January 21, 2022 5:50 pm

Cannon shots, glamor and pandemic, the thousand battles of the hotel Nacional de Cuba

AFP- At 91 years old, the National Hotel in Havana has lived through it all: cannon shots, a mafia summit, missile crisis and eccentricities of Hollywood figures, but rarely did it experience the loneliness that the pandemic has brought to its sumptuous lounges.

Located on a hill facing the sea, the monumental building stands in an H shape with the city behind it. In 1898, the Spaniards placed there a cannon considered then the largest in the world, to defend the island, its last American stronghold, against the Americans.

With its brand-new English china, imported clocks from Germany, and chandeliers hanging from high ceilings, the Nacional opened its doors on December 30, 1930.

It was inaugurated only three years before another pitched battle shook its walls with cannonades from land and sea, when some 400 officers of the deposed president Gerardo Machado (1925-1933) rose up against the government.

Among the countless events that occurred in this construction, which combines art deco with neoclassical elements and Moorish tiles, it is difficult to find any that extinguished its vitality as did the covid-19. Foreign visitors only returned on November 15 to end a long absence of almost 20 months due to confinement and border closures.

During this period the façade was restored and the floors and windows of rooms were changed, including 211 on the second floor, where the capo Lucky Luciano was staying in December 1946, when a famous summit of mafia bosses was held.

The gangsters took over the hotel for the convention, which opened on the 22nd at a large rectangular table with Luciano sitting at the head. The scene was recreated in the movie Godfather II by Francis Ford Coppola.

“You can see that they were distributing the cake and the cake had the map of Cuba drawn on top,” says Arleen Ortiz, a specialist in the hotel’s history. “Las Vegas did not exist and Cuba was the perfect place for gambling, with the proximity of the United States, Key West (Florida), the weather, the beaches, the rum”, Havana was the ideal place to become ” in the capital of the game ”, he adds.

Frank Sinatra, special guest, with his melancholic voice he accompanied the luxurious parties that the bosses celebrated that Christmas with their families. Back in the 1950s, Ava Gardner had daiquiris for breakfast there after a night of partying in Havana cabarets alongside characters like Ernest Hemingway.

In corridors and rooms there are photos, objects and even letters from personalities who passed by, such as Johnny Weissmaller, the protagonist of Tarzan, who happened to jump from the second floor to the main pool, before the astonished eyes of employees of the time who left their testimony. That pool had been disused due to a problem with the water supply, but the closure due to the pandemic allowed it to be restored.

“A lot of work was done to ensure that when international tourism returns, it will find the hotel from 30, but with even greater comfort, that is, the present, but reliving the past,” says the historian.

The Dukes of Windsor, Marlon Brando, Errol Flyn, Rita Hayworth, Libertad Lamarque, María Félix, Jorge Negrete and Nat King Cole, make up the long list of personalities that passed through this site.

“It is beautiful, it is magical to be here, I love the Cuban people and I love the energy, it is incredible (…) I would like to learn more, I am interested in knowing more about the hotel and its history,” says Sierra, on her side. a 39-year-old American teacher, while drinking wine with her boyfriend in front of the sea.

When the revolution triumphed in 1959, the hotel became a dormitory for 900 peasant women who came to the capital to study tailoring at a school created at the initiative of Celia Sánchez and Vilma Espín, Fidel Castro’s companions in arms in the Sierra Maestra. “Those young people who had never left their houses without electricity, with dirt floors,” suddenly found themselves in those elegant rooms, says Ortiz.

Later it recovered its tourist function, and even In the 1990s, a ban was imposed on Cubans who wanted to stay there.

Tania Fernández, a doctor from the province of Sancti Espíritus who took her children to know the place, believes that “for many modern hotels there are, practically, foreigners know this place and what they want is to sit here where so many personalities have been ”.

He says this after touring the trenches and tunnels dug in 1962 during the crisis that put the world on the brink of a nuclear catastrophe, when the United States discovered the missiles deployed on the island by the then Soviet Union.


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