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Tour Cuba’s Iconic Hotel Inglaterra, Part of Historic Deal with Starwood

Opened in 1875, it's a Havana icon associated with the struggle for independence

President Obama’s trip to Cuba, which began with his arrival in Havana yesterday, is a historic moment in U.S.-Cuban relations, a once-unthinkable moment capping recent moves to normalize economic relations between the two nations. Many businesses have capitalized on the trip, including the hotel chain Starwood, which announced that its will be the first U.S. hospitality company to run hotels in the country alongside a Cuban partner, according to a report in the Washington Post. The deal adds three properties to its portfolio: Havana’s Hotel Inglaterra, near Parque Central, which will be part of the Starwood Luxury Collection; Hotel Quinta Avenida, in the Miramar District, set to become a Four Points by Sheraton catering to business traveler; and the Hotel Santa Isabel, which will be part of its Luxury Collection.

The highlight of the deal is the 83-room Hotel Inglaterra (England), a Havana Historic Landmark near Parque Central and the Prado plaza that was born when a smaller hotel merged with the El Louvre ballroom and bar in 1875. Behind the neoclassical facade lies an interior dressed in stained glass, Spanish heraldic symbols, imported Andalusian tile, and elaborate ceilings, all recalling the colonial era and Moorish influences (one column in the cafe has an inscription that reads "Only Allah is the victor"). One of Cuba’s oldest hotel, the Inglaterra, which has seen better days, played host to many important moments, including writer and national hero José Martí’s 1879 speech for Cuban independence, and was a meeting place for 19th century intellectuals. Winston Churchill stayed in 1895 when he visited during the Spanish-Cuban war, and U.S. was correspondents camped out in the building during the Spanish-American war.

Starwood plans to make interior and structural changes to update the buildings, but won’t alter the historic design or facades, banking on the appeal of authenticity and expected tourism boom that has made numerous foreign companies seek to capitalize on a more open Cuba. This deal is another newsworthy move by the chain, which is the subject of competing takeover bids by Marriott and Anbang, a Chinese insurance company