FROM STRODE'S THE PAGEANT OF CUBA:
Cuba's paramount activity during the World War [ed:1] revolved about the sugar crop, its production and marketing. Sugar being an indispensable product for the allies, the Cuban output was vastly increased. This world demand for sugar opened a new period in Cuban history. In the generation from 1834 to 1867, just preceding the Ten Years' War, the sugar industry had come largely to dominate the island. During that period Cuba had flowered into the richest colony in the world, and in many factors of material and artistic culture had surpassed the Mother Country. Such another period, on a more extravagant scale, had its beginnings in Menocal's first term and reached dizzy heights in his second. It came, however, with such meteoric swiftness that it proved little more than a money-mad debauch."The Dance of the Millions" this flush period in Cuba was called. If money did not actually grow on trees, the silver-green leaves of sugar cane fluttering in fields held a strong figurative resemblance to bank notes.
As the price of sugar soared from three to five, to ten, to twenty-two and a half cents (in 1920), people lost all sense of proportion. Bank deposits increased a thousand per cent. Expenditures became fantastic. Fabulous prices were paid for gew-gaws without a breath of haggling. Luxuries became necessities. Narrow little Obispo Street became Rue de la Paix of the Western Hemisphere. Prosperity cried out rapaciously for supplies. Foreign trade with the United States alone passed the billion mark in 1920. To facilitate trade, the United States established many and varied new businesses in Cuba.
A new self-conscious society was inaugurated in which American winter residents were invited to mingle with Cubans. The Havana Yacht Club, The Country Club, the Havana Biltmore Club, and the more exclusive Vedado Tennis Club became focal points for fashionable society. The Gran Casino Nacional, the Jockey Club, and a prodigious number of gambling rendezvous sprang up to satisfy gaming instincts, and to provide outlets for new minted gold that burned pockets. In efforts to spend money fast enough Cubans became a nation of show-offs. Private marble palaces, as well as elaborate office buildings, were reared on city streets; extensive subdivisions were opened in the suburbs. Real estate values increased ten-, twenty- , fifty-fold. Building sites in former ill-considered outlying districts sold for $100,000. The vast scraggly Vedado section became many-mansioned. Like an Aladdin's Lamp story, great houses of pink, azure, buff and mauve arose, drenched with violet bougainvillea, surrounded by clipped lawns, ornamented with parterres of flowering shrubs, and protected by wrought-iron fences twice as high as a man. Here from the city moved the society (or would-be society) set to be nearer those pleasure clubs and exclusive bathing beaches, which were reached by a parked avenue seven miles long, adorned with marble, luxuriant with brilliant flowers, blossoming trees, and immaculate green turf. In the late afternoons, folk from the new villas would descend on the admiring city. With the coming of six o'clock, motors poured into the Malecon, superb with its sweep of paving, its stretch of royal palms, its flanking of glittering marble houses on one side and the eternal blue sea on the other. Like flooding tributaries seeking an already swollen river, the broad white surface of pavement became darkened richly with limousines: Rolls-Royces, Hispano-Suizas, Minervas, Isotta-Fraschinis, and occasional less impressive Packards and Cadillacs. The cars were filled with the ladies of Havana, opulently beautiful with luminous dark eyes and shining hair. They wore semi-evening dresses designed in Paris and many billowy scarves of chiffon or lace, which made those who were not already a little plump look as if they might be by next season. Jewels sparkled, as the gleaming ladies flashed by with amiable set expressions of beauties on parade.
Besides the chaffeur, in each car with the ladies, invariably sat one proud-looking male: a father, a brother, or a son, the head of the house or his representative. Cuban family life appeared very uncomplex on the surface. The ladies stepped from the seclusion of the patio to the semi-seclusion of the closed motor. An hour's daily outing with a male of the family, where all might be seen and see- down the Malecon, around the bandstand, and up the Prado; down the Prado, around the bandstand, and up the Malecon- this same routine repeated and repeated again seemed cause enough for calling forth those spots of joy that dimpled the rosebloom cheeks of the ladies of Havana. The bland expressions on the bronzed faces of males among the pink-and white enameled females were amusing in their paradeful respectability. The gentlemen were so ostentatiously doing their family duty, as was every Cuban of position at that same hour. After the drive they would all most likely dine at home, but shortly following the serving of coffee they would make their polite "adios" and depart to their respective clubs and/or mistresses. If the evening were an especial occasion, these husbands or fathers or brothers might take their womenkind to the opera or to a ball. But although a few advanced ladies played golf at the Country Club and bathed on the coral beaches of the Yacht Club, the essential life of the Cuban woman in 1920 still belonged as definitely behind high walls and slatted jalousies as in the days when the grace of the mantilla stirred the air romantically about a high-hanging balcony.
But American women in plenty cluttered the golf links, dotted the club buildings' terraces at cocktail hours, and danced tangos deliriously with sleek young men who looked like gigolos but who carried wads of hundred-dollar bills for pocket change. For the fashionable and sporting world of the United States and South America, a winter season in Havana became the vogue. The Ward Line and the United Fruit Company built luxurious new passenger ships to accommodate the tourist trade. Magnificent hotels were erected to cater to the foreign guests and they charged colossal prices: forty cents for a demi-tasse, forty dollars a day for a room. Houses of sin were decorated with the golden lavishness of sultanic opulence. The most famous opera stars sang in Havana, world-champion boxers fought there, record-breaking horses ran for staggering purses, jai-alai players became social lions. Continental countesses and Brooklyn demimondaines sat thigh to thigh at the crowded roulette-tables. Cuban music, Cuban food, and especially Cuban drinks, were the rage. Greek Pete "Sazarac," who invented the Sazarac cocktail, moved from Prohibition-dampered New Orleans to achieve new fame in Havana. German Otto Precht, with his winning personality, arrived from New York to assume charge of the Sevilla-Biltmore wine cellars.Sloppy Joe's became the international by-word. Honeymooners spent the price of a suburban home for a fortnight's Cuban gayety. Doddering multi-millionaires came for a last fling before the grave. Spinster schoolmarms, trembling and giggling, came for a first fling, and ecstatically threw away a life's savings. To visit Cuba in the dazzling winter and spring of 1920 was to have memories of extravagance and daring to sigh over forever.