Today, Puerto Rico draws travelers from all over the world for its gorgeous landscape, coffee, adventure and cultural experiences. While these travelers have plenty of hotel options to choose from, in the early days of Puerto Rico tourism, those options were much more limited.
However, there was one such property in the early 1900s that enthralled visitors and it has continued to do so for 100 years. That property is Condado Vanderbilt Hotel.
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As with any place that’s 100 years old, Condado Vanderbilt Hotel has a unique history. In the early 1900s, Sosthenes and Hernand Behn were two brothers that were leading a wave of new construction and prosperity in Puerto Rico. One of their goals was to make Puerto Rico accessible for tourism.
To do that, they wanted a luxurious hotel to house travelers, and they managed to convince Frederick Vanderbilt, a member of one of America’s most prominent families, to partner with them and bring his family’s name to the island.
The construction for the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel started in 1917 and it opened in 1919 with 98 luxurious rooms with ocean views and private bathrooms with showers, which was a brand new technological feature only available in luxury properties at the time. Rooms were furnished with custom-designed pieces, floor rugs and electric lamps.
In addition to a private dock, the original Condado Vanderbilt had a fountain with exotic fish, a lovely garden, tennis court, golf course, barbershop, beauty salon, pool hall, dining room and a bowling alley.
In the early days, guests at the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel varied, but all were drawn to the elegance of the hotel, the attraction of a French chef and the ability to enjoy the lagoon and the ocean. Some were cruise passengers on one of the first cruise ventures to the island on the Porto Rico Steamship Company, and many enjoyed the hotel’s fleet of luxurious Packards and Hudsons that were used to take automobile excursions around the island.
The Condado Vanderbilt Hotel was the place to be seen and have fun in the early 1900s. Live bands, parties and events were the norm for the Condado Vanderbilt, as were famous guests like Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt, tango star Carlos Gardel, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Errol Flynn. At the same time, it drew hordes of weddings and honeymooners.
By the 1930s, the hotel was sold and it would change hands constantly until, in the 1970s, the hotel lost some of its luster from age. The property was in the throes of possibly being demolished, but it was saved for some time. In the late 1990s, it closed its doors and sat that way until 2004 when it underwent extensive remodeling.
During the remodel, the hotel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which allowed the builders to get rid of parts of the structure that weren’t original so that they could redesign the hotel’s interiors and exterior to be close to what it once was.
Condado Vanderbilt re-opened in 2012 and was fully inaugurated in 2014 as a five-star property.
Walk through the Condado Vanderbilt today and you feel as if you’ve been transported to the time when the Vanderbilts exuded luxury and class and were the talk of the Western Hemisphere. Antiques and custom items fill the soft pink halls, as does “daring and irreverent” artwork by Puerto Rican artists or those associated with the island.
While guests may not have the original boat dock or access to the lagoon, the hotel’s amenities are still enough to attract visitors. You won’t find many hotels around the world with 24-hour hot tubs and pools, which makes for a romantic experience at night.
Just as a French chef drew visitors in the 1920s, today, Michelin Star-rated Executive Chef Juan Jose Cuevas has created a superb world-class dining experience in the hotel’s 1919 Restaurant.
A lot can happen in 100 years and although Condado Vanderbilt Hotel may have had its ups and downs, it now welcomes new generations of travelers who want to experience true luxury and sophistication in Puerto Rico under the Vanderbilt name.