• Early 20th century: Plenty of guest houses can be found in Cuba.
• May 20, 1902: Cuba is officially constituted as a republic under the occupation of the United States.
• 1920: American migration increases in Cuba given the approval in the United States of the Volstead Law, better known as the Prohibition Law.
• 1950's: Tourism is reactivated in Cuba associated with the game and the market of love.
• End of the decade of the 50': The mobster Meyer Lansky moves to Havana in order to expand his business.
• 1956: Meyer Lansky creates the company Riviera de Cuba S.A., which approved the construction of a high rise hotel with a tower of 18 floors.
• February 23, 1956: The excavations that would lead to the construction of the Hotel Havana Riviera begin.
• February 23, 1956: The excavations that would lead to the construction of the Hotel Havana Riviera begin.
• December 10, 1957: The Havana Riviera Hotel was officially inaugurated.
- Cardinal Monseñor Manuel Arteaga blesses the hotel
- The popular actress and dancer Ginger Rogers offers a concert under the direction of Jack Cole at the Copa Room cabaret.
• December 24, 1957: Jean Fenn, soprano of the Metropolitan Opera House, debuted in the Copa Room.
• 1957: Famous guests who stayed at the Havana Riviera include
- Celebrities such as: William Holden, diva Jean Fenn, Nat King Cole and Ava Gardner. - Mobsters like: Santos Traficante, George Raft and Jack Lansky.
• January 1958: Animator Steve Allen records at the Riviera an episode of his popular Sunday show The Steve Allen Show at the Riviera.
• January 1, 1959: Triumph of the Cuban Revolution.
• January 19, 1959: The international journalists called by Fidel Castro to participate in Operation Truth begin arriving at the Riviera.
• January 22, 1959: Operation Truth takes place in the Copa Room cabaret.
• October 1960: The nationalization of all hotel-casinos in the country by the revolutionary government.
• 1963: The final intervention of the Havana Riviera takes place. The name of the hotel becomes known in Englsih as Havana Riviera.
• Decade of the 60': Famous guests who stayed at the Havana Riviera include
- Salvador Allende, when he was still a senator in Chile
- The poet Roque Dalton
- Angela Davis, American civil rights activist
- Valentina Tereskova, the first woman cosmonaut.
- Important personalities in the Cuban music scene like Benny Moré perform at the Copa Room cabaret.
• Decade of the 80': Famous guests who stayed at the Havana Riviera include
- The French actor Alain Delon.
- The Dominican salsa artist Oscar D 'León.
• 1983: The Havana Riviera lobby expands
• 1984-1985: Famous guests who stayed at the Havana Riviera include
- French musician Michel Legrand
- The American artist Dean Reed
- The Spanish singers Joan Manuel Serrat, Ana Belén and Víctor Manuel.
• 1990: Havana Riviera passes to be part of the hotel group Gran Caribe.
• 1997: The hotel is completely repaired.
• 1998: Closes the Copa Room cabaret for repairs.
- Hollywood actor Leonardo Di Caprio is staying at the hotel.
• 2000: The old Havana Riviera casino opens its doors, now as a meeting room with the name of International Lounge.
• February 14, 2000: Cabaret Copa Room reopened.
• April 18, 2012: The National Monuments Commission declares the Havana Riviera hotel a national monument of the Republic of Cuba.
• December 9, 2015: The American newspaper Tampa Tribune publishes an article in which it announces that Sandy Lombardo, grandson of Meyer Lansky, demands compensation from the Cuban government for the confiscation of the Havana Riviera.
• January 2017: The Spanish chain Iberostar Hotels & Resorts assumes the management of the hotel.
At the beginning of the 20th century in Cuba, the breadth of choice of accommodation in the main cities of the country were limited, thus, there were plenty of guest houses. Circumstances changed as of May 20, 1902, when Cuba was officially constituted as a republic under the occupation of the United States. This fact led to a rapid and considerable American migration to the island, which demanded the demand for greater, more modern facilities with additional amenities such as bathrooms and restrooms in the rooms.
By 1920 the American migration in Cuba increased remarkably given the approval in the United States of the Volstead Law, better known as the Ley Seca, which provoked an avid surge of tourism for amusements and alcohol. For that moment, and given the great demand, the guest houses were left behind and the construction of hotels began as a new conception of rooms and services that increased the comfort of the clients began. This network of hotels moved from Paseo del Prado to Vedado, given the potential offered by the land.
