While doing research for my book, “Maracaibo Oil Brat,” I looked up details regarding the elegant and enchanting Humboldt Hotel, Caracas, Venezuela. Why my corn-bread-and-black-eyed-peas parents, along with my sister Pat, and me, stayed there one night in the summer of 1958, I have no idea. My parents much preferred a cheap motor court for lodging. I checked on the Hotel Humboldt’s current status.
What I found made my heart hurt.
Then Venezuelan dictator, Pérez Jiménez, commissioned the building of Hotel Humboldt in the early 1950’s. Architect Sanabria, responsible for its unique cylindrical shape, suggested a casino in the hotel to draw even more visitors. Jiménez, ousted in January 1958, flatly refused.
Un mistake-o grande.
Early on, the Humboldt Hotel was the place for the Latin rich and famous. Everybody who was anybody stayed there. From its vantage point upon a peak 2,100 meters above sea level, the Hotel Humboldt overlooked sprawling Caracas one side, and the Caribbean Sea on the other. The low-to-the-floor modern furnishings, the heated, indoor swimming pool, high vaulted ceilings, and walls decorated in a variety of intricate mosaics combined to convey opulence and luxury.
To add to its drama and uniqueness, two tramways were built to reach the hotel, one from Maiquetía, the airport for Caracas, and the other from Caracas itself. A guest took a teliférico (tram) up the mountain, which provided a spectacular aerial view. Near the hotel, guests transferred into a “bubble,” a smaller, round, clear tram, which whisked guests, magic carpet style, straight into the stunning hotel lobby.
As Venezuelan politics, leadership, and economic outlook has changed and evolved, interest in maintaining the once exclusive and luxurious hotel has waned. The last time all the teliféricos worked was when the Pope last visited Caracas.
Today, the tram/teliférico from the Caracas airport up to the hotel no longer exists. The inner workings are rusted, the cable on which the trams traveled is gone, critical machinery is missing, and vegetation has grown high under the former tramway. From Caracas, tram access to the hotel still exists. The transfer station now houses an amusement park, a spot for weekend entertainment. One can take a guided tour of the Hotel Humboldt’s idle and unused lobby, restaurants, bar, and ballroom – all closed for business for decades. When the guide mentions former dictator Pérez Jiménez’ name, the old-timers spit on the ground.
The tour does not include any of the deluxe guest suites, all of which are now in terrible repair. Broken windows in the upper floors allow clouds and wind free access to plush rooms once used by the likes of Fidel Castro and Tito Puente. Hotel Humboldt sits vacant above Caracas, her broken windows gapping like missing teeth, with no chance, no hope of repair. Don’t leave her on top of a peak in full view for all to gape at her neglect and devastation. Hotel Humboldt cannot turn away from the pitying stares of those who remember her former glory, her days filled with admiration and awe. Why hasn’t someone imploded the Humboldt, or razed it to the ground, like Las Vegas has done to her obsolete, older, out-of-date casinos? Put the once elegant and sophisticated lady out of her misery.
Hotel Humbolt’s neglect and subsequent demise makes my heart hurt.