They rose, they shone, and then their light went out: some of São Paulo's most beautiful hotels succumbed to the decadence of the old downtown area, as the city's gentry packed up and moved home and business elsewhere. Then things started to change.
The renovation of vintage hotels is among the best news in the revitalization of Centro, a reality which, though still far from reaching its full potential, has greatly transformed landmarks and opened a horizon in local travel very much worth exploring.
Take the Marabá Hotel, where the redesign by Janete Costa has valued original features, in perfect sync with the work of Ruy Ohtake and Samuel Kruchin on the ground-floor Cine Marabá, another city symbol (now the PlayArte Marabá).
A countess built what is now the Bourbon São Paulo Business Hotel; you can sip on some coffee or a cocktail while looking through a gorgeous wrought iron door dating back to the building's very origin.
Across the street from the Marabá and owned by the same company, just steps from the historic corner of Avenidas Ipiranga and São João sung by Caetano Veloso in "Sampa", a celebration of the city, there's the Hotel Excelsior, not as meticulously renovated as its brother hotel (I called today and they're still fixing - changing, a staff member said - one of its three elevators), but also with a charm of its own, thanks to its Modernist design by Rino Levi.
An attractive retro feel and great murals - "Imprensa" ("Press"), by Di Cavalcanti, and "Bandeirantes", by Clóvis Graciano - have been preserved at the Novotel São Paulo Jaraguá Conventions, originally opened as the glamorous Hotel Jaraguá in January 1954, when São Paulo was celebrating its 400th anniversary. (Queen Elizabeth, Fidel Castro, and Robert Kennedy are among the famous guests in the hotel's history.)
Some of the central area's old hotels only exist in memories, archives or collectibles such as these luggage labels owned by São Paulo Antiga blog editor Douglas do Nascimento. Others have new lives, such as the Cambridge, whose Bar d'Hotel lingers on as a hopping party venue.
Where Tradition Lives On:
Outstanding Brazil Hotel Renovations:
- Sheraton da Bahia, Salvador (soft opening in mid-February)