In the 1950s, the tourism industry in Cuba was reignited, but one associated with gambling and the love market, driven mainly by the close ties of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista with the Italian-American mafia. This alliance promoted the construction of numerous hotels, whose focus was on the coastal line belonging to the Vedado area, with the aim of turning Havana into a reference for fun and gambling.
At the end of the 1950's, the mobster Meyer Lansky moved to Havana in order to expand his business with the creation of a network of casino-hotels that competed with those of Las Vegas. Lansky had that idea after visiting his friend Moe Dalizt at the Riviera Hotel, located on the Las Vegas Strip and to carry it out, he created the company Riviera de Cuba SA in 1956, which approved the construction of a high rise hotel with a tower of 18 floors.
The mobster's expectations regarding his hotel were extremely ambitious. The establishment had and had to rival the comfort and luxury of any Las Vegas hotel of that time. Therefore, he spared no expense or resources. The first architect who came to be in charge of the Havana Riviera was Wayne McAllister, creator of elegant hotels in Las Vegas, controlled mostly by partners of his own in the world of the mafia. However, due to Lansky's insistence that the hotel be ready in less than six months, the architect rejected the offer, which was accepted by Igor Boris Polevitzky, one of the exponents of modern architecture in Miami. This design genius took the job with his firm Polevitsky and Johnson with Irving Feldman as the project's general contractor, who owned more than a dozen sumptuous hotels and apartments in Miami Beach. It was thus that the plans of the Havana Riviera were made in the United States by the Fedelman Contruction Corporation and by the medical architects in Cuba, Manuel Carrera Machado and Miguel Gastón Montalvo.
For the interior design Lansky hired Albert B Parvin, of the Parvin-Dohrmann Co, of Los Angeles, who worked jointly with the Polevitsky and Johnson. He also placed another part of the decoration in the hands of the prestigious Cuban artists Rolando López Dirube, Florencio Gelabert, Hipólito Hidalgo de Caviedes and Cundo Bermúdez.
It was so that on February 23, 1956, the excavations that would lead to the construction of the Havana Riviera Hotel began. Construction was carried out by the Construction Project of the Construction Corporation S.A. (POCSA) and took place in an irregular plot of 284m long, 79m and 63m of width by the street 6 and by Stroll, respectively, that corresponded to an old sports stadium.
The total cost of the hotel was 14 million pesos, of which 8 million pesos were given by the Cuban state through the Economic and Social Development Bank (BANDES). This was a state development bank created by then President Fulgencio Batista.
Lansky's investment partners for his hotel were the biggest power brokers in Las Vegas. Among them were old friends like Morris Kleinman, Sam Tucker, Wilbur Clark of the Desert Inn; Ed Levinson from the Fremont hotel; Charles "Babe" Baron; Hyman Abrams and Morris Rosen of the Flamingo Las Vegas.
It was then that on December 10, 1957, the Havana Riviera Hotel was officially inaugurated, which is evidence of the perfect integration between designers, architects and artists. In its formal characteristics can be seen elements of architecture that prevailed in the 50' of Las Vegas and Miami with a strong presence of art deco. One of the architectural geniuses of the building consists of its Y-shaped plan, which facilitates the visualization of the Havana coastline given that it allowed the 400 rooms of its 17 floors to have a view of the sea. These rooms have large balconies (almost terraces, given their size) whose cantilevered and slightly curved position, together with the large windows of glass, give the building a feeling of lightness.
The designer Albert Parvin, in charge of the setting of the building, opted for neoclassical interiors with a predominance of gold, mirrors, carpets, marble, black and light granite floors which, together with the murals and sculptures of the contracted artists, they gave the space an exotic and sumptuous atmosphere. Among these components is also the helical golden staircase located in the lobby. It is undoubtedly a sui generis example of a staircase which, fused with a sculpture, leads to the lower floor of the building and is suspended at its upper end without reaching anywhere.
It also favored the whole ostentatious casino, which turned out to be the most luxurious of the ten existing in Cuba so far. From the outside, it attracted attention because it was a dome covered with blue and green ceramics. Inside, from the unusual ceiling hung seven crystal lamps specially designed for the living room and the walls, with gold leaves, had large-scale motifs reminiscent of Mayan jewels. The casino was located in the same entrance of the hotel and had acoustics designed so that the sound of the slot machines and the chips would spread through other areas of the building to attract other guests. In addition, it was connected with the Copa Room, through an interior staircase that is located behind the bar.
The Copa Room was a cabaret that constituted another equally opulent space in the building. The stage had the dimensions of a theater and was equipped with everything necessary for any function that required extravagance.
