Hotel Habana Libre, Havana’s most symbolic hotel, was built as the Habana Hilton, under the personal auspices of President Fulgencio Batista. This hotel, designed one by the Los Angeles firm Welton Becket & Associates in association with the Cuban firm Arroyo-Menéndez in the end of 50’s, was built by workers contracted through the pension plan of the Cuban Catering Workers' Union and managed by Frederick Snare Corporation.
The inaugural process happened in the afternoon of Wednesday March 19, 1958. In the main entrance of the hotel, the guests luxurious automobiles were received by tall porters, very shavings until at the foot of sideburns, decked out with a impressive full-dress by helmet covered in cloths of colors, ended in suggestive feathers, elegant ties tight-fitting to the neck, sash of colors wound around to the waist and shiny shoes, all that already enhanced the those youths' regal personality chosen by their fine-looking to carry out that work, young men that didn't require of any special effort to complete their functions properly. Everything had as the only one objective, to cause a striking majesty to all the visitors.
Also, it was prepared a grand banquet with tasty morsels and exotic liquors. The soiree was full of a select attendance, among those that were: Martha Fernández de Batista, wife of the President of the Cuba Republic; José Suárez Rivas, Secretary of the Work; Eusebio Mujal Barniol, Francisco Aguirre Vidaurreta and other personalities linked the government, as well as foreign visitors and wealthy Cuban families.
Hotel Habana Hilton opened on March 22, 1958, with Conrad Hilton himself in attendance and it was operated by the American Hilton Hotels group. Hotel Habana Hilton was Latin America's tallest and largest hotel. It boasted a Trader Vic's, as well as a casino, supper club, pool and rooftop bar.
Hotel Havana Hilton, in the small period that operated with the American Hilton Hotels group, José A. Menéndez was administrating, Conrad Hilton's daughter's husband and at the same time his godchild and protected. The adversity of the workers that inside the hotel, cooks, salesclerk of restaurants, cocktail bar, waiters, barmen, carpenters and others were contained according to their specialties; this kind of distribution would allow a bigger exploitation of this gastronomic sector.
The futures employees were underwent to four months of test to get the employment and of course, for the deserved promotions, all that which was published in the Ambiente Magazine.
Following the entry of Fidel Castro into Havana, on January 8, 1959, the Hotel Habana Hilton became his headquarters for 3 months. He took the suite 2324 as his central office. At this time Fidel offers press conferences, hold meetings and interview with leaders of the whole nation.
In these first years of the Cuban Revolution the managers of Hotel Habana Hilton came carrying out wholesale redundancies and wage claims to the Revolutionary Government under the pretext that the Hotel was bankrupt; so the cost problems and the workers' wages happening constantly, threatening with a new staff cuts and block the way of the tourists in the country, this last one due to the influence of the company in the world. The number demanded by Hilton Group to the Revolutionary Government was two million pesos to be able, according to him, to finance the maintenance costs and to keep the Hotel working. It was granted!
The hotel remained in operation as a Hilton for two more unsuccessful years as relations between the US and Cuba worsened, until October 1960, when all American hotels in Cuba were nationalized and the casinos permanently closed. The hotel was then renamed the Hotel Habana Libre.
Hotel Habana Libre in the first years of the Cuban Revolution, when losing the international tourism, begins to work hosting national guests; such as: cane cutters, Ana Betancourt Women’s Brigade, peasants’ women that came to Habana to gain qualification; students of the first school of arts and crafts, the first foreign technicians. A curious fact was that Soviet first Embassy worked for a while in two floors at the hotel. In the sixties Hotel Habana Libre was operated for the National Institute of the Tourism, INTUR; and it was when begins to recover the international tourism in 1974.
Hotel Habana Libre and their dependences suffered modifications starting from its nationalization, among them: the creation of a shop for foreigners administrated for Cubatur Company, the same one that had its offices in the left wing of the building, front of the street 23; they also settled two living rooms of national and international press and in the area where it occupies the cafeteria of L y 23 at the present days the Tespis Hall Theater of the University of Havana opened up. The shop and the theater worked there until 1977.
Starting from 1982 they are carried out renovation works for the building’s deterioration: from these works the Antilles Bar and Siboney hall were enlarged, and the last one was enabled to render services and support to the XIV Central America and Caribbean Games’ staff. Once finished the same ones Siboney hall began to work as a restaurant with Creole meals. Also Polinesio restaurant was restored in that date.
In the nineties, due to the peak experienced for the tourism in Cuba, three hotel groups appeared: Gran Caribe, Horizontes Hotels and Isla Azul, this last one for national tourism. Hotel Habana Libre was operated then by Gran Caribe Hotel Group in association with Spanish Guitar Hotels Group.
In 1996 the Spanish Sol Meliá Hotel Group assumed management of the hotel in association with the Cuban government. It was placed in their Tryp division of urban hotels and renamed Hotel Tryp Habana Libre. It was renovated between 1996 and 1997. Among the highlights of the work was the restoration of an enormous original mural by artist Amelia Peláez over the main entrance which had spent decades hidden from public view.
Habana Libre new hotel opened its doors in December 1997 with the most representative works in the plastic one and the Cuban craftsmanship, completely renovated with work by Alfredo Sosabravo, located to the entrance of the Buffet-Restaurant, and those ones like the beautiful clepsydra in the lobby, Cuban Rita Longa’s work.
Hotel Habana Libre nowadays is still Havana’s most symbolic hotel.