The Man of La Casa Prado

The Man of La Casa Prado


By Inés María Martiatu

Cubans have long had the custom to gather together Sunday afternoons with children, grandmothers and parents and take advantage of the day off from work and studies. The assembled family usually savoured a special dish carefully prepared by the ladies of the house: rice with chicken or black beans, roast beef or pork fricassee, accompanied by fried plantains and salad.

The radio came to enliven those afternoons with a varied program of romances, adventure stories, humour and even violent crimes told in a chronicle to the rhythm of Guantanamera, and the radio also entertained - why not? - with ads.

Toilet soaps became known listeners as a product that would make the skin smooth and soft, and toothpaste was advertised to being able to whiten and protect teeth from cavities and bad breath. Distinctive qualities were expounded about different beers, soft drinks and rums. Often these announcements were accompanied by jingles popularizing the advertisement.

The favourite programmes that brightened up those Sunday afternoons at home were always the musicals.

Among the most popular musicals in the 40s and 50s was "La Casa Prado," or The Prado House. This was a men's clothing store that broadcast a treasured musical ensemble. Sonora Matancera delighted families, and the widely popular Puerto Rican singer Daniel Santos's extraordinary voice and style enraptured the public with his guarachas, sons and boleros. La Casa Prado's clothing store at the intersection of Belascoaín and San Miguel Streets, then one of the busiest commercial districts in Havana, was noted for the imposing statue in its entranceway. The enormous figure of a man, dressed in dark pants and white guayabera - traditional shirt for Cuban men- was made more striking by his head: that of a rooster with a long beak and great red crest. I remember that many children were afraid of that rooster-headed man. At that time, La Casa Prado held a weekly radio contest during its Sunday broadcast. The idea was to identify "The Man of La Casa Prado," an individual who could appear on any downtown corner of Havana dressed in the proverbial crisp white guayabera. He could be anywhere in the capital: in Central Park, at Prado and Neptuno, at the corner of Tejas, or 23rd and 12th in Vedado.

The announcement: "Catch it, it has no thorns," signalled that the "Man of La Casa Prado" was in the street. The prize for whoever found him was either a modest amount of cash or the choice of some clothing from the store.

Many years later, La Casa Prado specialized in extra-large clothing for tall or corpulent men and women who couldn't find appropriately-sized garments in other stores. Many remember that, with the people's usual humour, the store was known as La Casa de los Gordos, or The House of the Fatties.