Johnson & Johnson Pharmacy
Visitors on holiday in Cuba sometimes look at the island like a time capsule, a glimpse into the past in a world that otherwise moved on a while ago. On a macro scale we can argue about whether or not this is true, but when it comes to the Johnson & Johnson Pharmacy there’s no doubt that tourists will find a true trip back in time.
The original “Gran Farmacia Johnson” was founded in 1886—but not at the building’s current spot on the bustling Calle Obispo! Rather, the original incarnation of the pharmacy was found on Calle O’Reilly; the business was moved to its current location in 1914. This new building, noted even at the time as an impressive feat of architecture, was designed by the renowned firm of Purdy & Henderson.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, business here boomed. Besides offering medicines, the Johnson family also created and sold perfumes, disinfectants, and other varieties of expertly-mixed chemicals. After the Cuban Revolution the pharmacy was nationalized, and it continued to serve the people of Cuba as Old Havana’s primary community pharmacy through until the close of the century.
The Fire, Restoration, and the Pharmacy Today
Unfortunately, true tragedy befell the Johnson & Johnson Pharmacy early in the new millennium. In 2006, the historic building suffered a serious fire. Not only was the building itself severely damaged, but many of its precious historic contents were as well. Porcelain and crystal decorations, carved wooden decorative aspects, historic lab instruments and much more were destroyed by the blaze, never to be recovered.
This setback, however, was not enough to close the pharmacy for good. Almost immediately after the flames were doused, restoration work began—and though the task was daunting, the results were particularly impressive. In 2012, the Johnson & Johnson Pharmacy reopened its doors, this time as a museum of pharmacy showcasing both a Havana from long ago as well as a glimpse into the past of medicine.
If you visit the Johnson & Johnson Pharmacy during your Cuba holiday, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any evidence of the destructive blaze that took place here relatively recently. Rather, you’ll be treated to a look at a bustling Havana pharmacy just as it would have appeared more than a century ago! And even if you’re not particularly interested in the history of medicine, the pharmacy’s central location on Calle Obispo should be enough to secure a quick visit while you’re in town.
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