In memoriam: Eusebio Leal Spengler, 2016 Henry Hope Reed Award laureate

Author: Mary Beth Zachariades

The 2016 Henry Hope Reed Award laureate, Eusebio Leal Spengler, whose innovative leadership saved the historic center of Old Havana, died this week in Havana at age 77.

“Eusebio Leal was a remarkable man who worked to restore the city he loved, allowing future generations to see beauty and splendor, while appreciating the durability of the work of generations past. Havana is a gift to the people of Cuba, built by their ancestors and preserved under the leadership of Dr. Leal,” said Stefanos Polyzoides, Francis and Kathleen Rooney Dean of the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture. “Our heartfelt sympathies go out to his family, friends and the people of Cuba." 

“Dr. Leal was a visionary with not only the wisdom to see the possibility of a better future for his city, but the courage to lead the efforts. He will be greatly missed but his legacy lives on in the vibrancy of Old Havana,” stated Richard H. Driehaus, patron of the Henry Hope Reed Award. In a spontaneous gesture of appreciation for Dr. Leal’s legacy, Driehaus gifted him with a 1949 DeSoto Custom from his car collection during the 2016 awards ceremony in Chicago.  The car is currently displayed at El Garage, part of the Automobile Museum in Old Havana.

Leal's innovative leadership saved the historic center of Old Havana, transforming the Office of the Historian from a conventional cultural agency to a financially autonomous model of management that not only generated the funds needed to undertake complex restoration projects but also provided support for the local community. He served as the Havana City Historian as well as the director of the restoration program of Old Havana and its historic center, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Leal was a specialist in archaeological sciences and received a master’s degree in Latin American, Caribbean and Cuban studies from the University of Havana as well as a doctorate in historical sciences.