Sarah Lynch

Faded glory

From the top story of the old Holiday Inn, to the overgrown poolside of the Excelsior Hotel, emblems of war and destruction continue to dot the area around Beirut’s rapidly developing downtown. Remnants of a violent era, four yet-to-be renovated, beautiful-turned-battered buildings stand as reminders of Beirut’s violent past.

Holiday Inn

The Holiday Inn was built by a Kuwaiti-Lebanese company in the early 1970s. During the 1975-1990 civil war, it was used as a battle field in the War of the Hotels. As one of the most fiercely contested locations in all of Lebanon, the building changed hands between Christian and Muslim militias that engaged in floor-to-floors battles.

The hotel, which stands on the edge of downtown Beirut and is marked by bullet and mortar holes, has yet to be renovated. Guards are stationed at 24-hour lookout posts. The area surrounding the Holiday Inn is occupied by high-rises and luxury hotels, and looking north, one can see the St. Georges Hotel, outside of which former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in 2005.
The view from on top of the Holiday Inn reveals a developing and glowing cityscape. Remnants of Beirut’s violent history are haphazardly dispersed throughout the city, making for a compelling sunrise.

Excelsior Hotel

One might remember the Excelsior Hotel, located in Ain Mreisseh, for the Caves des Roy nightclub, formerly one of Lebanon's most famous hotspots. The first-floor grounds are now covered in layers of dust and rubble.

The hotel is featured in several scenes from Georges Lautner’s 1967 film La Grande Sauterelle, starring Hardy Krueger and Mireille Darc. The film, a tale of love and money set in Beirut, includes a scene where Lebanese restaurant and nightclub owner Pepe Abed sits at the famous pool reading a newspaper.

The Excelsior’s main entrance is boarded and locked, but a back way in provides access to the hotel’s forgotten garden and pool area.

St. Georges Hotel

The St. Georges Hotel is one of Beirut’s most famous. Built in 1932, the hotel was severely damaged during the civil war. Renovation began in 1996 following the withdrawal of Syrian soldiers from the building, but it was slowed a year later when construction company Solidere gained access to what was the property’s waterfront, making investors skeptical of the project’s value.

It is the site of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination on February 14, 2005. A car bomb exploded outside the building, killing Hariri and 21 others and inflicting $15 million of damage on the hotel’s roadside façade. 
The ground floor of the hotel is currently operating as a Yacht Club and Marina, while construction is taking place above. 

Semiramis Furnished Apartments
While the Semiramis Furnished Apartment building was never a hotel, it remains as one in the collective memory of locals. Located directly next to the Excelsior, the building is filled with dusty shoes, cardboard boxes and scraps of old newspapers from the early 1990s. Mirrors and bathrooms tiles throughout are shattered and scarred by bullet holes.

When asked about the building, many locals are unsure what exactly it is. One of the building guards said it was the old Four Seasons. But the Four Seasons denies that a hotel building aside from their current one in Beirut ever existed. Others said it was once a hotel, but did not know the name.

In the collective memory of people, it is just another structure that’s been around for ages. It is very much a part of the city’s gone, but certainly not forgotten, glory days.

  • Sheri

    Excellent research and tribute to memory as these buildings slowly lose all semblance of what once they were - names gone, dwarfed by Gulf-state-like high rise out of all proportion the smaller neighbours that survive retain proportion and perspectives. Add old and new photos and we have a memory intact. I took pictures here after the 2006 34-day war and again today between visits to the camps where Syrian refugees cling to life in the Bekaa Valley so close to home but also so far as the cynical war continue unsparingly. But this piece is about buildings as human spaces. I would love to add the photos! Sheri Laizer, author and photographer

    May 30, 2016

  • AO

    I just hope that this article is no call for the renovation of these hotels. Excuse them for tarnishing the scene in a region that already recognises itself no longer. In this region dedicated to the others, to rich foreign investors, furnished with nouveau-riche architectural taste, those buildings are not only amongst the few belonging to the collective memory, of which we all are in direst need in this time of oblivion, but they are also examples of an era when architecture in Lebanon did not look to the Gulf for role models.

    May 16, 2010

  • Tariq

    Lebanese!!!! You can't be serious!! For the Love of God, I was always told that Lebanese (and other Arabs) had this habit of always blaming the others for their mistakes. Come on! Yes, it's true that foreign interventions was present in lebanon and foreigners also played hteir roles in the civil war. But everybody knows that had a rivalry much before 1975. Druze vs christians, muslims vs christians. Or have forgotten the 19th century or 1958? Be honest with yourself, just say it: we were stupid and we fought each othe and we let allied ourselves with syrians, paestinains, israelis, americans, soviets, iranians. For doing so, the Lebanese paid the price. Stop blaming others for your mistakes!!! And don't come with this crap saying that: we always loved each other!!You know that wasn't true!! Otherwise there wouldn't have been a civil war!!!

    April 19, 2010

  • Shady

    The war in Lebanon was not "Civil". Saying so, gives an "innocence" certificate to the Syrians, Palestinians, Israelies, and all foreigners who attacked the Lebanese people. The war was never Muslim-Christian!!! Despite the fact that those "foreigners" played the catalytic role to divide the Lebanese - and succeeded to some extent. The fact remains, the war in Lebanon is not civil - it is indeed "The War of Others" on our land.

    April 15, 2010