< SWITZERLAND | LUCERNE: Grand Hotel National
With a rise in tourism in the mid 19th century, Lucerne realised its potential as an attractive holiday destination. The French nobility, the Russian
aristocracy and the Britons all enjoy visits to Switzerland. And so a plan developed to create luxury accommodation for wealthy travellers: the „Hotel National“ was born -
“To accommodate kings you must first build a palace!”.
January 1868: Builder Colonel Maximilian Alphons Von Pfyffer Von Altishofen submits the hotel plans to the town council. The hotel construction is quite spectacular for this period: The plan is larger than previous Lucerne architecture, at 84 metres in length, 25 metres in depth and 27 metres in height. On May 28th 1869 planning permission for the „Hotel National“ was given – the building firm responsible is “Baugesellschaft Segesser & Cie.”
1870: Opening of the Grand Hotel National on the banks of Lake Lucerne. The luxurious hotel, built in French renaissance style, is larger and more magnificent than all of its predecessors and sounds the bell for a new revolutionary style in hotel construction. Between 1870 and 1877 Colonel Maximilian Alphons Von Pfyffer Von Althishofen becomes Director of the Grand Hotel National.
1877: César Ritz takes over management of the hotel – already a rising star in the hotel business. Over the years César Ritz lays the foundations for a traditional and stylish hotel culture; his innovative ideas are still in use to this day. His dynamism, his intuitive understanding of guests and his excellent contacts make the „Hotel National“ both famous and successful.
1881: The famous “Chef de Cuisine”, Auguste Escoffier, treats the guests of the “Hotel National“ to a range of fine creations. The Ritz-Escoffier team gives the hotel an international reputation. A number of major personalities including numerous members of the German imperial family, Sissy, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, maharajas from India - anybody who is anybody – visit the “Hotel National” to be indulged.
“A trade‘s perfection must be coupled with simplicity“: This is the revolutionary motto of the top two restauranteurs. For César Ritz this meant doing away with ostentatious curtains and eccentric welcoming clichés – instead light colours, flowers and attentive, personal service would make the guests „friends of the hotel“: Auguste Escoffier conjured up refined but equally simple dishes. Of course, these changes have to be seen within the historical context, for today both Escoffier‘s creations and Ritz‘s „simple style“ still seem extremely opulent.
1890: Colonel Maximilian Alphons Von Pfyffer Von Altishofen is struck by an acute influenza infection at the age of just 56. In the years previous to this he had begun once again to devote himself to his military career and been promoted to Chief of the General Staff.
1890: César Ritz leaves Lucerne and heads to London. Alphons and Hans Pfyffer, sons of the builder, take over the management – they were followers and great admirers of César Ritz and applied the knowledge that they had gained from him to their future management of the hotel.
1890 – 1950: Hans Pfyffer is responsible for the “Grand Hotel National” for 60 years – either as manager or as a member of the executive board. His name is linked not only to a large piece of hotel history, but also to the history of the town and the region. He worked tirelessly for both the hotel and the whole region until his death. Tourism and its promotion were his passions. Hans Pfyffer is a pioneer in cooperation and regionalism, weaving together both national and international strands to form a dense network of relationships. It is his commitment that ensured that the Grand Hotel National managed to escape relatively unscathed from the years of war and crisis - unlike many other grand hotels in Switzerland.
1890: Hotel’s name changed to “Grand Hotel National”. The limited partnership of “Pfyffer & Cie” founded.
1897: Extension to include a large dining hall. Between the 1890s and the outbreak of World War I the number of tourists visiting Lucerne continues to rise – in 1892 there are 77,950 guests, in 1900 140,000 and in 1910 a massive 192,500 guests. The growing number of visitors and increasing demand leads to the “Grand Hotel National” being extended to include an additional dining hall. The “old dining hall” was turned into a ballroom.
1890: “Grand Hotel National AG” founded – César Ritz sits on the executive boardThe joint-stock company forms the basis for extensive renovation and modernisation of the hotel. For example, all rooms were fitted with an en suite with bath and WC, and electricity.
