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Sunday, August 12, 2012


     Dictators usually get their way.   Sixty years ago, when Venezuela's General Marcos Perez-Jimenez asked my wife's uncle, Tomas Sanabria, to design the "ultimate hotel",  the talented young architect complied.  
   Uncle Tomas came up with this fantastic design.   The problem was, it had to be placed at the very top of "The Avila", the mile-high mountain that looms above Venezuela's capitol city, Caracas.   At the time it took a day for a man and his donkey to climb to the peak.  Building a grand hotel would be no easy task.
    It took months just to build the "funicular railway",  boxes suspended by cables that would haul workers (and later hotel guests) up the mountain.   Two years later, in 1956, Hotel Humboldt opened with great fanfare (That's the General cutting a ribbon up top, next to Uncle Tomas).

For 66 years it has perched over the capitol city like a rocket ready for launch.  During his forty-year reign the General would refer to his hotel -named after a German explorer- as "the magnificent symbol of our great country".
     Perez-Jimenez is long gone and the hotel?  One could say it is "going".   Time, changing regimes, and the expenses of maintaining its aging buildings have taken their toll.  Long closed,  the Sanabria family was allowed to tour it while we were visiting six weeks ago.   Eighteen of us boarded the funicular and headed up.

    It was clear that the Humboldt's bare bones are still intact. Amongst rusting steel, peeling paint, and crumbling concrete, they still amaze. 
It made us even more proud of our dear uncle, who recently passed away, for this and his many other accomplishments.

As we walked we would come upon gems like the overgrown gardens designed by Roberto Burle-Marx or the sculptural mural (below) in the lobby. 

The furnishings are gone but one abandoned work room still had its  sock dryer. 


  The Humboldt continues to stand alone in the cool mountain air.  From the terrace you look down through clouds at valley that cradles Caracas.  Turning to north, the Caribbean Sea glistens 7000 feet below.   It's a fantastic location but perhaps not the best one for a hotel.   
 Looking north

   Lights above the swimming pool 

 Our Venezuelan family and others are doing their best to have Hotel Humboldt restored.   Like our own Coconut Grove Playhouse, it won't be easy.  It may be impossible.  Someone told us, "People are afraid to stay at hotels in Caracas because of the crime. The Humboldt could be successful again because of its great design -and- criminals would have a hard time climbing the mountain".

 Let's hope he's right.

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