A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Checking in: the mysterious Beirut Hilton

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 18, 2008

My parents are coming for a visit next month, and I am counting down the days. I can’t wait to see them and show them “my” Beirut, including the ishtirak and/or generator I am about to break down and buy. (And if there is anyone I can pay off to ensure a tranquil, bomb- and protest-free week, please let me know.)

I bet there’s a Hilton, my Hilton Honors-loving father said brightly when they first decided to come here.

Well, yes and no.

There is half a Hilton on Edde Street, in Hamra. I don’t think it will be ready by next month. In fact, I don’t think it will be ready, ever. Its been in the same half-finished state since I moved to Beirut.

And apparently there was a Hilton, or at least almost a Hilton, until the war broke out in 1975. The building was complete, but the hotel hadn’t officially opened … and once the war broke out, it stayed closed.

Professor Jeff Andrews of the University of Texas posted a photograph of the destroyed Hilton (taken during his 2001 visit to Beirut) on his webpage:

hilton_beirut.jpg

No, parents – you are definitely not staying there. The never-quite-open-for-business hotel hosted assorted militia-men during the civil war, and when the war ended, the building apparently sat unused, like many of Beirut’s buildings still do today.

Like the Holiday Inn, the Beirut Hilton seems to have become an iconic reference-point for visiting journalists. A January 2004 Travel + Leisure article about Beirut had this to say:

Above the fashionable seaside promenade known as Avenue de Paris, the towering Beirut Hilton still stands in all its bomb-damaged ignominy (“It’s an eyesore,” a disgusted pedestrian said when I stopped to snap a picture of the abandoned hostelry).

And, also like many Beirut buildings, by the early 2000s, the Beirut Hilton had investors and a restoration plan. Lebanon’s Investment Development Authority’s (IDAL) website reports that:

In August 2003, IDAL concluded a Package Deal Contract with Hilton Beirut for the US$46-million refurbishment of the five-star hotel in the Beirut Central District. The project will be completed in 2004/2005 and will create around 200 full-time jobs.

You can see drawings of the planned hotel here – just ignore the “estimated completion: 2006-7”.

The Hilton has missed its chance to open in 2007, but it seems that hope still floats for a 2008 opening. In December, 4Hoteliers, a hospitality industry publication, described the new Beirut Hilton as a “first”:

The scheduled opening of the Hilton Beirut in June 2008 represents another first for Hilton, this time in Lebanon. With 158 rooms, this prime business property overlooking the capital’s corniche will have a very contemporary look and feel.

And if you want to match your household fixtures to those of the new/old Hilton, you can do so. Hans Grohe outfitted the hotel, and describes its’ work here.

Before I continue, I would just like to recap what I’ve written thus far. In 2003 the hotel was about to be renovated, and in 2004 Beirut residents were complaining that it was an eyesore.

This is very interesting, since Britain’s Controlled Demolition claims that it demolished the hotel in 2002:

The Beirut Hilton Hotel, which was built in 1975, but never occupied, was imploded on Sunday, July 14, 2002 by NADC Charter Member, Controlled Demolition, Inc. (CDI) of Phoenix, Maryland and their client, Optimal Engineering Consulting & Contracting, SARL, (OECC) of Antelias, Lebanon to make room for a new hotel. Twenty-seven (27) years ago, just days before the grand opening, the Hilton Hotel became the site of fighting in Lebanon’s Civil War. Christian and Muslim militiamen fought room to room for control of the building and other nearby hotels. The Hilton, two (2) other major hotels and other high-rise buildings were ravaged by the fighting. The building was one of the three (3) major hotels badly damaged, but not rebuilt, in Lebanon. Located in the City Center, the Hilton stood out in a major redevelopment area which, in recent years, had erased the scars of the fifteen (15) year long Civil War.

CDI’s international affiliate, CDI UK, Ltd., supervised preparation operations being performed by OECC at the site. CDI’s preparation plan called for explosives to be placed on 6 (SIX) floors in the structure: two (2) lower floors consisting of heavy concrete column and beam construction and; (4) upper floors, constructed of reinforced concrete shear walls. By working in so many locations throughout the structure, CDI was able to beautifully fragment the debris, facilitating OECC’s ability to meet their six (6) week schedule to prepare the site for new construction.

Utilizing approximately 350 kg of high velocity explosives, in 880 locations, CDI felled the structure at exactly 10AM before thousands of spectators with no harm to surrounding buildings. The entire sequence lasted only ten (10) seconds.

The Hilton property and building were abandoned long ago by the US-based hotel chain and a group of Lebanese businessmen purchased the structure two (2) years ago. A new 5-story hotel will be constructed in its place.

(And yes, if you click through to the Controlled Demolition page, you can watch a video of the Hilton collapsing.)

A 2000 article in the Pakistan Economist confirms that the Hilton had been purchased and was scheduled for demolition, and I have found several other similar reports:

A feast was being prepared for the inauguration party of the Beirut Hilton when the civil war erupted in April 1975 and the 400-room hotel found itself in the middle of a battle zone.

Management took out a small advert saying the party was postponed indefinitely. The hotel never opened, turning instead into a looted and burnt-out edifice like the rest of the hotel district along the Mediterranean seafront.

Now, 25 years later, the Saudi-run Societe Mediterraneenne des Grands Hotels has obtained a long-awaited permit to demolish the ruin and build a new 20-storey Hilton at a cost of $70 million.

I don’t get it. Were there two downtown Beirut Hiltons operating before the war? The video doesn’t give the impression that there was much of the old Hilton left to renovate or restore. And I’m definitely not holding my breath for the Edde Hilton to open its doors – or install windows – any time soon.

5 Responses to “Checking in: the mysterious Beirut Hilton”

  1. The picture of the building still standing is known as the Murr Tower and was supposed to be Holiday Inn hotel. Similar to the Hilton, this tower also never functioned as a hotel as it wasn’t finished when the war broke out.

  2. cfw said

    ok, almost!🙂

    1) the old hilton was demolished in 2002 — the new hilton is being built in downtown proper, and i believe from the ground up, it’s more boutique-y than a mega-hotel.

    2) the hotel in the picture (and presumably the “eyesore” complained about in the article) is, as riemer notes, the holiday inn, which also never had a chance to open for business before the war broke out. but it is NOT the murr tower — bourj al-murr is yet another civil war ruin (the tall, skinny abandoned building across the street and up a bit, in the ring/qantari area).

  3. mohamad ali said

    Yet another correction:

    True, the new Hilton building has been built from the ground up.. well almost, since half of it is part of a building that was already standing there. And it is boutique-y as Cfw says.

    The building in the picture is indeed the old Hilton. You can actually find the video of the implosion on the internet if you google it. It was demolished a few years back to make way for the new grand Hyatt. Construction was scheduled to start a while ago but the project has been facing some trouble I heard, as is the whole country.

  4. Nada Hawa said

    well i hope the new Hilton will open sooooooooon again, or at the end of this year or the begining of the next year, i have a good feeling about this.

    hope just things calm down in Beirut.

  5. Riemer, the building in the photo does look a lot like the Murr Tower from this angle – but as CfW points out, its actually the old Hilton. Cf, did you notice what was happening with the new Hilton building in May and June? The Hilton sign is on the building, but had been covered with a canvas. After the Doha agreement, the sign was uncovered. About a week later, the sign was covered again. Have you seen it recently?

    Mohamad Ali, I didn’t realize that the new Hyatt is on the site of the old Hilton – very interesting, and thank you for sorting out the geography. And Nada, we hope so, too! My family are big Hilton Honors points users – I would love for them to be able to accumulate Honors points by visiting us in Beirut🙂

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