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Monday, June 29, 2015


Hotel Nacional de Cuba had its grand opening at the end of 1930.  It is a World Heritage site.  It was built on an old fort that dated back to 1797. Photo: Michael Shess
Editor’s note: On a daily basis from June 1 thru June 30, 2015 Pillar to Post online magazine is featuring articles, photos and insights resulting from a recent group tour, an adventure we dubbed: the April 23 Brigade’s Tour of Cuba 2015. 


Centrally located in the Vedado, one of Havana’s better neighborhoods, the eight-story Hotel Nacional de Cuba, was designed and built by U.S-based firms McKim, Mead & White (architects) and Purdy & Henderson Co. (builders).  It was completed in time for a December 30, 1930 grand opening.

Architectually, the Nacional reflects an eclectic style, including Art Deco, Arabic references, including dominant Hispano-Moorish style in both neo-classical and neo-colonial elements. There are even details from the centuries-old Californian style.

Photo: Michael Shess
Now, a member of the Gran Caribe hotel chain, the Nacional stands on a hill with only the famed Malecon separating it from the Caribbean Sea.  From its high location it offers great views of Havana Harbor, the seawall and the City.

The promontory on which the hotel sits was known as the Loma de Taganana, a reference to the name by which a famous cave that lies beneath the hotel's foundations.  There, the Santa Clara battery fortification were built to fend off pirates and other enterlopers. The guns that made up the old Battery are on exhibition at the garden, they were declared part of the World Heritage Site. The Hotel Nacional de Cuba was declared a National Monument and it was inscribed in the World Memory Register.

Because of its elegance, size and reputation, the hotel has attracted many local and international celebrities and world leaders. Renovated in 1982, the 400-room hotel remains one of the best in the Caribbean. 

Showtime at the Nacional's Caberet Parisien, which was remodeled in 2000.
Photography by Bruce Henderson
In 1956, Eartha Kitt inaugurated the hotel's Cabaret Parisien, where the famous voices that charmed the guests included those of Vic Damone, Nat King Cole, René Cabel, Esther Borjas, the Los Modernistas quartet, Yma Sumac, with excellent entertainment by Mario Martínez Casado and, more recently, Las d´Aida, La Orquesta Aragón, la Orquesta Jorrín, Compay Segundo and Alberto Herrero, among so many who have enlivened nights at the Hotel Nacional.  In 2000, the Cabaret Parisién was repaired and restored.

Main lobby shows Colonial Spanish architectural elements throughout
Photo: Michael Shess

Bar Vista al Golfo on lobby level. Hall of Heroes bar is nearby.
Hall of Heroes photo collage of celebrities who visited in the 1950s.
Photo: Tom Shess

Hotel’s Caribbean side pool with  arched windows (left) of La Veranda Restaurant and entry to Bar Vista al Golfo (right arched door).
Nightly music in the outdoor Galleria bar/lounge 
Photo: Phyllis Shess
Galleria lounge main patio
Photo: Michael Shess

Vintage cars and happy tourists parade near Havana’s iconic Hotel Nacional.                                                                                                                                                Photography by Bruce Henderson

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