the development of a new Pier, from Spa Beach to the end of the Pier Head. However, an additional $20 million to develop the Pier approach became available through TIF funds from the downtown tax district. This is very exciting news because now there is enough money to incorporate ALL of their designs. Although I am still a little skeptical of the overall design, and feel that it still lacks excitement, I feel a lot better about it now after this news, and taking the virtual tour. See for yourself here


The Pier has always had a special place in my heart, since I grew up here. Every year until age 15 we would go to the Pier for ice cream on my birthday. I have countless memories playing put-put golf, attempting to fish (with no luck), exploring the aquarium, and even singing karaoke at Cha-Cha Coconuts, the rooftop restaurant. I was absolutely devastated when I heard the news of demolition. But after some thought, I realized that it wasn’t the end of the Pier… just a new chapter and growth for our cities biggest landmark.

As most people who live in St. Petersburg know… the process of creating a new Pier has been rocky, to say the least. We have seen concept after concept from the architects and eventually we all finally voted on one and most people seemed happy with the choice. Well now it seems like that was all for nothing because the Tampa Bay Times published an article yesterday depicting the NEW schematic design for the Pier… and people are outraged (including myself)! Take a look at this:

new pier concept vs old one

It went from a very unique and standout structure to some rich retirees house in Malibu. There is nothing about this new concept that makes it a destination spot for our city. I rather have the old Pier back than waste $46 million on this garbage. Don’t get me wrong; it is a beautiful design – for a house. This is supposed to be our world famous Pier! The inverted pyramid drew millions of tourists to our city every year. I doubt this new Pier will draw even thousands. Not only is the actual architecture lackluster, but the amenities are also blah. Here is the basic layout of the entire project (for a better look, open their Design Plan PDF):

pier layout

The only 2 things that stand out, in my opinion, are the education center and the event plaza. Everything else is so boring! One tiny restaurant? One bar? No ice cream shop? Oh, there is a wading pool for hot tourists to dip their feet in when they feel faintish – yay! But according to the Tampa Bay Times article – that fun feature may be put on hold. Go figure. It feels more like a walking path of “coastal thicket” to a giant pad of concrete steps for you to sit on and look out at the water. I can go to the beach and watch the sunset. The Pier is supposed to be something that puts St. Petersburg on the map! We need more WOW factor! We need more shops and restaurants and things to DO! I am looking forward to having an event plaza where we would possibly hold some great concerts – but other than that… I rather spend my tax dollars on a highspeed train from Tampa to Orlando.

My Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival Experience

Photo by:  Terry Beeman https://www.facebook.com/terry.beeman/

Photo by: Terry Beeman – https://www.facebook.com/terry.beeman/

Being an Architect’s assistant has its perks – one being that my boss is very lenient on vacation time. Last Wednesday, my boyfriend and I packed up our Kia Soul and headed down to Okeechobee, Florida for the inaugural Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival. The three-hour drive consisted of one-lane roads and the most cows I have ever seen! I also saw donkeys and goats! The city of Okeechobee has a population around 6,000 according to the 2013 census. It was the perfect location for a music festival with its acres and acres of flat land and small bodies of water dotted throughout. The festival was expected to bring around 30,000 people – almost 5 times more people than the entire population! The lineup was massive, especially for a first year show, with big names like Kendrick Lamar, Mumford & Sons, Skrillex and more!

Late Wednesday afternoon we arrived at the check in to pick up our credentials. We chose to volunteer for our ticket in order to enjoy the show for free, besides working our allotted shifts. The program was called WET – work exchange team. We had never volunteered at a festival before, but figured it couldn’t be that hard! So far the process had been smooth. After getting our credentials we arrived at our camping spot and started to set up our tent and other essentials. We were done before the sun set! General Admission people could not arrive until Thursday, so that night, all of the volunteers hung out at the camps – music blaring and food cooking on little grills. And did I mention that the weather was perfect?

Thursday I woke up to a light sprinkle – thank goodness it only lasted about 10 minutes. I thought I had jinxed us there for a minute!! After a light breakfast, we decided to walk around and check everything out – like figure out where the bathrooms/showers were and where we could buy ice. Volunteers were to share the bathrooms/showers with festival staff. Lucky for us the showers were free (GA had to pay $10 – which is actually a normal festival price for a shower). Unlucky for us however – the bathrooms/showers were pretty far away. But that is just something you have to take into account and remember, “Hey, I can’t wait till the last second to go to the bathroom” because it is a bit of a walk. Not a huge deal. We continued past the bathrooms/showers, still in search of a spot to purchase ice (the ice in our cooler had already melted and our food needed to stay cool). After walking around for a good hour and asking about 5 Staff members where to go – we still hadn’t found it. That was very frustrating, and kind of a big deal. This is South Florida. It gets hot! We need to keep our food and drinks at least somewhat cold! A few hours later we finally found the “General Store” – which was about a mile away from our campsite. Not to mention, it was one of only two places to buy ice… for 30,000 people!!! What the…? I am not sure whose brilliant idea that was, but they are definitely going to be receiving a complaint from me! At Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in June in Tennessee they have ice about every 50 feet for sale! We were buying 2 bags a day because of how hot it was during the day! Okeechobee needs to correct that next year!

