Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo - Panama City

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Discover the Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo—Panama City, which was once the home to the elite Club Unión.

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Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo—Panama City, a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2022, dates back to 1917.


At the start of the 20th century, maritime trade generated by the newly created Panama Canal attracted an unprecedented amount of wealth into Panama City. The community grew exponentially, as did the affluence of its many leading businesspeople and civic leaders. Several of those well-off citizens formed their own social club, where they could meet to discuss a range of economic and political topics. As such, their social club—called “Club Unión”—opened in 1908. The qualifications for new members were very strict, including a large admission fee and considerable clout. Despite the rigid requirements, membership flourished over the next decade. In need of more space, the members formulated plans for the creation of a new venue to host their thriving private club. The Club Unión members finally settled on a site in the historic Casco Viejo neighborhood. Construction began under the guidance of American architect James C. Wright in 1917. Although Wright was fairly young at the time, he still managed to design a brilliant structure that many hailed as an engineering masterpiece. Indeed, the building’s gorgeous Neoclassical façade quickly dominated the local skyline due to its amazing beauty.

Panama City’s social elite flocked to the Club Unión’s new building in the years following its grand debut. It developed a reputation for its exhilarating nightlife, as it was the host for numerous high-profile dances, galas, and other kinds of soirees. In fact, the club hosted some of the most noteworthy luminaries of the age, including Albert Einstein and Helen Keller. Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom even visited the club during her visit to Panama in 1953. Unfortunately, the club’s prestige began to decay as its more prominent members moved to the outskirts of Panama City around the middle of the century. The remaining members then decided to relocate the club to another destination, leaving the premises for good in 1967. The erstwhile clubhouse sat dormant for some time thereafter until several hoteliers arrived on-site and began restoring it into a luxurious boutique hotel. After months of construction, the former Club Unión reopened as the “Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo-Panama City” in 2022. Located in the middle of a fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Site (the Casco Viejo district), the heritage of this spectacular hotel will endure for years to come. (This spectacular historic hotel has been a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2022, too.)

  • About the Location +

    The capital of Panama, Panama City is one of the most historic destinations in all of South America. Indeed, its origins harken back to the early 16th century, when the Spanish conquistador Pedro Arias de Ávila founded it in 1519. Ávila had specifically created the city atop the foundations of a Native American fishing village, which inspired him to call the settlement “Panamá,” or “many fish.” But Ávila had also been attracted to the region’s proximity to both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans by way of the Isthmus of Darien (known today as the “Isthmus of Panama”). Panama City subsequently quickly grew in both economic prosperity and political stature, as goods from Spanish colonies further south flowed into its harbor. Beautiful cobblestone streets soon proliferated throughout the settlement, as did many ornately designed manors, churches, and municipal structures. The community also acted as an integral nexus for communication in Spain’s American Empire, with its road network facilitating the mass transportation of colonists throughout the domain. Francisco Pizarro even used Panama City as the major staging ground for his fateful invasion of the Inca during the 1530s. Panama City’s prestige eventually attracted the envy of Spain’s European rivals, who retaliated by sending fleets of pirates to pillage its coastline. While most of the raiders were defeated, the English buccaneer Henry Morgan managed to destroy most of the city in 1671. In response, the survivors fled to an isolated peninsula nearby in order to rebuild. Even though Panama City did reemerge over the following decades, it nonetheless failed to regain its earlier importance within Spanish colonial America. Indeed, Spain’s royal administrators abandoned the city’s maritime shipping routes in favor of a longer—and safer—trek around Cape Horn. (The location of the new settlement is now known as “Casco Viejo” and it forms the basis of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.)

    Panama City would only return as a major international metropolis at the beginning of the 20th century, when nations began exploring ways to create a massive, deep-water canal through the isthmus. The United States took particular interest in the region, as it had long hoped that such a waterway would help connect its two coasts together. Working alongside American politicians, local leaders subsequently declared independence from Colombia in 1903 and made Panama City the capital for the newly formed nation of Panama. (Colombia had absorbed the region following the Wars of Spanish American Independence.) The Panamanian government then gave the United States a 10-mile stretch of land in exchange for its help. The Americans subsequently set about creating their canal, which had one end positioned next to Panama City itself. Over time, the route would become known as the famed “Panama Canal.” While the Americans had complete authority over the canal—known as the “Panama Canal Zone”—it still had a monumental impact on Panama City. For instance, maritime commerce via the Panama Canal introduced an unprecedented amount of wealth into the community. Panama City grew rapidly, with many new neighborhoods stretching outward into the countryside. But America control over the Panama Canal became a point of contention in Panama City, leading to its eventual transfer by the Carter administration in 1977. The Panama Canal has since remained an important aspect of Panama City’s economy, as it continues to service thousands of freighters from throughout the world today. It is also an exciting place to experience a memorable vacation, particularly one centered on culture and history. Many fascinating cultural attractions are located inside Panama City, such as the Biomuseo, Catedral Metropolitana, and the ruins of Panama City’s original settlement (called the Panama Viejo).

  • About the Architecture +

    The Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo-Panama City reflects a gorgeous blend of Neoclassical design elements. Also known as “Neoclassical,” Classic Revival architecture itself is among the most common architectural forms seen throughout the world today. This wonderful architectural style first became popular in Paris, specifically among French architectural students that studied in Rome in the late 18th century. Upon their return, the architects began emulating aspects of earlier Baroque design aesthetics into their designs, before finally settling on Greco-Roman examples. Over time, the embrace of Greco-Roman themes spread across the world, reaching destinations like Germany, Spain, and Great Britain. As with the equally popular Revivalist styles of the same period, Classical Revival architect found an audience for its more formal nature. It specifically relied on stylistic design elements that incorporated such structural components, like the symmetrical placement of doors and windows, as well as a front porch crowned with a classical pediment. Architects would also install a rounded front portico that possessed a balustraded flat roof. Pilasters and other sculptured ornamentations proliferated throughout the façade of the building, too. Perhaps the most striking feature of buildings designed with Classical Revival-style architecture were massive columns that displayed some combination of Corinthian, Doric, or Ionic capitals. With its Greco-Roman temple-like form, Classical Revival-style architecture was considered most appropriate for municipal buildings like courthouses, libraries, and schools. But the form found its way into more commercial uses over time, such as banks, department stores, and of course, hotels. Architects still rely on Classic Revival architecture when designing new buildings or renovating historic ones, making it among the most ubiquitous architectural styles in the world. 

  • Famous Historic Guests +

    Albert Einstein, Nobel Prize winning physicist known for his role in developing quantum theory.  

    Helen Keller, social activist who was the first deaf-blind person in American history to earn a college degree. 

    Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (1952 – 2022)

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