03 February 2016

On the road - Hotel Nacional de Cuba

Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Havana, Cuba
I tend to travel modestly and don't always dedicate my travel budget to high-end hotels so when I got around to reviewing my Cuba itinerary and looked up the hotel I was to stay at in Havana the historical significance blew me away. Wow. We were booked to stay at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba where important heads of state, movie stars, revolutionaries and gangsters had stayed. I was so excited I could hardly stand it. 

After we learned what room we were to stay in (we stayed in the room Walt Disney had used), and had our welcome mojito, it was amazing to wander and absorb the history of the place. Everything was still there - walls full of black and white pictures from meetings and events, the Lansky brother's roulette wheel, Peter Frampton's guitar (?) laying out in the open with a sign asking us not to touch it. Two cannons are still in the yard. The bar on the patio was open twenty four hours a day and members of the Bueno Vista Social club play on certain nights of the week. The place was swarming - with busloads of US tourists arriving one after another. The breakfast buffet in the basement was like a United Nations of trying to please every nationality. Large patios opened to the wind blowing through the royal palms from the ocean. What a grand spot. 
The decision to build a luxury hotel was taken in the late 1920s. The American firms McKim, Mead & White and Purdy & Henderson Co., tasked with the planning and construction, completed the palatial edifice in 14 months.
The hotel exhibits an eclectic architectural style, reflecting Art Deco, Arabic references, features of Hispano-Moorish architecture, and both neo-classical and neo-colonial elements. There are even details from the centuries-old Californian style. The resulting unique example of so many schools of architecture is the most unusual and interesting hotel in the Caribbean region.
The HOTEL NACIONAL DE CUBA was opened on the night of 30 December 1930. The party to celebrate the opening, attended by leading lights of the time, was held in the ballroom.
October 1933: the hotel was bombarded, following the stationing there of officers of the army elite of the deposed president Gerardo Machado, in a revolt by lower-raking officers - Batista among them - in protest at the privileges of high office. Guests of the hotel in this decade included: Johnny Weismuller (Tarzan), Edward VIII (prince of Wales), Jack Dempsey, Tom Mix, José Mujica, Buster Keaton, Emilio Roig, Amadeo Barletta, Rita Montaner, José Raúl Capablanca, Tito Guizart, Trío Matamoros, Ñico Saquito, Errol Flynn, and the mobsters Santos Traficante (father) and Meyer Lansky. The last-mentioned arranged with Batista the future business of the casinos.