Thursday night they opened two sections of the festival – Aquachobee Beach and Jungle 51. Aquachobee Beach was on a lake and provided festivalgoers a place to swim. This area also included a Ferris wheel, a stage, and food trucks. They describe the area like this: “A bona fide tropical haven where festivalgoers can swim, soak up the sun, or just chill out to live music from 9am to 9pm. An oversized Ferris wheel will offer epic vistas while the Aquachobee bar will supply libations of all kinds, from fruit smoothies to delicious cocktails.” We sat on the beach and listened to performances by Jan Blomqvist, Okeechobee Allstars, and Big Wild. At 9pm they opened up Jungle 51. They describe it like this: “Rumor has it an Unidentified Blasting Object (UBO) has crashed in the forest just outside the main area. There has been PULSES of SOUNG coming from it at ALL TIMES OF NIGHT. Come TRANSPORT YOURSELF into a ROARING DANCE PARTY that keeps going until sunrise… and THEN SOME!” This area felt a little bit claustrophobic for me – but it was cool that they had music all night! We listened to/watched Driss Skali, in owe of the light show and the intensity of the sound. At that point in the night they had finally opened up ChobeeWobee Village and Yogachobee (it was supposed to open around 2pm but they were REALLY far behind in set up – these things happen!) We checked out those areas as long as we could before my legs gave out (I think I walked 100 miles in 4 days).

Friday we worked our first volunteer shift. We were assigned to be Videographer Assistant’s for a company called Cinesthetics. How cool is that? We were very excited to get to work! Our shift was from 10am – 4pm. Well… it seems that videographers are not very active during the early part of the day. We literally chased shade (sat in chairs and moved with the shade) for our entire shift. But hey – it could’ve been WAY worse. Once clocked out, we headed back to our tent and ate dinner and got ready for the first night in The Grove – the main stage area with the BE, HERE, and NOW stages. They describe this area like this: “Nested in the heart of the land and encircled by delicious eats & treats, and a subtropical tree-line, The Grove is where our 3 main stages live.” We saw performances by Grace Potter, Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters, Classixx, Twiddle, Daryl Hall & John Oates, RL Grime, Bassnectar, Portugal. The Man, and Lettuce! It was such an epic night – one that I will never forget. I even ran into my old editor, Jay Cridlin, covering the festival for Tampa Bay Times.

OMFSaturday morning I did something I have never done at a festival – take a shower! It was free so I couldn’t pass it up. Not to mention there was NO wait! The GA shower lines were 70 people deep! We had to work a night shift that night, so we made our way over to the stages early. We saw performance by Michael Christmas, Deer Tick, Shabazz Palaces, Dr. Dog, and Lotus. After a quick bite to eat we headed to our second shift as videographer assistants. We were hoping that the night shift would be more exciting – and boy was it!!! We immediately left the trailer with backpacks full of batteries and lenses and made our way to BE stage for Miguel. We were standing in the photo pit – I was touching the stage! I have NEVER been that close to a stage at a festival. I could feel the energy from the crowd pulsing over my head. It was electric! From there we were lucky enough to go backstage for Big Gigantic, Kendrick Lamar, the PoWoW!, and Skrillex! If we weren’t backstage we were out in the crowd, chasing after our ninja-like videographers with their stuff – praying that we don’t lose them! It was an exhausting but thrilling 6 hours! Needless to say that by the time our 2am clock out came around, I was ready to sleep.

My eyes slowly open to the sun peeking through our tent. Sunday always arrives too soon. I wasn’t ready to go back to reality – but at least I still had one more day to enjoy. We woke up late and basically went straight to our last shift (11am – 5pm). During this shift we shot a lot of filler videos – people doing yoga, groups of friends sitting on the ground clinking their beers together, couples walking hand in hand taking in the scenery. During this last shift, we really got to know the guys we were working for. It was such an amazing experience, especially since I am in school for Graphic Design and could potentially have a job like that one day! I have always said “it’s all about who you know,” so whenever Gabe and I get opportunities like that, we really make them count and form relationships with people that could be great connections in the future. They liked us so much that they asked us to work a little bit longer! We couldn’t say no and stayed an extra 45 minutes. But once my stomach started protesting we headed back to camp for our last festival dinner. We had to leave directly after Mumford & Sons – so we quickly packed up the Kia again before heading the The Grove one last time. We saw amazing performances by Ween, Shpongle, Big Grams, Gramatik, The Avett Brothers, Odeza, and last but definitely not least, Mumford & Sons.

This was such a beautiful experience – the venue, the music, the people. Once they post their official photos, I will add them to my blog post for you to enjoy! They definitely have some improvements to make next year, but I plan on doing it all over again in 2017!