1899/1900: Start of the large “Nationalhof” project Extension of the hotel to include today‘s „east wing“ - an ambitious venture that increased the size of the hotel by 50%. The “Nationalhof” was designed as a heated „winter house“ to make Lucerne and the hotel attractive right through the winter months. The „apartments” built in the east wing were very modern and forward-looking, and the 20th century saw this new form of accommodation (suites) being introduced into luxury hotels worldwide.
During the extension work the basic structure building of the building was preserved: Apart from small exterior restructuring and the extension of the connecting wing, the hotel’s architecture and structure have been preserved to this day. Of course, the interiors and the facilities have moved with the times. The “function rooms” of the past are now restaurants, whilst the hotel hall, or the „large restaurant“, is now the banqueting and conference rooms. The “ballroom” has been preserved. Emil Vogt is the architect responsible for the extensions, setting new standards in the world of hotel architecture with his innovative ideas. Emil Vogt, also known as “the architect of comfort”, is very closely linked with César Ritz – during the turmoil of World War I he was responsible for the construction of significant hotels like the „Ritz“ in Cairo, and the “King David“ in Jerusalem, and for the extension of the “Luxor” hotel.
1901 – 1906: The “Belle Epoque” – a golden age for the Grand Hotel National with up to 46 000 stays per year: A volume that was never surpassed in the „Golden 20th century”. International guests, in particular those from Great Britain and North America, hold the hotel and Lucerne in very high esteem. The guest book from this period reads like a “who’s who” of history. Members of many royal families, not just in Europe but also from the whole world, travel to Lucerne and grace the traditional hotel with their presence.
1910: The 3rd extension: An extra storey added to the connecting wing. The Grand Hotel National and the Nationalhof are linked by the connecting wing.
1914: World War I starts - difficult times for the Swiss luxury hotel industry. During the later years of the war, the cellar and ground floor of the “Grand Hotel National” serves as a warehouse - other luxury hotels fared worse: the “Maloja Palace” was transformed into a barracks, the “Montreux Palace” into a hospital, and the “Palace” in Gstaad was simply closed.
1920: Special meeting between the Italian President Giolitti and the English Prime Minister Lloyd George takes place in the Grand Hotel National - during this meeting the foundations were laid for the Treaty of Versailles.
29.10.1929: Black Thursday – stock exchange crash in New York. The Grand Hotel National is affected immediately, although the stock exchange crash does not affect Switzerland until two years later, but many guests continue to travel from North America.
1918 – 1932: Upturn in the economy and more crises in the changing times. At the end of World War I, a massive upturn in the economy begins – guests return and the guest figures rise. By 1923 the number of guests staying has already reached the pre-war figures. However: Times have changed. Food prices have risen massively and the new laws for employees have a real effect. Fair wages, shorter working hours and holidays take their toll on the hotel industry‘s turnover and bring about a massive drop in profits. In 1931 and 1932 the picture changes dramatically – the world economic crisis caused by “Black Thursday“ starts to take its toll. The number of guests staying falls to 5000 in 1931 and again to less than 4000 in 1932.
1970: Architect Umberto E. Erculiani buys the majority of the shares in the Grand Hotel National AG. According to his drafts, the 220-room hotel would be changed into a hotel with 78 guest rooms and 41 residence suites. The hotel becomes a member of Steigenberger Hotels and Preferred Hotels and Resorts.
2001: Umberto E. Erculiani decides to further limit the hotel business. The 6th and 7th floors and half of the 5th floor are leased to EF Education and form the global headquarters of their financial holding. EF Education is the world’s largest language school, and since the company has occupied part of the hotel, it has coordinated its global financial activities from Lucerne. Following extensive restoration and renovation, the Grand Hotel National is now located in the east wing and stands as a luxurious 5-star superior hotel with 41 guest rooms and suites. Great value is placed on upholding the traditions of the 19th century and combining these harmoniously with modern facilities.
June 2003: “THP Touristic & Hotel Projects Ltd.” takes over management of the legendary hotel. The partners are the internationally-renowned hotel expert Pierre Vacher, the famous Lucerne business consultant Bodo Von Düring (of Düring Management AG), hotelier Gabriele Pedrazzetti (Hotel Continental Park) and the Lucerne businessman Ernst Maréchaux, owner of Maréchaux Elektro AG.
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