The Xanadú Mansion, located on the San Bernardino crags of Varadero, Cuba, was designed by architects Covarrocas and Govantes in July 1927 for Irenee DuPont.
Today, the majestic estate is a small hotel, restaurant and golf club house on the sea. The six colonial-style rooms have antique decor much like the mansion appeared in its original form. Most have balconies or terraces with water views.
There’s an old-world restaurant and a wine cellar.
The original owner of this exclusive estate was American industrialist Irenee DuPont, born on 21 December 1876, who eventually had eight children, 35 grandchildren and five great-grand children. Irenee was the member of the DuPont family who took the greatest interest in developing the family’s business empire – founded by his great grandfather Eleuthere DuPont in Delaware in 1802.
During Dupont’s lifetime, the company became the largest diversified chemical products enterprise in the world, employing more than 90,000 workers in 1957 in 74 plants worldwide. Before taking over the leadership of the family’s company, DuPont had several jobs in construction, finance and real estate development.
In 1927, at the age of 49, DuPont retired and searched for a remote, pristine place to spend his seasonal retirement. Like many Americans of his era, he found it in Cuba. That same year he purchased 445 acres of land on the Hicacos Peninsula (present day Varadero). The property included 5 miles of virgin breaches, but he chose the rocky hills of the San Bernardino crags to build his mansion.
DuPont introduced potable water to the Varadero area, and unlike some other Caribbean destinations, tap water was safe to drink. He also provided schools for the area’s children. When the local church was destroyed, he rebuilt it.
The four story mansion, with 11 bedrooms and adjoining baths, three large terraces, seven balconies and a private dock, was named “Xanadu”, after the exotic palace built by the legendary Chinese warrior and conqueror Kublas Khan, as described by the English poet Samuel Taylor. According to the legend, Xanadu was the ancient kingdom of the Tartars, extending from Central Asia to Western China and parts of Russia.
In 1932 DuPont installed the largest privately-owned organ in all of Latin America at the time. The device was installed in the basement, and the organ worked both automatically and manually. Two shafts carried the music to the mirador and the lobby, without inconveniencing the guests in their rooms. The furniture, including the organ, paintings and piano, were supplied by Theodore Baily & Co. and Meras & Rico.
Precious woods were sourced from Santiago de Cuba for the ceilings, stair rails and columns. The floors and bathrooms were done in Cuban, Italian and Spanish marble. Construction was completed on December 30, 1930 during the Great Depression.
DuPont would stay at Xanadu for a few months each year from early January, sometimes inviting important company executives.
The DuPont estate grew to an estimated 1,328 acres, covering parts of what today is the municipality of Cardenas. The land had been bought at the low price of four cents per square meter (less than one cent per acre). The estate’s value increased years later with the construction of roads, a power plant and an aqueduct.
The gardens were planted with coconut trees. On the Eastern slopes were planted flowers and a vegetable garden – together with banana, avocado and papaya trees. Parrots and cockatoos were imported to enhance the tropical setting.
Architect Herbert Strong designed the first golf course with 18 holes. It was later built with only nine following a design by Sim Cuthrie. The first four holes were built on natural soil, while the others were built on filling. Golf course construction started in December 1931, and shortly after completion in September 1933, it was hit by a hurricane that swept away the greens and fairways from holes five to nine.
In the 1930s, playing nine holes cost $1.00, of which $0.50 was for the caddy, and the rest was for a local public school.
In March 1957, DuPont visited Xanadu for the last time. On 12 December 1963, following the revolution, Xanadu opened as “Las Americas” Restaurant, with Russian astronaut Valentina Tereshkova as guest of honor. That same day, at the age of 85, Irenee DuPont passed away in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Foreign Claim Settlement Commission, the estate is not listed on the unresolved Cuban Claims Program, Certified Claimant List.
Material from Varadero Golf Club contributed to this report.