Hotel Tryp Habana Libre
|Hotel Tryp Habana Libre|
Hotel Tryp Habana Libre. The three balconies which are not glassed in on the left, near the top of the building, are part of the historic Castellana Suite.
|Hotel chain||Tryp Hotels|
|Address||Calle L e/ 23 y 25, Vedado|
|Opening||March 22, 1958|
|Owner||Gran Caribe Hotels|
|Management||Meliá Hotels International|
|Design and construction|
|Number of rooms||572|
|Number of restaurants||4|
The hotel was built as the Habana Hilton, at a cost of $24 million, under the personal auspices of President Fulgencio Batista. It was constructed as an investment by the Caja de Retiro y Asistencia Social de los Trabajadores Gastronomicos, the pension plan of the Cuban catering workers union, with additional financing from the Banco de Fomento Agricola e Industrial de Cuba (BANFAIC). It was operated by the American Hilton Hotels International group and was designed by the well-known Los Angeles architect Welton Becket, who had previously designed the Beverly Hilton for the chain. Becket designed the 27-story Habana Hilton in collaboration with the Havana-based architects Lin Arroyo and Gabriela Menéndez. Arroyo was the Minister of Public Works under Batista. The hotel was constructed by the Frederick Snare Corporation.
The Habana Hilton opened with five days of festivities, from March 18-22, 1958, with Conrad Hilton himself in attendance, accompanied his companion, actress Ann Miller. Hilton was joined by 300 invited guests, including socialite Virginia Warren, daughter of Chief Justice Earl Warren; renowned Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper, actress Terry Moore, married radio hosts Tex McCrary and Jinx Falkenburg, actress Linda Cristal, dancer Vera-Ellen, actor Don Murray, actress Dolores Hart, ABC network President Leonard Goldenson, and journalist Leonard Lyons. A huge Inaugural Banquet was held on March 19, 1958, attended by Cuba's First Lady, Marta Fernandez de Batista, José Suárez Rivas, Minister of Labor, and other dignitaries.
The Habana Hilton was Latin America's tallest and largest hotel. It boasted 630 guest rooms, including 42 suites; an elegant casino; six restaurants and bars, including a Trader Vic's and a rooftop bar; a huge supper club; extensive convention facilities; a shopping arcade; an outdoor pool surrounded by cabanas; and two underground garages with a capacity of 500 cars. The hotel also featured artwork commissioned from some of the most important Cuban modern artists of the day, including an enormous mosaic mural by Amelia Peláez over the main entrance and a tiled wall mural by René Portocarrero in the second-floor Antilles Bar overlooking the pool terrace.
Following Fidel Castro's entry into Havana on January 8 1959, the hotel became his headquarters, with Castro residing for three months in the hotel's Continental Suite, room 2324. The casinos throughout the city were briefly closed, but protests by Havana casino workers led to their reopening in February. Castro gave his first press conference in the hotel's ballroom on January 19, 1959 and soon took to giving regular interviews to international journalists in the hotel, famously declaring in the lobby that "If the Americans don’t like what is happening in Cuba, they can land the marines, and then there will be 200,000 gringos dead."
In October 1959, the Habana Hilton hosted the week-long American Society of Travel Agents annual international convention, which had been scheduled before the Revolution. Castro and other officials attempted to present an image of Cuba as a continued tropical paradise for American tourists, as the country desperately needed the revenue, but growing anti-American political rhetoric was already having an impact on bookings at the increasingly empty hotel. The hotel's American operators struggled to keep it open, and the Revolutionary government was eventually compelled to pay 2 million pesos to cover the hotel's operating expenses, and keep its hundreds of employees working.
The hotel remained in operation as a Hilton while relations between the US and Cuba worsened, until October 1960, when all American hotels in Cuba were nationalized and the casinos permanently closed. The hotel was then renamed the Hotel Habana Libre (Hotel Free Havana). The first Soviet embassy in Havana was soon temporarily established on two floors of the hotel.
In 1964, Soviet female cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, gave a press conference at the hotel. From January 3-12, 1966, the Habana Libre hosted the first Tricontinental Conference of Asian, African and Latin-American peoples. Fidel Castro stayed in the hotel's Castellana Suite, room 2224, during the conference, and made the suite his home thereafter for all major diplomatic events. The suite is now kept as a museum, with all the original furniture and artwork from 1958. From October 23-November 20, 1966, the Habana Libre hosted the 17th Chess Olympiad, with guests including Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. In 1967, the hotel hosted Marxist Chilean politician Salvador Allende.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cuban government focused on rebuilding the tourism industry. In 1993, they brought in the Spanish Guitart Hotels chain to manage the property as the Hotel Habana Libre Guitart. Then, in 1996 the Spanish Sol Meliá chain assumed management of the hotel from Guitart. It was placed in their Tryp division of urban hotels and renamed Hotel Tryp Habana Libre. The hotel was extensively renovated between 1996 and 1997. Much of the interior was gutted and modernized. The guest rooms were remodeled, with the balconies all glassed in, except those of the historic Castellana Suite. The supper club on the second floor was converted to a buffet restaurant. Among the highlights of the work was the restoration of the huge Peláez mural on the exterior, which had spent decades hidden from public view. The hotel reopened on December 22, 1997, with a speech by Eusebio Leal, who has spearheaded the restoration and conservation of the historic district of Old Havana.
In January 1998, the hotel served as the international media headquarters for the Papal visit to Cuba by Pope John Paul II. Journalists including Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Ted Koppel, Tom Brokaw and Christiane Amanpour reported from and were housed at the hotel. CNN's Ted Turner and his wife, actress Jane Fonda, also visited the hotel at the time.
The restored mural by Amelia Peláez is visible above the main entrance
Havana public bus passing the Amelia Peláez mural
Amelia Peláez mural over the main entrance
Main entrance with Amelia Peláez mural
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hotel Havana Libre.|
- Sol Meliá Cuba - Habana Libre - Sol Meliá Cuba official website
- Sol Meliá - Habana Libre - Sol Meliá International official web site
- Hotel Habana Libre.com - hotel fansite
- Havana Hilton under construction, 1958 on YouTube