Hotel History: InterContinental Hotels Company

A recent story on the Hotels website stated "IHG's history in Latin America dates back to 1946, when the first InterContinental Hotel opened in Brazil. Today, the Company has more than 200 hotels in 22 countries, not to mention a pipeline of more than 50 properties."

In my book "Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry" (AuthorHouse 2009), I wrote about Juan Terry Trippe, the founder of Pan American World Airways, the InterContinental Hotels Company, Charles Lindbergh and Raymond Orteig, an unknown New York City hotel owner.

Pan American Clipper
Pan American Clipper

In the history of American commercial aviation, there was no airline more influential, important, and better known than Pan American World Airways. It was not the first American passenger airline, nor did it ever meet with much success in the domestic market, but Pan Am (as it was more commonly known), represented a new adventurous image of the United States to the world. When filmmaker Stanley Kubrick produced his landmark vision of the future in the 1968 movie "2001: A Space Odyssey," he envisioned Pan Am as the space carrier that would take men and women regularly into space. Pan Am's history is inseparable from the life and career of Juan Trippe, the company's founder and guiding visionary for five decades.

In 1919, Raymond Orteig, a practically unknown New York City hotel owner, issued an extraordinary challenge to the fledging flying world. Enthralled by tales of pioneer aviators, the French-born Orteig, who owned the Brevoort and Lafayette Hotels in New York City, offered a purse of $25,000 to be awarded to "the first aviator who shall cross the Atlantic in a land or water aircraft (heavier than air) from Paris or the shores of France to New York, or from New York to Paris without a stop."

Orteig said his offer would be good for five years, but five years came and went without anyone accomplishing this feat. No one even tried. In 1926, Orteig extended the term of his offer for another five years. This time around, however, aviation technology had advanced to a point where some thought that it might, indeed, be possible to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean. Charles A. Lindbergh was one who thought it could happen, but few people believed that this obscure mail pilot had any chance of collecting Orteig's $25,000 prize.

Born in France, Raymond Orteig immigrated to the United States in 1882. He began a career in the hotel and restaurant business and eventually became the maitre d' at the Lafayette Hotel in New York City, which was located not far from the Brevoort Hotel in Greenwich Village. In 1902, he purchased the Brevoort, which was known for its basement café. Comprising three adjoining houses on Fifth Avenue between 8th and 9th Street, the Brevoort had gained a reputation in the late 19th century as a stopping place for titled Europeans. The Brevoort Café's French character, enriched by Orteig's yearly wine-buying trips to France attracted an illustrious crowd of Greenwich Village artists and writers. Among them was Mark Twain, lonely but popular, who took up residence between 1904 and 1908 in the Gothic-revival town house located on the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and East 9th Street. (That house had been built in 1870 by James Renwick, architect of nearby Grace Church, built in 1845, and St. Patrick's Cathedral, completed in 1878.) In 1954, the entire block, including the hotel and Mark Twain's townhouse, was razed to make way for the 19-story Brevoort apartment building.

"Lucky Lindy" and the Spirit of St. Louis flew from San Diego to Curtis Field on Long Island (New York) on May 12, 1927. En route, pilot and plane set a new record for the fastest United States transcontinental flight. Eight days later, Lindbergh took off for Paris from New York's Roosevelt Field. Fighting fog, icing, and sleep deprivation, Lindbergh landed safely at Le Bourget Field in Paris at 10:22 PM on May 20, 1927 - and a new aviation hero was born. The plane had carried him over 3,600 miles in less than 34 hours and won the $25000 Orteig prize.

The first trans-Atlantic flight heralded the "Lindbergh Boom" in aviation. Aircraft industry stocks rose in value, and interest in flying skyrocketed. During Lindbergh's subsequent U.S. tour and goodwill flight to Central and South America, the flags of the nations he visited were painted on the cowling of his plane. At the invitation of Juan Trippe, he then joined Pan Am World Airways. Trippe recalled that he was present at Roosevelt Field when Lindbergh started his history-making flight.

Conversely, Raymond Orteig is all but forgotten. His Lafayette Hotel (known as the Hotel Martin from 1863 to 1902, when Orteig acquired and rechristened it) was patronized by international celebrities who were drawn by its French food and service. When the Brevoort faltered in 1932 during the Great Depression (as did so many other hotels) Orteig sold it and nurtured the Lafayette through the depression. In 1953 the Lafayette was demolished for a modern apartment building, the six-story Lafayette Apartments at University Place and 9th Street.

By 1947, the board concluded that the Pan American name did not reflect a worldwide hotel company and selected "InterContinental" over "International". IHC provided management services to owners of existing hotels. The first two hotels operated by InterContinental were the eighty-five room Grande in Belem, Brazil (1949) and the 400 room Hotel Carrera in Santiago, Chile (1950). Next was a management agreement for the 220 room Hotel El Prado in Baranquilla, Columbia (1950).

By 1953, IHC had doubled in size with hotels in Bermuda, Montevideo, Bogota, Maracaibo and Caracas. Perhaps the most spectacular hotel was the 400-room Tamanaco in Caracas which opened in 1954. The V-shaped Tamanaco featured tiered garden terraces at the ends of each floor, an indoor/outdoor restaurant and bar, a free-form swimming pool surrounded by a ring of cabanas overlooking views of the city below and the nearby mountains.

During the fifty-year period from 1946 to 1996 under Trippe's direction, InterContinental Hotels developed and managed hotels all over the world:

No. of Hotels

  • South America 17
  • Caribbean 13
  • Central America 10
  • Mideast 32
  • Africa 18
  • Europe 80
  • Far East 31
  • Canada 3
  • United States of America 18

Total 222

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Comments

and the southern cross in Melbourne australia !

God knows why though.
and seems to be have been one of the most jazzy, cheery, decorative designs too in such a staid victorian era, british born city.

rohanstorey@yahoo.com.au