Hotel Nacional de Cuba


North America, Cuba, Havana

The Hotel Nacional de Cuba is an historic luxury hotel located on the Malecón in Havana, Cuba. It was designed by the famous New York firm McKim, Mead and White and features an eclectic mix of architectural styles. It opened in 1930, when Cuba was a prime travel destination for Americans, long before the embargo. Among its first illustrious guests were artists, actors, athletes and writers such as Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Mickey Mantle, Johnny Weissmuller, Buster Keaton, Jorge Negrete, Agustin Lara, Rocky Marciano, Tyrone Power, Rómulo Gallegos, Errol Flynn, John Wayne, Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, Marlon Brando and Ernest Hemingway. The hotel’s reputation as a deluxe host is backed by patrons such as Winston Churchill, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, scientist Alexander Flemming, and innumerable Ibero-American Heads of State and European monarchs. Minnesota (United States) Governor Jesse Ventura stayed at the hotel while visiting Cuba on a trade mission in 2002. In 1933, after Fulgencio Batista's September 4, 1933 coup against the transitional government, it was the residence of Sumner Welles and was the site of a bloody siege, which pitted the Cuban Army officers who had been instrumental in the overthrow of Gerardo Machado (August 12. 1933), against the non-commissioned officers and ranks of the Cuban army who supported Batista. In December 1946 it hosted an infamous mob summit run by Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky and attended by Santo Trafficante, Jr., Frank Costello, Albert Anastasia, Vito Genovese and many others. It was memorably dramatized by Francis Ford Coppola in his film The Godfather Part II. By 1955, Lansky had managed to persuade Batista to give him a piece of the Nacional. That same year Pan Am's Intercontinental Hotels Corporation took over management of the hotel. Lansky planned to take a wing of the 10-storey hotel and create luxury suites for high stakes players. Batista endorsed Lansky’s idea even though there were objections from American expatriates like Ernest Hemingway. Under Lansky's impetus, a wing of the grand entrance hall was refurbished to include a bar, a restaurant, a showroom and a luxurious casino. It was operated by Lansky and his brother Jake, with Wilbur Clark as the front man. The new wing of the elegant hotel, consisting of Clark's famous Casino Internacional, the adjoining Starlight Terrace Bar and the Casino Parisién night club (home of the Famous Dancing Waters) opened for business January 1956 with a show by Eartha Kitt. The casino and clubs were an immediate success. According to an unpublished article sent to Cuban Information Archives around 1956-57, "The bar was tended by local bartenders, and the casino managed by gentlemen from Las Vegas." By the spring of 1957 the casino, sublet by the hotel for a substantial rent to Lansky, was bringing in as much cash as the biggest casinos in Las Vegas. The casino was closed by Fidel Castro in October 1960, nearly two years after the revolution. After years of neglect due to the disappearance of Cuba's tourism following the Cuban revolution, the hotel was mainly used to accommodate diplomats and foreign government officials. After the collapse of the USSR the Cuban communist party soon reopened Cuba to tourists in search of monetary support. Despite its restoration during the 1990s the hotel no longer carries the status and impact it once did. But its remaining splendor and history serves as tangible remainder to Cuba's past times. The hotel has been depicted in several films and is a popular photographed and painted landmark. The last scene of the 2001's movie Nada + (Nothing more) takes place in top of the Cascade Fountain in the Hotel grounds. Most recently, the Colombian-born singer-songwriter Juanes was a guest of the hotel during his participation in the Concert for Peace 2 alongside other performers such as connational Shakira, Miguel Bosé and Nelly Furtado in 2009.