Bits & Pieces

June 19, 2010

The Grand Hotel

Left:  The Grand Hotel in 1875.  Right: The Canal Museum today.
On September 4, 1875, the Grand Hotel opened its doors to the public in the city of Panama.  The owner was the Frenchman George Loew, a person well known in the hotel industry of Panama.  In 1852 he had opened the Louisiana, then in 1856 the Aspinwall and in 1867 the old Grand Hotel.  The new Grand Hotel was located at Cathedral Plaza, also know as Independence Plaza, between 5th and 6th Streets with "A" Avenue in back.
On opening day, Loew gave a great reception and the "Daily Star and Herald' issue of September 6 gives us a little insight of the buildinnd:
"On the first floor, in the center of the portal facing the Plaza, one finds the doors leading to the bar and pool room, the corners are occupied by the barber shop and a commercial establishment.
"The walls are elegantly decorated with frescos and the bar is a masterpiece in woodwork while a great mirror behind the counter gives a reflection of the total scenery.
"On entering, the first item that comes into sight is the imposing stairway of beautiful workmanship and so easy to use that before one knows it, one is on the second floor. The stairway is 6-1/2 feet wide and has a beautiful set of handrails made of dark walnut imported from the United States.
"The dining rooms are located on the eastern side of the building and can accommodate 150 guests.  Additionally, there are several small dining and meeting rooms for private parties.  The main dining room walls are decorated with landscapes, flowers and trees painted by a local artist of great talent.
The paper goes on to describe the guest rooms as being very cheerful and "equipped with metal beds and mattresses of the type that have springs and that all the linen is new.  All the rooms face the outside for better ventilation and light each with its own balcony."  The roof of the building, the paper added, is made of red French tile, called Burgundy. It can still be seen on the restored building.
During the French Canal days, the French Canal Company took over the hotel for its headquarters.  When the Americans took over the project, they also used the hotel for a short time as their headquarters, moving later to Empire to be closer to the construction.  In later years, the hotel was the Main National Post Office building falling into deplorable conditions by 1990.  However, through the efforts of many, the building was saved and restored and now houses the Museum of the Interoceanic Canal.

- Luis R. Celerier
Longview, Texas