CONDADO VANDERBILT HOTEL
An architectural gem with a glistening past and a brilliant future.
Architectural styles come and go yet from each period magnificent examples remain that deserve to be preserved and immortalized if not only for their splendor, for their place in history.
The Condado Vanderbilt Hotel inaugurated in 1919 at the tourist district of Condado, Puerto Rico is such a landmark. The early Spanish Revival style gem was commissioned by its owner Frederick William Vanderbilt to Warren and Wetmore, the notorious architectural firm that designed and built Grand Central Station and the Vanderbilt, Biltmore and Commodore Hotels, all in New York City.
The project was the brainchild of brothers Hernand and Sosthenes Behn, original owners of the land where the hotel is located. The Behn’s foresaw the need to attract tourism to the Island and as part of their plan they convinced Mr. Vanderbilt to invest in the beautiful ocean front property in the Caribbean.
The new hotel catered to the elite and thus its architecture spelled out luxury. The designers took advantage of the breathtaking setting overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and created an imposing structure with white walls and red tiles, an elegant facade, high ceilings, French windows, and other details typical of its style and the times. Inside, sweeping staircases, open archways, and gracious forms remain intact to this day.
An ultra luxury hotel from day one, the Condado Vanderbilt shone for its imposing beauty, attracting the kind of tourists – and local patrons – envisioned by the Behn brothers and Mr. Vanderbilt. Among the distinguished guests that made the hotel their home away from home were Charles Lindberg, Carlos Gardel, Errol Flynn, Bob Hope, Arthur Rubinstein, and President Franklin and Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt.
Prestigious local events were booked at the only first class hotel on the island: The Catholic Daughters of America chose the Condado Vanderbilt for the crowning balls of the Queens of the Ponce de León and San Juan Carnivals hailing from wealthy families. One such beauty queen was Gloria María Ashford, daughter of Dr. Bailey K. Ashford who founded the School of Tropical Medicine of Puerto Rico and resided in the Condado area. In fact, the main avenue of the district is named after Dr. Ashford and continues to be graced by stately homes, superb hotels, tantalizing restaurants, and elegant boutiques.
Documents pertaining to the early days of the Condado Vanderbilt describe its decoration and facilities in detail. The lower level had a kitchen directed by a French chef, so spotless it seemed like a laboratory. There were also galleries, areas for sports and games including tennis and bowling, elevators, rooms for baggage, furniture and accessories for swimmers. Its 98 guest rooms had views either to the ocean or the Condado Lagoon, sanitary facilities with showers, and modern amenities including luxurious wall-to-wall rugs and exquisite furnishings.
The main floor housed the offices, lobby, public rooms, lounging room, public telephone, telegraph and a private room for the ladies. There also was an open air patio with a terrace that led to the sea... “the place to breathe good, aromatic air with trees and the iodine from the ocean air.”
Afternoon tea was a must for the ladies of society who instituted the Te-Danzant a combination of the British tradition with a little dancing and mingling of local flavor. For entertainment, the Condado Vanderbilt offered live music at the Terraza del Hotel Condado, at the oceanfront Patio del Fauno ballroom and the Fiesta Room. During the 1930´s patrons toasted to the good life at the Beer Garden, a small open air pub where the Oktoberfest was institutionalized in Condado.
Many interesting events have taken place within the walls of the Condado Vanderbilt. Likewise, the landmark building has gallantly withstood battering from storms, including Hugo in 1989, a category four hurricane with sustained winds of 140- mph.
Throughout the years the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel has also undergone a number of renovations; in 1950, 80 new rooms were added as well as a new bar, cocktail lounge and coffee shop. By the 1970´s, the hotel grandiosity began to fade and it was almost demolished, saved only by an executive order from then Governor Luis A. Ferré declaring the property a cultural heritage. During the 90´s, notwithstanding, the celebrated hotel shut its doors indefinitely.
Nearly a century after its historical opening, the architectural gem that opened in 1919 is soon to be reborn as the ultra luxurious Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in Puerto Rico. Restored to its stately grandeur, the new hotel includes two, 11-story adjacent towers standing perpendicular to the main hotel. The entire Condado Vanderbilt consists of a total of 322 guest accommodations with 80 Commodore Suites and 40 Biltmore Suites.
In Puerto Rico, a sleeping beauty has awakened and the promise of a brilliant future shines again for the legendary Condado Vanderbilt Hotel.