When architect Enrique “Henry” Gutierrez was forced into exile after leaving Cuba with a price on his head because of his counter-revolutionary actions against the Castro regime, he went to Puerto Rico.
Partly, the move made business sense. Bacardi Corp. had offices there and it was a client of his from Cuba.
The island’s proximity to Cuba was also a plus, Gutierrez believed. “As with most first-wave exiles, [he thought] that this would be most convenient since they would be very soon returning to Cuba,” his son Fernando Gutierrez said. “Fifty-eight years later, my father was never able to return to his beloved homeland. And although he was extremely proud of his U.S. citizenship and greatly adored his adopted country, Cuba was always in his heart.”
And so Gutierrez, who died in Miami on June 6, at 86, of cancer, left a major piece of Cuba from his heart here. Gutierrez designed the famed blue-and-white tower of the Bacardi Building at 2100 Biscayne Blvd. in Miami.
In 2005, the Wolfsonian Museum-Florida International University honored buildings that defined Miami architecture. In tribute, scholars called the Bacardi, affectionately known as “the blue tile building” after Brazilian artist Francisco Brennand’s abstract flower design on Gutierrez’s tower, “the first Cuban-inspired architecture in Miami.”
Built in 1963 on the west side of the boulevard, the Bacardi, now home to the National YoungArts Foundation, reflected the international style that dominated Cuban architecture in the 1950s. The Bacardi Building was “the first concrete example of the Cuban roots that began with the exile of 1959,” architecture scholar Raúl Rodríguez told the Miami Herald at the 2005 Wolfsonian event.
Gutierrez’s architectural office in Puerto Rico thrived, which led him to expand his activities to Miami after he completed the Bacardi’s U.S. headquarters building. He opened an office in Miami in 1970 and designed the One Biscayne building in downtown Miami, which opened in 1972, the same year he moved with his family to Coral Gables. In 1976, he bought an apartment in Key Biscayne that he maintained for the rest of his life.
The 39-floor, 492-foot One Biscayne, co-designed with Humberto P. Alonso, Pelayo G. Fraga & Associates, was the tallest building in Miami for 12 years until the arrival of the 765-foot Southeast Financial Center in 1984. Gutierrez also designed Brickell Place’s four condominium buildings on Brickell Avenue, a residential property on Biscayne Bay that was a precursor to the area’s massive development.
Gutierrez was born May 20, 1931, to a dentist father and a mother who was headmistress and owner of the Institute Edison, a large, non-denominational school in Cuba. He graduated from the University of Havana School of Architecture in 1956 and, in Puerto Rico, became one of the island’s most prolific architects in a career spanning 60 years.
His designs there include numerous condominiums, hotels, hospitals, marinas, malls, industrial parks and the El Caribe Building, which featured murals by Cuban artist Cundo Bermúdez.
Gutierrez’s Miami office closed in 1973, after the OPEC oil crisis and the ensuing recession that hit the real estate construction business. Still, he traveled between San Juan and the family home in Key Biscayne and kept working, his son said. Gutierrez never retired.
The Bacardi was deemed historic by Miami’s historic preservation board in 2009, despite its recent vintage. Dade Heritage Trust named Gutierrez a living legend.
“It's a very nice recognition, a great honor for me, without a doubt,” Gutierrez told the Herald after the Bacardi designation. He also paid tribute to former Bacardi boss Jose “Pepín” Bosch, who had hired the young architect to design the building. “The one who set the tone in this was Pepín, who had a strong desire to create and carry on the traditions of Bacardi.”
Beth Dunlop, Modern Magazine editor and former Herald architecture critic, remains an admirer. The Bacardi, she said, is “one of the most significant buildings of its era, a work of art and a true landmark that brightens the streetscape on Biscayne Boulevard and brings joy into my heart each time I see it.”
Gutierrez’s survivors include his wife Marta Gutierrez; children Tessie Gutierrez San Martin and Fernando Gutierrez; and grandchildren Alexandra and Caroline Gutierrez, and Gabriela and Rebeca San Martin. A celebration of life is being planned.