Exploring Hershey, Cuba: A Town Built By American Chocolate
Much has been made of the recent loosening of the travel embargo between the United States and Cuba, and both tourists and industry professionals are eager to explore the country before it becomes “Americanized.” But what of the vestiges of American culture that remain from the mid-20th century?
About 30 miles east of Havana, lies Hershey (or “air-say,” as the locals call it), a suburb named after, you guessed it, the American chocolate behemoth.
Founded by Milton Hershey himself in 1916 as a community for factory workers, Hershey offered its residents company-built housing and American luxuries like a golf course, social club, baseball field, movie theater, and perhaps most impressive, an electric railroad.
However, after his death in the 1945 the town’s assets were bought by sugar tycoon Julio Lobo, and in 1959, they were nationalized along with the rest of the country.
Now, much of the town has fallen into disrepair; the factory closed, the cinema shuttered.
Gothamist writer Laura Evans describes the modern-day scene as “unsettling.”
“Something as familiar (and at least to me, inherently disquieting) as an American suburb, dropped in the middle of the Caribbean,” she said.
Evans asked Juan Carlos González, a resident of the neighborhood, if Hershey still felt “especially American.”
"No," he said. "It's been too many years—maybe in the '40s and '50s."
However, he continued, "it doesn't take an architect to see that it's different from everywhere else."
For Evans’s full account of Hershey and additional photos of Cuba’s “surreal American suburb,” head over on Gothamist.
Caroline Hallemann is the associate digital editor at Travel + Leisure. You can find her on Twitter at @challemann.