Staying in a hotel which is itself a historical building is always exciting. The present is the past, and it is easy to imagine ourselves a part of what went on previously. Such is the case with the Gran Hotel Ciudad de México, located on the Plaza de la Constitución, or Zócalo, right in the historic centre of the national capital. On the recommendation of a friend, my husband and I spent two nights there when we first arrived, and another prior to our return early Monday morning.
As early as 1529, three houses built on this site were known as the Merchant’s Porch. In 1899, one of the houses was reconstructed as El Centro Mercantil, the Commercial Centre, designed and built by military engineer David Garza. It became the first major department store in the country, selling high-end jewellery, imported fabrics, the accessories and clothing sought by the wealthy. In 1959, the Centro Mercantil was closed and the building preserved. It reopened as a hotel in l968 and was renovated in 2004. It remains today a spectacular example of Art Nouveau architecture which would be the envy of the department stores of Paris. The famous atrium with its fine trappings has been restored to its original splendour and forms the heart of the hotel around it.
The entrance to the hotel is off a walking street, a modest doorway leading to a staircase hung with a massive Louis XV chandelier. At the top of the stair, canaries in an array of bright colours sing from two twelve-foot gilded birdcages, one on each side of the staircase. At this point, you are in the lobby of the atrium. On all sides, several floors of what are now hotel rooms cascade upward, the decorated cast iron bannisters of the spacious corridor in front of them overlooking the lobby below. At each end of the atrium are two 19th-century cast iron elevators constructed as was the Eiffel Tower and decorated with elongated organic flower designs. An attendant welcomes guests on their arrival with a ride up one of these historic elevators. A double staircase, its bannisters also made of ornate cast iron all in one piece, rises to the top of one side of the atrium, large mirrors and other Art Nouveau artifacts decorating each landing. At night, the space impresses, and the bank of ornamental antique lights on the upper floor casts a stately glow. In the daytime, the atrium dazzles, for the roof is made of Tiffany-style glass, with three large glass domes filtering the sunlight through a breathtaking array of coloured Art Nouveau designs.
The stained glass is the work of Jacques Grüber (1870-1936), a French artist specializing in glass and iron. He studied in Paris with Gustave Moreau, and, in l893, became a professor of the École des Beaux-Arts in Nancy, France. Later, he established his own studio and became a founder of the Nancy School movement. This amazing glass structure is a fine example of his work and one of the highlights of any tour of the city. The pictures will give you an idea of the glory of the building.
By the way, my friend was right. Apart from its historical value, the location, rooms and reception/concierge services of the Gran Hotel are outstanding. It is also surprisingly reasonable, given their advance booking deals and their upgrade offers for repeat customers.