Contributing to the entertainment of the hotel was the imposing outdoor pool, with a three-meter-high springboard. From an aerial view, said pool is presented in the form of a coffin. At a certain moment of the day a shadowy cross is perceived on it, given the study of the incidence of sunlight made when it was built.
The main restaurant of the hotel, called L'Aiglon had a mural as a backdrop with theatrical scenes and offered a menu of international food. The main bar, called L'Elegante, had a dance floor that generally proposed Latin music. He also counted the Havana Riviera with a cafeteria, named Al Fresco, which overlooked the pool. Other luxuries included hairdressing, a buffet restaurant, room service, medical services, money exchange, souvenir shop and tour desk. He even had his own bakery.
It turned out that Havana Riviera had the largest casino-hotel in the world at that time outside of Las Vegas (a year later the Havana Hilton would exceed its size). Cardinal Monseñor Manuel Arteaga, who blessed the hotel at its inauguration; Guas Inclán, Vice President of the Republic; José Luis del Pozo, mayor of Havana; several government ministers and more than 100 Americans identified as Hollywood artists and members of the Mafia. That day the Cabaret Copa Room hosted the popular Ginger Rogers on stage with its Musical Magazine and under the direction of Jack Cole. The management of the hotel dedicated the entire year to celebrate its opening.
A few days later, Havana Riviera became a symbol for the capital. This attracted the attention of animator Steve Allen, who in January 1958 recorded an episode of his Sunday show The Steve Allen Show at the hotel, with actress Mamie Van Doren swimming in the pool. The fact triggered the popularity of the establishment, at it was one of the most popular of the era in the United States. For the December 24, 1957 he debuted in the Room Cup Jean Fenn, soprano of the Metropolitan Opera House. Other famous guests included William Holden, diva Jean Fenn, Nat King Cole and Ava Gardne. Also mobsters like Santos Traficante, George Raft and Jack Lansky.
Since its inauguration, the Riviera has counted on the assistance of the Havana and North American elite. This was also greatly favored by the arrangements by Meyer Lansky to play in the Copa Room the best orchestras of the moment internationally. This atmosphere, full of luxuries and pleasures, was completed by the attractive women in charge of attending to the guests, whose expenses in hairdressing, costumes, manicures and others, ran through the hotel management.
Lansky named Toronto's prominent hotelier, Harry Smith, as hotel president and T James Ennis as managing director, but in reality, he personally controlled all aspects of the hotel, primarily the casino. To do this, he chose the 1923 suite as a command post (it was hosted by occasional women in 1922).
Under the command of Lansky, they directed the casino Frank Erickson, Giordino Cellini, Ed Levenson and Dusty Peters. Since the Cubans did not have the knowledge to work in gambling operations on such a large scale as the establishment required, all the personnel who worked there were brought from the United States with the category of technicians, which allowed them a visa to work for two years. The strategy worked splendidly, because only four months after its opening, the casino had already obtained profits of more than three million dollars.
The opulence of the Havana Riviera spoke for itself. It was the first hotel of its kind in the country to have rooms with air conditioning.
But the luxury and extravagance life of the hotel was not destined to last. On January 1, 1959, the Cuban Revolution triumphed. The workers of the Riviera are added to the call of general strike decreed from the Sierra Maestra by Fidel Castro and occupy the building. Given the prevailing instability in the country, Lansky was forced to leave the Island.
Although the situation in the capital was normalized, attacks from abroad began to halt the revolutionary process. For this reason, Fidel Castro proposes a meeting with the international press in the Copa Room cabaret. On the night of January 19, the first journalists began to arrive, among them the American Jules Dubois. The Cuban embassies, as well as some members of the 26th of July Movement, facilitated the transportation of foreign guests, who stayed in 240 rooms of the Havana Riviera.
By January 22, the cabaret of the hotel had the sum of 500 journalists, among Cubans and foreigners, to attend the press conference presided over by the President of the Republic, Manuel Urrutia; the Prime Minister, Fidel Castro and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Roberto Agramonte; as well as Clayton Powell as the representative of the United States and the Puerto Rican senator Juan Fonfrías. This meeting went down in history as Operation Truth since here the true objectives of the Revolution were clarified and each of the present documents and photos proving the assassinations and tortures carried out by the previous government was handed over.
In October of 1960 the nationalization of foreign companies of diverse branches took place on the part of the revolutionary government between which all the hotels-casinos of the country were included. These nationalizations also came hand in hand with the prohibition of gambling. Later, in 1963, it produced the definitive intervention of Havana Riviera by Pastorita Núñez, member of the 26th of July Movement and Regino Botti, Minister of Economy. Almost simultaneously the name of the hotel, like Habana Riviera, becomes Spanish. With these facts, Meyer Lansky saw his investment in the building discarded and his dreams of other lucrative companies in Cuba vanished, as well as many other mafiosi.
