• A Tale of Two Hotels: Havana Hotel shares visual appeal with Palm Beach’s Breakers

    By James Sved on November 27, 2017

    Not The Breakers, this is the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.

    PALM BEACH (Herald de Paris) —  Palm Beachers traveling to Cuba will find a familiar face in the Havana skyline.  The Hotel de Nacional de Cuba, built in 1930 and designed by the well-known New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White, was heavily influenced by the design of another hotel, The Breakers, designed in 1925 by another famous New York firm, Schultze and Weaver.

    Breakers interior.

    Just what the relationship between the two New York firms was is unknown, but it is clear that the Havana hotel is heavily influenced by The Breakers design, right down to the twin towers and the use of a circular element, The Breakers’ famous dining room, to the left of the north hotel room wing.

    The Hotel Nacional is smaller than The Breakers, and yet the design similarities on the exterior are undeniable.  The interior, however is a different story.  The Palm Beach hotel’s interior is heavily influenced by the Villa Medici, in Italy, while the Hotel Nacional’s interior was finished in a Spanish Revival motif.

    When examined closely, the details on the exterior of each building are different.  Nevertheless, the massing and the composition are certainly related, all Spanish-Mediterranean Revival in style, and enough so as to remind each

    Hotel Nacional interior.

    building of the other.  If you are driving along the water in Havana on the Avenida de Maceo (The Malecón), and you look up on the hill to your left, any Palm Beacher will almost certainly say, “There’s The Breakers!”

    As an architectural historian, I wrote about the Breakers extensively in 1989 in, The Spanish-Mediterranean Revival:  South Florida Resort Architecture, 1880-1925.  At that time, information about the Cuban hotel was scarce at the height of Castro’s reign, and before the proliferation of the internet.  Having recently visited the Hotel Nacional, my professional assessment is this:  These are two very different hotels, both elegant in their own way, both with the charm and grace of a bygone era.  At the same time, the resemblance on first view is striking.

    Architectural doppelgängers.

    Tower of the Hotel Nacional.

    The Breakers, historical and recent.

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