Hotel Humboldt and My Hurting Heart

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.


8 Responses to Hotel Humboldt and My Hurting Heart

  1. David George says:

    Is the Hotel Humboldt a metaphor for the current state of disarray the Venezuelan government finds itself in?

  2. Peter H. Tveskov says:

    As I understand it, the twin endeavor: The Mérida teleférico has also been shut down permanently due to lack of maintenance.

    Rumor had ity when the Humboldt opened that due to the altitude many visitors were uncomfortable.

    It also had – of all things – a skating ring. Where would one buy ice skates in Caracas anyway?

    Just saying—

    • Yes,there was an ice skating rink, not in the hotel, but at the station where one changed from the larger gondola/teliferico to the ‘Bubble” which whisked one directly into the Humboldt’s lobby. They rented ice skates there.

      For adults, there really wasn’t much to do – ice skate, swim in heated indoor pool, drink at one of the bars, or eat. Perez Jimenez’s architect suggested a casino fin the hotel – at that time, folks were flocking to Havana to gamble – but Dictator PJ refused. Gambling could have made the hotel profitable.

      We stayed at Hotel Humboldt in the summer of 1958, not realizing that people boycotted hotels that PJ built. (He was ousted in January 1958.) No wonder we almost had the entire hotel to ourselves..

  3. I loved to go skating there!!! there were no ice skates for sale, that I remember.. The rental ones were all soft in the ankles as they had been used many times by novices…>;)
    I always remember those times..Since then I hiked up the mountain in ’89 and enjoyed the locally grown strawberries they used to sell there.
    The whole infrastructure of Venezuela is crumbling… so sad!

  4. Fran Cain says:

    Nice followup to your piece which makes your childhood experience all that much more enchanting.

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