Back in 1879, the wealthy proprietor Gregorio Palacios signed a 98,000 gold peso contract with engineers José Fermín de Musquiz and Adolfo Suarí for the construction of a three-storey building. The first floor was set aside for stores and a tobacco storehouse, the second for homes, and the third for a hotel or a boarding. In 1881, however, Palacios sued the builders for delays in the construction schedule. In turn, the engineers lodged a complaint concerning additions to the building work not included in the original contract. By 1888, with no agreement reached, the nearly completed building was beginning to deteriorate without ever having been occupied other than by ‘lowlife characters, tramps and ladies of pleasure’.
The place was eventually restored and opened as the Alcázar Hotel. It was notable for its neoclassical lines and architectural sobriety, and soon became one of the most important hotels in Cuba. Together with its prime position close to the seat of government (the Capitolio) as well as to the stores and banks of Old Havana, the hotel hosted important visitors to the Havana and boasted an excellent cuisine. It was particularly famous for the outdoor performances of some of the most popular orchestras of the time, including Anacaona, a very popular all-female band.
With the city expanding towards the west together with the construction of modern hotels in the Vedado neighbourhood, the Alcázar began to lose its fame. Following the Cuban Revolution it became an overly crowded tenement building taking on the slum-like quality it had once suffered at the beginning of its chequered life.
Following a ten year restoration undertaken by the City Historian’s Office in the 1990s, supported by a group of foreign investors, the newly named Saratoga Hotel opened its doors once again in November 2005. It is a joint venture managed by Habaguanex. The building has preserved its original façade, behind which a new building has been added with two more floors.
The Saratoga has—as with many beautiful figures in history—endured a sometimes difficult life. But it has emerged with all the grace and charm of her original design, and is another jewel in Havana’s crown.