Despite these changes, the hotel did not cease to be popular in the 1960s. At the Copa Room, important personalities from the Cuban music scene such as Benny Moré performed and notable figures such as Salvador Allende, who stayed there when he was still a senator; the poet Roque Dalton; American civil right activist Angela Davis, and Valentina Tereskova, the first woman cosmonaut.
The 80's were a fruitful era for the hotel, especially after the visit of French actor Alain Delon. Also in this period, the hotel is visited by the Dominican salsa artist Oscar D'León. By 1983 the hotel management decided to expand the lobby in order to protect the building from the inclement weather that accelerated its deterioration due to its proximity to the sea. These works were in charge of the architect Andrés Garrudo. Between 1984 and 1985 celebrities continued to stay at the Riviera, including French musician Michel Legrand, American artist Dean Reed and Spanish singers Joan Manuel Serrat, Ana Belén and Víctor Manuel.
In 1990 Havana Riviera passes to be part of the hotel group Gran Caribe. For 1997 the hotel is completely repaired including another extension of the lobby with a cafeteria overlooking the sea, as well as the restoration of the works of art, the furniture, the dome of the old casino, the pool and the rooms. In 1998 the Copa Room cabaret closed in order to be rebuilt. Despite the repairs, the hotel continues to house celebrities, as the popular Hollywood actor Leonardo Di Caprio stays that same year.
On February 14, 2000, the Copa Room cabaret reopened to continue offering shows. Also that year, the old casino opens its doors, now with the name of International Lounge, modified in order to be a space for presentations, cocktails, parties and others, with a capacity of 400 people.
On April 18, 2012, the National Monuments Commission declared the Havana Riviera hotel a national monument of the Republic of Cuba. The fact is registered in Resolution 02 prepared on that date by said institution.
On December 9, 2015, the American newspaper Tampa Tribune publishes an article in which it announces that Sandy Lombardo, grandson of Meyer Lansky, demanded compensation for the confiscation of Havana Riviera by the Cuban government to recover what his grandfather lost in the investment of the hotel and its casino. However, no conclusion has yet been reached with the case.
In January 2017 the Spanish chain Iberostar Hotels & Resorts assumes the management of the hotel. Thus, the Havana Riviera begins to offer a 4-star service with 352 rooms distributed in 20 floors.
All rooms continue to have spectacular views of the Havana coastline and comprise four categories: standard, double panoramic, double elite and junior elite suite. The standard ones are very spacious and can have a King size bed or two single beds. They are also equipped with satellite television, telephone, safe, private bathroom, minibar, hot and cold water and welcome gift. Those of the double panoramic type have a vintage decoration that recalls the 50's when the hotel was opened and even, they have the original lamps, which have been meticulously restored. These rooms can have a King size bed, two single beds or three simple beds and have the particularity that some are interconnected, which are ideal for booking if traveling as a family. They also have cable TV, private bathroom, hot and cold water, safe, telephones with national and international calls and minibar. The double elite rooms are located on the upper floors of the hotel and offer King size beds, two single or three single. They also have cable TV, internet service, minibar, safe, telephone with national and international calls, private bathroom, hot and cold water. In addition, they have counseling service, private breakfast, private check-in and 10% discount in the hotel's restaurants. Finally the junior elite suite, arranged on the 20th floor of the hotel, offers a King size bed, cable TV, internet service, safe, minibar, private bathroom, Jacuzzi, hot and cold water, sofa for three people, dining table and two chairs, counseling service, private check-in, 10% discount in hotel restaurants, 24 hours room service and VIP service.
On the other hand, the hotel has two restaurants and three bars. The restaurant L'Aiglon is the most luxurious. Its decoration conserves the style of the 50's and offers a menu of international food open from 12pm to 11pm. The Primavera restaurant, famous for the culinary variety it offers in its breakfasts, can be enjoyed daily from 7am - 10.30am, usually accompanied by traditional Cuban and live music.
In the case of bars, L'Elegante Bar is the most luxurious of the hotel. It maintains the original decoration of its inauguration in 1957, which, together with the classical music and the mixology that it offers, makes us feel as though we are in 1950's Havana. The Lobby Bar has an excellent view of the Havana boardwalk and, open every day from 4pm to 10pm, it usually offers live Cuban music and dancers. Also the famous Copa Room cabaret is included among the bars of the Havana Riviera, as it offers cocktail service along with incredible music and dance shows.