|by Andreas Augustin, October 2006
After having successfully completed historic research for Raffles in Singapore, The Peninsula in Hong Kong, The Oriental in Bangkok, Sacher and Vier Jahreszeiten (Hamburg) in Europe and Grand Hotel Europe in St Petersburg (Russia), one day I received a phone call from Richard Kaldor, general manager of the Hotel Metropole in Hanoi, Vietnam: ‘Andreas, could you come and research the history of our hotel?‘
‘Of course,’ I replied fondly, ‘give me an idea of when it opened?’
‘Well, that’s the problem, ‘replied Kaldor. ‘It was 1896.’
‘That’s no problem,’ I said.
He continued: ‘Or maybe in 1906. We simply do not know!’
Intrigued, I said yes, I would come to research the hotel’s history and try to pinpoint the exact opening date.
I travelled to Hanoi to see the hotel’s archives; there was nothing
but one old black and white photograph showing the hotel around the turn
of the last century. I started to visit the city’s public archives, accompanied
by my Vietnamese assistant, Mrs. Tuan Thi Le Diem, a local historian.
The Grand Hôtel Métropole was the premier hotel of French Indo-China.
Today, restored to its former glory, the hotel is the first five-star hotel in modern
Vietnam. It had only one problem. Nobody knew when it had opened its doors.
We scrutinised documents from French colonial days: building records, annals and chronicles. ‘They were all relocated to France in 1954,’ was the standard answer. That was the year when the French left Tonkin, as Vietnam had been called in colonial times.
So I went to Paris.
But in the City of Light, I was told: ‘You have to go to Aix-en-Provence, to our colonial archives.’
So on I boarded a TGV and headed south to Aix, and the Archives d’Outre-Mer (colonial archives).
From now on the search went backwards.
To cut a long story short: we were able to pinpoint the opening date on the month. During the weeks of August 1901, the Grand Hotel Metropole Hanoi had opened its doors. It had become the joint venture of André Ducamp and Gustave-Émile Dumoutier. Ducamp became its first general manager. We even found files of him applying for the permission to install bow arch lamps in front of his hotel.
Now our search concentrated on related material like photographs, luggage stickers, postcards, the usual stuff. We stumbled upon a picture of an electric tramway carrying Hôtel Métropole advertisements on their roofs. From the United States we received a 1920s label of the 'Grand Hotel Metropole', designed by Dan Sweeney (a seasoned illustrator who drew posters for leading Asian hotels, among them The Oriental in Bangkok, The Peninsula in Hong Kong, the Majestic, the Astor House and the Palace in Shanghai, the Manila Hotel and the Continental Palace in Saigon).
Slowly I was able to build a world with figures and facts. The book took on shape. In this volume you now found the characters of the past parading through the pages in the glimmering light of a new rising wealth, created by an unbelievable rubber boom. I remember that my editor never forgave me the sentence: 'It was the time when men were made by rubber, long before rubber was used to prevent that men were made'.
We discovered a charming link to the Paris Hotel Scribe, which today is a sister-hotel of the Metropole. Both are managed by Sofitel, both hotels can today claim that they are 'historically listed' as the premiere venues for "moving pictures". The Scribe even housed the world premiere, while the Metropole was Indo-China's first venue to show movies.
We found out that the restaurant cars between Hanoi and the cities of Vinh, Hue and Tourane in the south were operated by the Compagnie Française Immobilière, the parent company of the Hotel Métropole. Suddenly astonishing printed material appeared and we started getting an pictorial impression of the hotel in the past.
We were able to prove that the Metropole was visited by the great actors visited by the great actor Charlie Chaplin and his wife Paulette Goddard (right). Authors like Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene and many others were her.
The father of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh had wonderful stories connected with the hotel. During the Vietnam war Jane Fonda spent two months in her suite at the hotel. Joan Baez cheered the spirits by singing in the hotel's bunker during US air raids. Suddenly we entered a field of research were we could relate to people who had actuylly been working at the hotel during the 1960s and later. They were still alive. Former staff turned out to visit me at the hotel for an interview. They brought their memoirs along with photographs and we had a great time reviving the good old past.
Over the next years – together with the hotel – famoushotels.org developed a history PR scheme, based on our research. Today the hotel has suites named after these outstanding personalities. We have supplied the photographic documents and the related stories. We are proud to have such a hotel partner making so elegantly use of our research material.
