< SRI LANKA | COLOMBO: Galle Face Hotel
The Galle Face Hotel, South Asia’s leading Grande Dame, is testimony to both Sri Lanka’s colonial past and its independent present. The Hotel started out as a Dutch villa called Galle Face House that had been a meeting place for gentlemen of the colonial era. That was until four British entrepreneurs decided to use it to start a business, unaware that, by the late 19th century, it would be known as the best hotel East of Suez.
The Hotel originally opened in 1864, borrowing its name from the charming expanse of ground known as the Galle Face Green, which stretches for a kilometer by the side of the Hotel, along the
coast, where, in Victorian times, it was a popular place to take a walk in the sea air, or a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.
The Hotel was built section by section, the first being the central area that leads to the awe inspiring Ballrooms, followed by the South and North wings respectively. It was in 1894, that it became a two-storey luxury hotel, with the help of the most famous architect of the time, Edward Skinner, while between 1903 and 1909, the Galle Face Hotel Company continued to buy up land that would allow the hotel to expand to its present size.
One of the shareholders in 1911 was Mr Victor Vicarosso, the great grandfather of the current Chairman and owner of the hotel.
In 1960 Mr Cyril Gardiner became a director of the Hotel and the Chairman in 1965. Upon his passing in 1996, his only son Mr.Sanjeev Gardiner became the Chairman of the Galle Face Hotel and continues to hold this title, extending the family association for over 100 year.
In 1970, the North wing was refurbished under the direction of Mr Cyril Gardiner. In 2006, the South Wing was restored under the direction of Mr Sanjeev Gardiner after being closed for approximately 40 years, along with which, various restaurants, bars, meeting rooms, and the Spa facility were opened. The North wing has now opened after a complete restoration program that instills timeless grandeur in a hotel that is 150 years old.
In the 1950s, 1960s, the Coconut Grove at the Galle Face Hotel was the premier entertainment venue in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. People flocked to the Coconut Grove to watch Radio Ceylon’s talent contests recorded at the night club. The radio station popularised the Coconut Grove on the air and the venue has been mentioned even in some of the popular songs of the day.
Back in the days when the British used the Galle Face Green for artillery practice, a 30-pound cannon had misfired during one practice session and crashed into the Galle Face Hotel before coming to rest under a chair, luckily failing to explode. To honor this moment in history, an annual competition is held between two selected celebrities. The competitors have to run from the position of the cannon to the Hotel, with the first to lay his/her hands on the cannonball crowned the winner of the Galle Face Hotel - Cannonball Run.
Over the years, the Galle Face Hotel has played host to many well known figures, world leaders and celebrities. Golden book include names of: Emperor Hirohito of Japan, US President Richard Nixon, Alfonso XIII King of Spain, Empress Eugenie of France, Pope John Paul II, HRH Prince Phillip Duke of Edinburgh, Indian Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Sir Carol Reed, Steven Spielberg, Gregory Peck, Bo Derek, Harrison Ford, Roger Moore, Sir Alec Guinness, Vivien Leigh, Peter Finch, William Holden, Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Noel Coward, Bernard Shaw, while the science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, who spent much of his life on the island, wrote the final chapters of 3001 - The Final Odyssey at the hotel.
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