HAVANA, may 7th The Hotel Saratoga in Havana was destroyed this Friday after a powerful explosion that left at least 22 dead and more than 50 injured, while 13 people are still missing, according to figures from the Cuban government.
But this luxurious building, located at Paseo Del Prado 603 and which was preparing to reopen to tourism on May 10, has a long history since its construction in 1880 when it was built for warehouses, homes, and guest houses.
The historian Carlos Venegas comments in the official review of the hotel that the Spanish merchant Gregorio Palacios had the building built-in 1879.
“Palacios, a native of Santander, was one of the richest urban owners in Havana and one of the largest contributors to the treasury,” and in 1879 he signed the contract for the construction of the three-story building, Venegas wrote.
The ground floor was a tobacco warehouse, while there were shops and entrance halls to the four houses that occupied the main floor and the second floor, he explained.
Likewise, he described the third floor as an area destined for a small hotel or guest house, with 43 rooms and a dining room.
According to the historian, to date, some original features of the façade have been preserved, as well as other elements such as railings, wooden latticework, marble stairs, and columns that have been saved in countless construction interventions over the years.
Converted to a hotel in 1933
Located steps from the Capitol, this beautiful neoclassical-style building became a hotel in 1933, and tourists, mostly Americans, who visited the island, stayed there.
By 1935, the installation was already listed in tourist guides as one of the most prominent in the Cuban capital, and became part of the history of Cuban music by presenting the debut of the Anacoanas orchestra, which was the first made up entirely of women in the country. The singers staged beautiful shows on the terrace of the building, which attracted a large number of people in the first half of the 20th century.
Since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, however, the Hotel Saratoga suffered the same fate as most of the buildings in Old Havana. It deteriorated until it was almost in ruins.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, in the last decade of the last century, the building began to be restored by a British company.
This intervention made it possible for it to be used again as a Five Star hotel in 2005. A curious fact is that since that date Saratoga has served every year for the drill with which the Cuban firefighters celebrate Fire Protection Day every year in Cuba.
Personalities such as the writer Rafael Alberti have passed through the Hotel Saratoga, whose visit is framed in a commemorative plaque of the building, which was reopened as a hotel in 2005.
In 2016, the singer Madonna rented an entire floor of the Saratoga for herself and her entourage, on a three-day visit to Havana.
A year later, in 2017, the American actor Will Smith was seen on a balcony of the Hotel Saratoga, in a video where he announced his presence in the Caribbean country.
That same year, the King of Morocco, Mohamed VI, traveled to the island on vacation with his family and stayed in Cayo Santa María, in the Jardines del Rey archipelago (Villa Clara), and in the Havana hotel.
On that occasion, the King of Morocco paid for the transfer and lodging at the Nacional and Panorama hotels for all the tourists staying at the Saratoga, so that the facility would remain entirely at his disposal.
This Friday, a strong explosion destroyed the emblematic and luxurious Saratoga Hotel, leaving at least 8 dead, 30 injured and 13 missing under the rubble.
The government ruled out that it was an attack, and attributed the event to a possible gas leak.
In addition to the emblematic Saratoga, an adjoining building and part of a school was destroyed, where several minors were injured.
No tourists were injured, as the hotel had not restarted its services after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. The hotel was preparing the details to reopen on May 10.