Maybe you, interested in the values Havana has to offer as a destination in the Caribbean, already know or have read about the insignia institution of all Cuba hotels; The Hotel Nacional de Cuba. Perhaps you know about it's architectonic particularities, of its formidable and elevated location in front of the sea, of its competitive services and, it is possible, you may even recognize it's almost 80 years of experience providing service, and of it being the preferred accommodation of all the popular people that have visited the major of the Antilles.
Inaugurated in the end of 1930, Hotel Nacional de Cuba has triggered many comments and its goodness has traveled around the globe.
But even if you are a connoisseur of the Island, it is highly improbable that you know many of the stories this eclectic building keeps. Of hardly one of these stories I will be sharing with you in this, my first article for the Cuba Travel Blog.
I will begin by telling you that the Hotel Nacional could today stand in a totally different place … Its actual location is in fact what most differentiates this hotel within the urban map of Havana. The hotel is located in the coastal outgoing land of Punta Brava, in the highest position of the Taganana hill, almost at the extreme of the Caleta de San Lázaro. This location use to be regular place for pirate ship territories during the XVII and XVIII centuries, reason why the Spanish metropolis chose the position to establish the famous Canon Battery of Santa Clara, of which some relics can still be found in the hotel gardens. But as mentioned before it could have been built in another location.
It was the second decade of the past century and Havana was in need of a luxurious hotel. It should be noted that by this time, Cuba already received some 60 thousand tourists a year. The President of The Republic was Gerardo Machado and in his cabinet of Ministers outstands a man that in time and with his endeavors in charge of the Public Works during the governance of Gerardo Machado, would have earned himself the name of "The Intrepid". We are referring to Carlos Miguel de Céspedes. It was this man who most boosted the idea of building the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.
An immediate reaction isose from several interested investors. The American Casa Morgan pressured the government of Machado to allow them to build and operate this hotel. A delegation of American bankers and entrepreneurs was in Havana in these days headed by Mr. Brownson, president of the Purdy & Henderson construction company. Its members had interviews with Mr. Céspedes and manifested that if the government were to yield the grounds of the ancient Havana Jail, the company would build a magnificent hotel of 500 rooms. It was the intention of these men to build the hotel more to what was the center of Havana, just by the entrance of the Havana Bay, so that the future hotel would face the lighthouse of the Castillo del Morro.
Carlos Miguel told the Americans that this location could not be used for the project since the government had already designed these grounds to the construction of the Palace of Justice, which plans had already been delivered by the Foresterers famous French planner; Céspedes had a better place in mind.habana-hotel-nacional.jpg
Mr. Brownson reacted in fury and faced the Minister. Out of control, he told him that he would accept no other spot than the one he had requested. When Céspedes realized he was being pressured he called the construction company president a "zoquete" (blockhead) and told him it was impossible for them to do any business at all. When the other members of the American delegation noticed that the Minister was not someone that could be "blackmailed", they intervened managing to calm both men and, a while later, they all agreed to visit the location that the Cuban representative had in mind and was willing to offer.
A while later Céspedes would tell the story to the press in the following words:
"When Mr. Browson got to the location, there, to the ancient Canon Batterry of Santa Clara, he was speechless.
The contract for the construction of the hotel was even auctioned, at least apparently, and was won by Purdy & Henderson who also represented the interests of the Hotel Plaza in New York and the Morgan House. 3 million pesos would be invested in the hotel.
Another proof of intransigence was presented by Carlos Miguel when he proposed that in the contract it should be very clear that only the Cuban Flag was to flutter in the property. This determination would provoke yet another incident. These were times when the American flag would wave in the official buildings by the Cuban flag.
The day of the signature of the contract gathered what was the high society of the time in Havana with president Machado. While the contract was read Céspedes noted that the case he had asked for had been omitted and, to President Machado's surprise, Carlos Miguel tore the contract in pieces demanding a new contract where it would be clear that only the Cuban Flag would flutter by the hotel .
This story, related to the beginnings of the installation, is only one of many that the hotel treasures. So, when visiting this property and enjoying the privileged view of the Havana coastline, you will now know how the location was argued and finally established. With stories like this one, we will be back very soon. For now I say goodbye to you all.