The old photograph of the hotel which I had found in the hotel in the
beginning has been carefully restored and coloured. It graces the cover
of our 160 pages hard-case book. The first edition appeared in 1998. Ever
since we have updated every edition with new material. While we are speaking
the next edition appears – and only last week we had the pleasure of acquiring
another great photographic document – for the book's next edition.
From our 2006 jubilee edition - Somerset Maugham at Hanoi
More recent historical facts:
In 1987, Pullman International Hotels vice-president Jacques Herbert, who had married the daughter of Ho Chi Minh’s first minister of finance, arrived in Hanoi. He recognised the Thong Nhat’s (today Hotel Metropole) potential and so he entered into joint-venture negotiations with Hanoi Tourism, the owners of the hotel. The result was the first successful co-operation between a local company and a foreign partner. 70% of the shares were domestically owned, the largest percentage in any Vietnamese joint-venture at that time. The hotel was closed for the face-lift of the century. On 8 March 1992 it reopened, again called Hotel Metropole – first with the prefix ‘Pullman’, later the management company ‘Sofitel’ took over.
Ricardo Perran, later Richard Kaldor, followed by Franck Lafourcade, Philippe Bissig and today Gilles Cretallaz led and lead the hotel. Ever since it reopened the hotel has won more national and international awards than many other hotels in their entire life.
The ‘Metropole Collection’, a series of historical views or details like decorating the Graham Greene Suite and having the portraits of Charlie Chaplin and Somerset Maugham framed for the writers personal suites are contemporary highlights.
In 2004 a one million dollar renovation project covered 109 guest rooms and suites in the Metropole Wing, adding a luxurious shopping quarter on the hotel’s ground floor and new wooden floors in all Opera Wing guest rooms.
The reception desk, now relocated to the end of the lobby lounge, opens up the library area giving guests a spacious feeling on arrival. A new building, the Metropole Wing’s 109 guest rooms and suites offer elegant furnishings, timeless ceiling fans, tasteful woodwork and ceramic lamps. Historic photos of Hanoi’s bygone era grace the walls. Sofitel’s ‘MyBed’, broad-band internet access, LCD with DVD and new showers were installed in all guest rooms. In 2006 all rooms and suites of the Opera Wing were renovated and the offices on the fourth floor were transformed into the Sofitel Club.
At the lobby travellers of all nations meet. A young couple arrives for their honeymoon. ‘Even Charlie Chaplin spent his honeymoon here at this hotel!’ I point out. They loved this idea.
When night descends, the mild evening invites you to a walk around the house. Opposite the front entrance in some distance, is a magic spot. There Trang Tien Street, the former Rue Paul Bert, meets Ngo Quyen Street, which used to be Boulevard Henri Rivière. A hundred years ago, our two friends must have stood there. Dumoutier had shown Ducamp a row of town houses which were to be rebuilt as a grand hotel. They had a vision, soon to be translated into brick and mortar. They added a name to this idea and called it the Grand Hôtel Métropole. We must say thank you to the two of them. Merci bien is actually more appropriate. And Dumoutier, who spoke fluent Vietnamese, would have agreed that we simply bow and say cam on ong ba.
Upon completion of our project Richard Kaldor gave us this testimonial:
‘Maybe the most striking fact was that when we took over the hotel from the former owners all archive material was lost. When we decided to launch the history project very little of the hotel’s history was actually known, and none was collated. Andreas Augustin and his team put our history together like a jigsaw puzzle. They unearthed 100 years of history. Today we know when it all started, who was here and when things happened. This hotel now has a document that goes far beyond any usual hotel publication, and can consolidate the Metropole as one of Asia’s grand old hotels. We can rightfully celebrate our centenary in a part of the world where historic hotels are few and far between.’
The Most Famous Hotels in the World
|Also See:||The Oriental in Bangkok / How We Built The Most Famous Hotels / Andreas Augustin / October 2006|
|Hotel Sacher Vienna / How We Built The Most Famous Hotels / Andreas Augustin / October 2006|
|Raffles Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Hamburg / How We Built The Most Famous Hotels / Andreas Augustin / September 2006|
|Raffles, Singapore / How We Built The Most Famous Hotels / Andreas Augustin / September 2006|