From Roosevelt to Rome – InterContinental Celebrates 75 Years

From Roosevelt to Rome – InterContinental Celebrates 75 Years

As it celebrates its Diamond anniversary and the reinvigoration of travel this year, explore the origins of the InterContinental brand and pioneering spirit of its founder, Juan Trippe, who laid the foundations for InterContinental Hotels & Resorts to become the largest luxury hotel brand on the planet.

InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland - Exterior

InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland


As it celebrates its Diamond anniversary and the reinvigoration of travel this year, explore the origins of the InterContinental brand and pioneering spirit of its founder, Juan Trippe, who laid the foundations for InterContinental Hotels & Resorts to become the largest luxury hotel brand on the planet.

The origins
The story began in the post-war boom with President Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy” to encourage inter-American trade. Roosevelt was convinced that trade, travel and tourism between Latin America and the US were key to post-war recovery. Pan Am Founder and Chief Executive, Juan Trippe saw the opportunity to create the InterContinental brand and improve and grow the Pan Am network by providing luxury accommodation in cities the airline serviced. Although the airline had a global reach, hospitality at some of its destinations fell well below the expectations of passengers, who were paying a premium for the new, expanding and luxurious commercial air travel.

Trippe, envisioning a rise in mass international air travel, agreed that Pan Am, with the support of institutions like the Export–Import Bank of the United States, could form a subsidiary to foster the implementation of the idea. Thus “International Hotels Corporation”, renamed in 1947 to InterContinental, was born. He ensured success by surrounding himself with experts in hospitality and utilising Pan Am’s network of local experts to facilitate introductions that ensured he could open hotels in some of the best locations in key cities.

Beginnings in Brazil
Although the InterContinental brand was founded in 1946, the first hotel in Belém, Brazil didn’t open until 1949. On 1 May 1949, InterContinental assumed management of its first hotel, the eighty-five roomed Grande hotel. The location was key, as a Pan-American Airways crossroads to South America and Africa, as well as the location of a major military base during World War II. The hotel had been built at the turn of the century and was a heritage building. Hotel operations looked very different in 1946 to today. Each of the four floors had a single telephone which was under the supervision of a phone attendant who would run to summon guests from their rooms when a call arrived. The hotel’s “laundry” was in the building’s colonial-style central courtyard, where twenty attendants washed by hand. The hotel even had its own ice plant. Despite the challenges of operating as a new company in a new location, the hotel turned profit in the first year of operations by InterContinental, and this was doubled in the second year.

Conquering the world
The brand continued to expand, opening up the world to its curious guests and assuring their worldliness prospered. Initially expansion grew from Latin America to include the Caribbean, before the opening of the InterContinental Phoenicia Beirut in Lebanon in 1961, the first hotel outside the Americas. Next saw the opening of hotels in Liberia, Jakarta, Melbourne and three hotels in Ireland (an important refuelling hub for transatlantic flights at that time.) The brand opened 43 hotels in its first 20 years, and 134 in the next 20. Despite being an American company, its origins as a home-from-home for Americans overseas meant that the chain didn’t open any US hotel until 1973, when it opened the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco – still one of the brand’s best known and loved hotels. InterContinental Hotels & Resorts expanded steadily to become the world’s first truly international luxury hotel brand, with hotels in some of the world’s best known and up-and-coming destinations, currently operating 206 hotels with 70 hotels in the pipeline.

A world of heritage to explore
As part of a series exploring the heritage, design, destinations, food and drink and people that made InterContinental Hotels & Resorts one of the most iconic luxury hotel brands in the world, here are the first of 75 stories, looking at the heritage of the brand and its hotels through the ages:

  • InterContinental Marseille – Hôtel Dieu is located in a former hospital which occupied the site since 1593 and operated until 1993. During works to convert the building into the luxury hotel, a former 12th-century chapel was discovered, buried under what is now the lobby. During the works, some old vestiges were discovered and salvaged, including a 1st Century BC mosaic, now displayed in the hotel in the Espace Culturel on the ground floor.
  • Both InterContinental Paris – Le Grand and what is now InterContinental Marseille – Hôtel Dieu were inaugurated by Eugénie, the last Empress of France.
  • InterContinental Sydney is home to the historic Treasury Building of 1851, and still contains many original features. This includes a hidden underground vault which once held the nation’s treasures – fully intact beneath the hotel.
  • On 23 February 1861, amid several assassination threats, detective Allan Pinkerton smuggled Abraham Lincoln into the Willard (now InterContinental Washington DC The Willard). Lincoln lived there until his inauguration on 4 March, holding meetings in the lobby and carrying on business from his room.
  • The lobby at InterContinental Washington DC – The Willard inspired Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president of the United States, to popularise the term “lobbyist.” Often bothered by self-promoters as he sat in the lobby enjoying his cigar and brandy, he referred to these individuals as “lobbyists.” his cigar and brandy, he referred to these individuals as “lobbyists.”
  • The Société des Nations, the ancestor of the UN, was signed at InterContinental Carlton Cannes in 1921, and the UN chart was signed in 1945 at InterContinental San Francisco – Mark Hopkins.
  • InterContinental New York Barclay was built in 1926 as part of the urban design around New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. It was one the first hotels to have electricity 24/7, as it was using the turbine hall of the station as a generator.
  • The Queen lived in on the same site as the InterContinental London Park Lane for a time during her childhood. An extensive garden at the back, shared with other houses, added an element of community. Queen Elizabeth lived in a suite of rooms at the top of the house, consisting of a day nursery, a night nursery and a bathroom linked by a landing, with wide windows looking down on the park.
  • The InterContinental Cascais-Estoril located in the Portuguese Riviera, now stands where the Hotel Atlântico used to stand. Legend dictates that during World War II German spies would check in and enjoy its vantage point to report on maritime activity on the Atlantic Ocean. These days that same advantage is held by travellers who can enjoy the sea views for very different reasons.
  • The Barclay, now InterContinental New York Barclay, installed an enormous bird cage in the lobby in 1945 so guests could host their birds in it on a complimentary basis. At one point, it held more than 200 birds.
  • The Penthouse Suite of the current InterContinental New York Times Square used the be the office of Juan Trippe, founder and CEO of Pan American Airlines, who also founded the brand.
  • InterContinental Hotels & Resorts was the first international hotel group in the Middle East, arriving with the opening of the still legendary InterContinental Phoenicia Beirut in 1961.
  • Opened in 2018, the brand’s 200th hotel, InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland, is the world’s first quarry hotel and an architectural wonder – a perfect example of the pioneering spirit of the brand. Built inside a former quarry, the 18-storey resort (16 of 18 floors are underground and two are underwater) hugs the rock face and reimagines the relationship between city and nature.
  • This year sees InterContinental return to Rome, with the opening of InterContinental Rome Ambasciatori Palace. The existing property – which includes 160 rooms and suites, a restaurant, bar, spa and public areas – will be restored to create a sense of discreet, modern luxury for visitors and locals alike. Designed in the early 1900s by architect Carlo Busiri Vici in the neo-renaissance style, the palazzo building was originally home to ambassadors staying in Rome, was the home of the US Embassy Library from 1946, and opened as a hotel in 1993.

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© 2021 Hotel News Resource

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