Designing Destinations: Hotel Architecture, Urbanism, and American Tourism in Puerto Rico and Cuba
thesisposted on 29.10.2016, 00:00 by Erica N. Morawski
This study examines hotel design—from interior furnishings and artworks to their place in the larger urban environment—to reveal the importance of these sites in shaping international relationships and in the negotiation of national identities. Spanning the key period of tourism development in the two most popular destinations in the Spanish Caribbean, my project positions the hotels of Havana, Cuba and San Juan, Puerto Rico as primary agents in a complex, multidirectional flow of influence between Havana, San Juan, Miami, Washington D.C., New York, and beyond. In contrast to art historical and historical scholarship that situates these hotels, whether stylistically, politically, or economically, as impositions of U.S. power, my research returns agency to the local architects, governments, and residents in shaping the design and meaning of the buildings I examine. Tracing a web of influence through an approach that systemically ties visual analysis with economic, social, and political histories, I demonstrate how three themes that were bound to hotel design visually and discursively—the modern, the historic, and the tropical—reveal the tensions and contradictions that shaped these exchanges and their impact on larger cultural and political contexts. The years surveyed in this study cover an important period in which a major shift in thinking about architectural style took place. From the Mediterranean Revival style of the Gran Condado Vanderbilt (1919) to the High Modernist design of the Havana Riviera (1957) and the Tropicana cabaret (1951-56) less than forty years later, leading trends in architectural design shifted from the eclecticism of Beaux Arts architecture to the machine-inspired forms of International-style-oriented modernism. Scholars have often portrayed this as an abrupt rupture in architectural history and while this dissertation does analyze the way in which later hotel designs proclaimed themselves as modern by positioning themselves in contrast to earlier hotels, in reality all of the hotels under study were conceived of as thoroughly modern. Through extensive archival research that utilizes diverse materials such as government documents, promotional brochures, and architectural publications, this dissertation reclaims the far-reaching importance of these designs.