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Frontón Jai Alai | Photo © 2018 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

Ruins of Cuba: Frontón Jai Alai

City/Town:
Location Class:
Built: N/A | Abandoned: N/A
Status: Under Renovation
Photojournalist: David Bulit

Frontón Jai Alai “El Palacio de los Gritos”, 1904

Jai alai was brought over to Cuba in 1898 by the Basques, the indigenous people of the Basque Country in Spain. On May 7, 1901, the first jai alai fronton opened in the New World, when the Frontón Jai Alai was inaugurated in Havana. Just a few years later, the first jai alai in the United States would open in St. Louis, Missouri around the same time as the 1904 World’s Fair.

The first season’s batch of players was not high quality by any means, the second season saw much improvement. Rufino Osorio, the first administrator of the Frontón Jai Alai, traveled to the Basque Country and returned with a large number of professional and talented players. Promoted by the Basque Basilio Sarazqueta, Havana became the center of an increasingly lucrative sport, and with that the increasing number of bets.

In 1918, the rules of jai alai underwent a few changes. During this period, interest in the game waned with many players leaving the island in search of better opportunities. Many players failed to adapt to these changes and retired from the sport. Frontón Jai Alai’s new administrator, Eliseo Argüelles, led the recovery of the sport renaming the fronton, Compañía Sport y Fomento del Turismo. Under his leadership, new talent emerged despite the rule changes, and once again crowds flocked to the fronton to Throughout the island, the fronton became better known as “El Palacio de los Gritos” or “The Palace of Screams”. On November 13, 1920, a second Jai Alai fronton opened on the island in the city of Cienfuegos, signifying the peak of the sport’s popularity.

Frontón Jai Alai | Photo © 2018 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com
The jai alai fronton has seen much better days with large portions of the roof missing due to hurricanes.

In 1959, the President of Cuba, Fulgencio Batista, was overthrown after a guerilla war against revolutionary groups led by Fidel Castro. Under new regulations established by the new Cuban government, any sporting or recreational events involving betting were banned. This, of course, included jai alai. Many players left the island and once again, the popularity of the sport on the island declined just as the popularity in the United States was almost at its peak.

Following the Cuban Revolution, the fronton was renamed to the Vincente Ponce Carrasco Sports Center, named after a boxer who died during a battle in the revolution. The building played host to many sports and activities such as boxing, wrestling, karate, and even ballet. In 1991, it became the train grounds for athletes preparing themselves for the upcoming Pan American Games being held in Havana. Jai alai is still played throughout the island, but it is nowhere near as popular as it once was. Games can still be seen at the Cienfuegos fronton which at the time of this writing, is undergoing renovations for a tournament being held there in October 2020. Unfortunately, the Frontón Jai Alai has seen much better days but is still used sporadically for karate classes or ballet lessons.

Bullet

David Bulit is a photographer, author, and historian from Miami, Florida. He has published a number of books on abandoned and forgotten locales throughout the United States and continues to advocate for preserving these historic landmarks. His work has been featured throughout the world in news outlets such as the Miami New Times, the Florida Times-Union, the Orlando Sentinel, NPR, Yahoo News, MSN, the Daily Mail, UK Sun, and many others. You can find more of his work at davidbulit.com as well as amazon.com/author/davidbulit.

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