< SPAIN | SAN SEBASTIAN: Hotel María Cristina
When the Hotel María Cristina opened its doors on the 9th of July, 1912 it was the Regent Queen María Cristina who first crossed the threshold. She arrived in a beautiful landau, accompanied by her lady-in-waiting and by the Marquis Aguilar de Campóo, to admire the magnificent building that was named in her honour and was the pride of San Sebastián. The city had become one of the most attractive places for illustrious holidaymakers of the European aristocracy, who were captivated by the incomparable beauty of the peninsula, framed by the La Concha Bay, the bar of La Zurriola and the River Urumea. The city’s excellent town planning, immaculate and beautiful beaches, gardens and promenades deserve their description such as “La Bella Easo” (The Beautiful Easo), “Perla del Cantábrico” (Pearl of the Cantabrian Sea), etc.
Ten years had passed since the formation in 1902 of the “Sociedad de Fomento de San Sebastián, S.A.” by leading prominent members of San Sebastián’s society, with Mr. Guillermo
Brunet as its President. Their first objective was the construction of a grand hotel and a sumptuous theatre, which would enable San Sebastián to meet the requirements of its visitors.
This objective took some years to be accomplished, mainly because of the proposed site, which had special requirements and was to be located in the centre of the city, by the La
When the plan was made public there was immediate opposition, on the grounds that the construction would detract from the beauty of the La Concha Promenade. Some months later, the Sociedad de Fomento abandoned this initial plan and proposed instead a new site for the theatre, to be located this time on the La Zurriola Promenade.
This project was also rejected because of the disruption it would cause to the River Urumea, so at the end of 1903 the Sociedad de Fomento presented a new plan, which would be the definitive one.
In 1909 the plans presented by the Architect Francisco de Urcola for the theatre were approved, together with those for the grand hotel prepared by the French architect Charles Mewes, who had designed the Ritz Hotels. Construction took only two years to be completed.
The founders of the Sociedad de Fomento had not figure at the time how much the Hotel María Cristina would influence the social, economic and cultural life of the city in the years to come. The Infanta Eulalia, Don Alfonso XIII, the Queen of Bulgaria, King Farouk of Egypt, the Japanese Prince Akihito, the Infantes Don Carlos de Borbón and Doña María de Orleans … Dukes, Marquises, Presidents of various republics and well-known personalities of the arts and culture patronized the María Cristina during their stays in San Sebastián.
With Spain at peace during the First World War the city remained an international centre, with numerous orchestral performances, operas, bullfighting “corridas” and all kinds of shows which filled the function rooms, casinos, and theatres and turned the hotel into one of the most favored meeting points for politicians and artists.
After the war Paris fashion came to San Sebastián, and the hotel María Cristina hosted shows by the great designers: Worth, Jean Patou, Paul Poire and Coco Chanel. Later the San Sebastián pact brought the Republic, and the leaders of the various parties met here to agree on a common strategy.
At the start of the Civil War in July 1936 the hotel, as one of the most prominent buildings in the town, was briefly occupied by troops sympathetic to the revolution. After two days of fighting the troops surrendered to local militiamen. Fortunately the building was little damaged, although some bullet holes may still be seen in the façade.
At the end of World War II San Sebastián attracted new people full of ideas to rebuild their businesses and at the same time revive the fortunes of the town. In 1948 the architect Manuel Urcola designed the hotel extension, adding a wing and converting its original “L” shape into a new “U” shape. In the sixties changes in society and its preferences emerged and tourists turned to the beaches of the Mediterranean. The María Cristina adapted itself to the new times while not losing its Belle Époque glamour; individual bathrooms were installed in all its guest rooms, others were extended, the furniture and decoration were improved and a Bingo Room was inaugurated.
In the Eighties a major decline in international tourism occurred, and the hotel was bought by the city council to guarantee the building would not have a different usage from the one for which it had been built.
In June 1985, as part of the CIGA hotel group, a complete renovation began; the work of forty-two different professional trades was organized by the architect José Miguel Martín Herrera, and the hotel achieved its current five star status. On 5th July 1987 the Hotel was reopened with a brilliant programme including a concert with the tenor José Carreras; a wide selection of national and foreign press was present. The new hotel was now provided with the most modern facilities but still keeping its original style.
Since the renovation the Hotel María Cristina has maintained its role as the centre of the social, economic and cultural life of the city, innovating, adapting itself, and responding to new needs, fashions, and preferences.
The Hotel María Cristina is currently managed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide under its Luxury Collection brand.
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