A Pre-Revolution Hotel Comes Back to Life in Havana

A famous mob hangout in the '50s gets a government-sanctioned renovation for the sake of tourism.

Havana's Capri hotel, which debuted just two years before Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, is back to its mid-century luster after years of neglect. It's part of the Cuban government's new efforts to increase tourism.

Erected thanks to a 1955 law that gave developers tax incentives, government loans, and casino licenses to build large-scale hotel projects under then-president Fulgencio Batista, the Capri quickly became known as one the nicest mob and celebrity hang-outs in Havana. Henchmen of famous organized crime figure Meyer Lansky ran the hotel's casino and nightclub. Actor George Raft (mostly known for his movie portrayals of mobsters) was a greeter and part-owner of the casino while living in the Capri's 19th-floor penthouse at the time.

A state-run hotel since the revolution, the Capri's original glamor faded with decades of disinvestment and a bombing by anti-Castro militants in 1997. The hotel closed in the early 2000s. But thanks to a partnership between the Cuban government and a Spanish hotel chain, the Capri is fully restored after four years work, re-opening around New Year's Day according to the Associated Press

The Spanish hotel company NH Hoteles SA is responsible for the Capri's daily operations, while state-run tourism company Grupo Caribe maintains ownership of the property. In its new life, the building's 1950s atmosphere feels fresh again, an odd, government sanctioned hat tip to the Batista days done in order to upgrade the city's tourist amenities for the 21st century (the hotel is now equipped with wifi too).

One local journalist, Ciro Bianchi Ross, says the renovation does not suggest nostalgia for the city's mob days, telling the AP, "buildings are not to blame for their history."

The hotel Capri is illuminated at dawn in Havana, Cuba, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)
In this Feb. 7, 2014 photo, pool attendant Jorge Luis Rivero repairs a guardrail around the rooftop pool at the Capri hotel in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)
In this Feb. 7, 2014 photo, Raidel Utria cleans glass doors at La Florentina restaurant where the empty rooftop pool can be seen behind at the Capri hotel in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)
In this Feb. 8, 2014 photo, bellhop Vladimir Pena, right, pushes a guest's luggage to the elevator at the refurbished Capri hotel in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)
In this Feb. 8, 2014 photo, hotel worker Denise Guerrero is reflected in the mirror as she makes the bed inside a bedroom at the Capri hotel in Havana, Cuba. Built in late 1957, nods to modernity include building-wide Wi-Fi, though it’s not included in the price of a room. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)
In this Feb. 7, 2014 photo, tourists joke as they look at a cell phone in the lobby of the Capri hotel in Havana, Cuba. Built in late 1957, the Capri enjoyed a brief but madcap run as one of the flashiest mob joints of the time. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)

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