U.S.-Cuban project restoring Ernest Hemingway home near Havana

 A joint U.S.-Cuban preservation effort is restoring Ernest Hemingway's home near Havana and the thousands of documents he left there.

Story highlights

  • "Not since the 1950s has a building with American materials been built" in Cuba, says an organizer of the effort
  • Hemingway's home near Havana was his base for the last 22 years of his life

Havana, Cuba (CNN)Ernest Hemingway's home near Havana is expected to soon receive an infusion of badly needed building supplies from the United States.

An American foundation restoring the legendary writer's home in Cuba on Saturday signed an agreement with the Cuban government to -- for the first time -- import construction materials directly from the United States to aid the preservation efforts.
The joint U.S.-Cuban project will build a workshop adjacent to Hemingway's home in Cuba to restore and maintain thousands of the famed writer's documents, rough drafts and letters.
    "It's historic, not since the 1950s has a building with American materials been built here," said Mary-Jo Adams, the executive director of the Boston-based Finca Vigia Foundation, which is named for the writer's Cuban home where he wrote his Nobel-prize winning book "The Old Man and the Sea."
    In an interview with CNN in Havana, Adams said the foundation has received approval from the U.S. and Cuban governments to bring $860,000 worth of supplies from the United States for the new construction.
    In January, as part of a shift in US policy towards Cuba, President Barack Obama authorized the exportation of building materials to the island for the first time since the United States broke relations with the island following Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution.
    Adams said Hemingway's love for Cuba created a rare area where the U.S. and Cuban governments could cooperate, despite still present Cold War-era tensions.
    Ernest Hemingway's home in Havana is due to receive $860,000 in building materials from the U.S., as part of an agreement signed by the Cuban government and the U.S.-based foundation working to preserve the famed writer's Cuban home.
    For the last 22 years of Hemingway's life his home near Havana was his base for marathon stretches of writing, drinking and fishing. From the hillside residence, he entertained fellow writers, diplomats and Hollywood stars.
    Hemingway left Cuba in 1961, shortly before the United States and Cuba severed diplomatic ties. Suffering from depression, Hemingway committed suicide in Idaho the same year.
    His widow, Mary, donated the house to Cuban government, which displays Hemingway's books, clothing and even a collection of fermented lizards.
    But Cuba's punishing climate was gradually destroying the house and in 2005, the Finca Vigia Foundation began to work with Cuban government to save Hemingway's home.
    The U.S. trade embargo on Cuba tied up the collaboration in red tape, but Adams said the warming of relations now promises to speed up the restoration of the house and writings.
    "It's a whole different climate now," she said.
    As part of the restoration project, foundation experts have already preserved and scanned thousands of Hemingway's documents, including the writer's correspondence, hand-written cooking recipes and early drafts of his books.
    "Hemingway was a pack rat," Adams said. "He wrote a lot of letters and often he slept on them and never sent them. It provides a glimpse into his thought process."
    The restored documents remain in Cuba but the foundation transports the scanned copies back to Boston where they are on display at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.
    Adams said the planned documentation restoration workshop will include climate-controlled areas to store the preserved writings and protect them from further damage.
    She said the foundation hoped to bring the entire facility piece-by-piece to Cuba from Florida by 2016.
    "We will need to send a tremendous amount of tools over here," Adams said. "Hammers, screwdrivers, nails, nuts, bolts. Everything, we send needs to have all the corresponding parts. We are under no illusions that there is a Home Depot in Cuba."