#27 in Period Postcards
The Grand Hotel Londres
Sooner or later, they will finish the metro construction mess at Piazza Municipio and you'll be able to see the Grand Hotel Londres in all its glory. Well, maybe not original glory (pictured, left) since it is no longer a hotel; it houses the TAR (Tribunale amministrativo regionale) Campania [The Administrative Court for the Campania Region of Italy] on most of the floors and a cultural exchange organization, The Mediterranean Foundation, on others. As noted below, the hotel opened in 1899; there are a few tell-tales that the image itself is from shortly thereafter. First, the gigantic port passenger terminal of Molo Beverello from the 1930s is not yet in place; second, the hotel runs almost to the seaside. The wide seaside port road, via Marina, is not yet in place, nor is the additional seaside block of new buildings (both are visible in a later postcard, #26. I p)lace the image at 1900-1905. The Maschio Agioino (Angevin fortress) is visible directly across the square (Piazza Municipio) on the right. (I have indexed this in the postcard selections as #27.) (My thanks to Peter H. for providing me with this image.)
The building, itself, was a result of the grand urban renewal project known as the risanamento undertaken after a disastrous cholera epidemic in 1884. The Grand Hotel Londres opened in 1899 and was designed by Giovan Battista Comencini for the Società Veneta, a northern firm at the time the largest Italian builders of railways and public works. (The firm was responsible for the entire rebuilding of the main square, Piazza Municipio, as part of the overall risanamento.) Comencini's other architectural and engineering activities in Naples at about the same time include his design for the Grand Hotel Santa Lucia (1906) on the sea-front across from the Castel dell'Ovo and his participation in the new construction at Mergellina, including the Laziale tunnel that still connects that area to Fuorigrotta, beyond the Posillipo hill.
design of the facade of the Grand Hotel Londres reflects the
general European architectural tendencies at the turn of
that century towards the style known in English by the
French term, Art
Nouveau. (As a point of interesting
confusion--and certainly more than you want to know-- in
Italian that style is called by the English term
"Liberty,” after an English gentleman with the
fascinating name of Sir Arthur Lasenby Liberty, whose
shop in London specialized in Art Nouveau objects. In Germany, it
was called Jugendstil,
though in Austria, where they, too, speak German, it was
called the "Secessionist" style because...well, as I
said, you don't want to know.)
For most of its existence, the Grand Hotel Londres was, in fact, a pretty classy hotel, though it was dangerously close to the port of Naples and the bombings of WWII. (It housed Allied personnel after the war.) Later, it fell on hard times financially and was closed. I remember seeing many years ago entire families of homeless squatters on the premises. They had simply taken over the hotel and hung their “We Shall Not Be Moved” banners from the balconies. As a matter of fact, it is very difficult in Italy, legally, to move squatters from abandoned or otherwise unoccupied buildings. Eventually, they moved or were moved, but I don't remember the circumstances.
update: Dec. 2013: New Museum opened in the Grand
A new museum has opened in Naples. It is the Mediterranean Museum of Art, Music and Traditions (MAMT), occupying space on five floors of the old Grand Hotel Londres (see item above this one), two blocks from the port of Naples. The museum is a spin-off of the Fondazione Mediterraneo, the headquarters of which are on the premises. The Foundation was the brain child of Michele Capasso, a local engineer and architect who founded the organization in 1991 with the aim of promoting understanding among Mediterranean nations. In that spirit, the museum displays artifacts bearing witness to the civilizations and peoples of over 40 countries: from the art of Muslim women to sphinxes and votive offerings; from the marvels of Murano to nativity scenes. The symbol of the museum is the Totem of Peace by Italian sculptor, Mario Molinari; it is a stylized red sail, representing (from the literature of the museum) “...not only the tragedies and the dead that have blood-stained the Mediterranean, the Middle East region and the rest of the World but, essentially, the rebirth of trust and the reconstruction of dialogue...” In that spirit, the museum was inaugurated in the common prayer room, a space that accommodates the monotheistic religions of the Mediterranean.
Ever Neapolitan, Capasso has left space on the premises for another acronym, the MIP—Museum of Pizza! Even more, you can arrange to spend a night in the room where Churchill stayed! At the present time, the Hotel (which also houses some municipal office space) is somewhat overshadowed by the enormous construction site for the new Piazza Municipio underground metro train station. When the station is finished and finally opened (providing the Mediterranean has not totally evaporated by then), the museum will be in an ideal location, close to the port and a large working metro station. It looks good.
This is one of those things I am optimistic about, perhaps because I went down and gave a talk at the foundation once and found myself surrounded by young enthusiastic journalists from almost every nation that borders on the Mediterranean. Capasso is proud of pointing out that the museum was ''…created without any contribution from institutions and governments… it is the only one of its kind in the world and has come into being thanks to the collaboration of individuals working in the fields of culture and art in several countries, as well as diplomats, teachers, experts and representatives of the most important international organizations. It houses exhibits, relics, documents, videos and photographs as well as the donations from the heads of state and government that have visited the premises.''