Of all the buildings which demonstrate the turbulent history of Cuba place there is one that stands out, The Hotel Nacional de Cuba.
Located on a small knoll overlooking the entrance to Havana Bay, this most stylish of Havana’s buildings stands testament to Cuba’s historical “shifting Sands” style relationship with it’s powerhouse neighbours to the north, The US of A.
It was originally built in 1929-30 through a joint agreement with the Cuban government and U.S.based banks. American companies designed and built the Nacional, and as soon as it was completed, tourists from America flooded the hotel’s spacious reception areas, dining rooms and gardens. It was “the” place to be in Havana.
This Nacional was frequented by film legends like Frank Sinatra, Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, and Ava Gardner. Nat King Cole would play the season here, even Winston Churchill listed it amongst his favourite places to be. Their pictures still decorate the walls of the hotel’s café bar.
The Hotel Nacional is inextricably linked to the mobster years. In 1946 Lucky Luciano called a summit at the Nacional at which the carving up of Havana was on the agenda. In 1955 the Nacional’s casino and nightclub were opened and managed by notorious gangster Meyer Lansky. Millions of dollars was generated by or laundered through this place, it became synonymous with the greed and corruption which Castro was so determined to overthrow.
With Castro in power the fate of the Nacional was sealed, the casino was closed as the American owners fled north, losing millions of dollars.
It fell into disrepair and for many years was the reserve of visiting Russian diplomats. With the collapse of the USSR in the 1990’s the Cuban government decided to restore the Nacional to its former glory and after a $64 million dollar facelift it is once again open for business, attracting the now back in fashion “tourist dollar”