The Hotel Nacional de Cuba is a historic hotel located on the Malecón in the middle of Vedado, Havana, Cuba. It stands on Taganana Hill a few metres from the sea, and offers a view of Havana Harbor, the seawall and the city.
The hotel was developed by the US firm of Purdy and Henderson, financed by the National City Bank of New York and designed by the New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White in a mix of styles including Sevillian, Roman, Moorish and Art Deco. The hotel was constructed in just fourteen months on the site of the Santa Clara Battery, which dates back to 1797. Part of the battery has been preserved in the hotel's gardens, including two large coastal guns dating from the late 19th Century. The hotel opened as The National Hotel of Cuba on December 30, 1930, operated by the American managers of the Plaza Hotel, Savoy-Plaza Hotel and Copley Plaza Hotel, at a time Cuba was a prime travel destination for Americans.
In 1933, after Fulgencio Batista's 4 September 1933 coup against the transitional government, it was the residence of Sumner Welles, a special envoy sent by U. S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to mediate the crisis, and was the site of a bloody siege that pitted the officers of the Cuban army, who had been instrumental in the overthrow of Gerardo Machado (August 12. 1933), against the non-commissioned officers and other ranks of the Cuban army, who supported Batista. Their eventual assault on the hotel, on October 2, 1933, caused extensive damage to the building, including shell and bullet holes, and would become known as the Battle of the Hotel Nacional of Cuba.
Chicago developer Arnold Kirkeby acquired the hotel in the early 1940s and operated it for over a decade as part of his Kirkeby Hotels chain. In December 1946 the hotel hosted the Havana Conference, an infamous mob summit run by Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky and attended by Santo Trafficante, Jr., Frank Costello, Albert Anastasia, Vito Genovese and many others. Francis Ford Coppola memorably dramatised the conference in his film The Godfather Part II.
In the mid-1950s, Kirkeby Hotels sold the Nacional to New York developer William Zeckendorf. By 1955, Lansky had managed to persuade Batista to give him a piece of the Nacional. That same year Pan Am's Intercontinental Hotels Corporation bought the hotel from Zeckendorf. Alphons Landa, prominent Washington attorney represented Pan Am and arranged for other clients and friends to acquire pieces of the hotel ownership at the same time. Dave Beck, President of the Teamsters and Roy Fruehauf of the Fruehauf Trailer Company were silent partners for at least 2 years. Fruehauf would sell his interest in the hotel in May 1957; other investors would lose everything when Castro came to power. Lansky planned to take a wing of the 10-storey hotel and create luxury suites for high-stakes gamblers. Batista endorsed Lansky's idea even though there were objections from American expatriates such as Ernest Hemingway. Under Lansky's impetus, a wing of the grand entrance hall was refurbished to include a bar, a restaurant, a showroom and a luxurious casino. It was operated by Lansky and his brother Jake, with Wilbur Clark as the front man.