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Discover Fairmont El San Juan Hotel, which was once owned by Pan American World Airways back when it first opened.

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Fairmont El San Juan Hotel, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2022, dates back to 1958.


For the last several decades, Fairmont El San Juan Hotel has been among Puerto Rico’s most luxurious holiday destinations. The genesis of the location came about when the tropical island was experiencing a major economic revolution. Once an isolated American territory and Spanish colonial settlement, Puerto Rico had since evolved into a leading manufacturing center in the Caribbean. As petrochemical factories and oil refineries emerged during the mid-twentieth century, countless American investors became exposed to the island’s inherent beauty for the first time. Soon enough, Puerto Rico possessed an incredibly lucrative tourism industry. Dozens of luxurious beachside hotels and resorts started appearing throughout the island, with many operating in the capital city of San Juan. El San Juan Hotel was among the first of these venerable establishments to appear near this historic colonial city. Its original proprietor—Pan American World Airways–hired the talented architect, Morris Lapidus, to lead its design. Lapidus was celebrated for his timeless architectural style, having designed several hundred iconic buildings across the United States by that point. He was especially regarded for his work in Miami Beach, including the architectural planning for the renowned Fontainebleau Hotel.

When the building finally debuted in 1958 as the “San Juan Intercontinental Hotel,” it immediately amazed all who stepped inside. Lapidus had specifically outfitted the entire structure with beautiful Mid-Century Modern architecture. Guests were especially drawn to the hotel’s massive, hand-blown chandelier from Czechoslovakia, which still hangs in the lobby today. Visitors and locals alike flocked to the hotel following its glorious debut, transforming the location into a venerable fixture in the community. The resort became particularly ingrained in the island’s emerging entertainment scene during the first three decades of its existence. Numerous, high-profile musicians performed at the building over the years, such as Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, and Liza Minnelli. El San Juan Hotel now operates as a member of Accor’s stunning Fairmont Hotels & Resorts collection. Recently renovated, this timeless historical treasure still possesses the same elegance that originally made it one of Puerto Rico’s most sophisticated attractions. Cultural heritage travelers are certain to enjoy the hotel’s fascinating institutional history, as well as its close proximity to historical landmarks like the UNESCO-recognized San Juan National Historic Site. (The San Juan National Historic Site was designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior in 1966.)

  • About the Location +

    The Fairmont El San Juan Hotel is located just outside of the historic city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. San Juan today is one of the most historic metropolises in the Americas. Founded over five centuries ago, it has played an important role in the history of the “New World.” Its first European inhabitants arrived in 1508 under Juan Ponce de León—a conquistador now mainly remembered for his ill-fated explorations to find the “Fountain of Youth” in Florida. Calling the settlement “Caparra,” he specifically chose a nearly landlocked harbor along Puerto Rico’s northern coast to serve as its location. But Spanish colonial officials later relocated the settlement to an inlet a few miles to the east and rechristened it as the “Ciudad de Puerto Rico.” Juan Ponce de León also continued to call the community home, having served as the island’s governor shortly before the town’s relocation. Juan Ponce de León and his family lived inside a beautiful estate known among the locals as “Casa Blanca.”

    San Juan’s location quickly made it one of Spain’s most important seaports in the Caribbean, with its wharves ferrying all kinds of goods and people across the ocean. The city even became a major marshaling point for Spanish incursions into mainland North and South America. San Juan gradually assumed great political significance in Spain’s global empire, as well. The city served as the Catholic Church’s first headquarters on the other side of the Atlantic, as well as at the seat for one of its bishops. Unfortunately, this newfound prosperity attracted the attention of Europe’s other major superpowers, who attempted to conquer San Juan and the rest of Puerto Rico over the next 300 years. Those nations legalized pirating against the naval traffic heading into San Juan, which culminated in numerous raids on the city itself. Some of the most famous assaults transpired under buccaneers like Francis Drake and George Clifford. Spain’s rivals tried to directly capture the city with their own navies on several occasions, too. Indeed, the Dutch and the British sent fleets against San Juan in both the 17th and 18th centuries, respectively.

    To deter those aggressive threats, the Spanish constructed many forts across San Juan. The most noteworthy of those defenses were fortified castles known as “La Fortaleza” and “San Felipe del Morro.” Yet, the most imposing citadel was the mighty “San Cristóbal.” The largest Spanish fort in the Western Hemisphere, it made San Juan one of the most heavily protected cities throughout the entire world. Nevertheless, San Juan’s status as an influential colonial settlement gradually decline as other places like Mexico City and Lima grew in stature. San Juan thus remained relatively isolated from the greater politics of the Spanish Empire by the 19th century, especially the patriotic movements that swept through nearly all the neighboring colonies. In fact, Puerto Rico was a bastion for the many loyalists that had fled from the Spanish American Wars of Independence. Puerto Rico as a whole remained part of Spain’s diminishing empire in the wake of the conflicts, becoming one of its last oversees colonies.

    Spain’s sovereignty over the entire island finally came to an end during the Spanish-American War of 1898. San Juan itself did not experience any significant fighting, although the guns at San Cristóbal did briefly engage with a flotilla of United States Navy ships anchored just off the coast. Now a territorial capital within the United States, San Juan gradually evolved into a modern metropolis. While early economic growth was slow, numerous industries soon emerged throughout the city toward the latter half of the 20th century. San Juan also maintained its local political importance, too, as it continued to be Puerto Rico’s capital after it obtained self-governance in 1952. Today, San Juan is among the most popular tourist destinations throughout the Caribbean. Cultural heritage travelers in particular have enjoyed visiting modern-day San Juan, due to the many historical landmarks that reside in the city. In fact, much of San Juan’s historic core—known as “Viejo San Juan” or “Old San Juan”—is even identified as both a U.S. National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (The San Juan National Historic Site was a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior in 1966.)

  • About the Architecture +

    Fairmont El San Juan Hotel features an amazing blend of Mid-Century Modern architecture. An offshoot of the earlier International and Bauhaus movements, Mid-Century Modern essentially sought to portray a seemingly contemporary, futuristic aesthetic that reflected the popular concepts of civil progress. Professional architects mainly utilized the style from the 1930s to the 1960s, when American society was rapidly undergoing huge transformations—both social and technological. It seemed to many at the time that the country’s way of life was truly on an upward path of mobility. Architects thus embraced the design ideals of function, simplicity, and rationality in order to create sleek-looking structures that possessed a communal purpose. As such, Mid-Century Modern designs made explicit use of vertical, flat lines and irregular rectangular shapes so to convey a lack of formality. Overt ornamentation was abandoned, too, as monochromatic brickwork, steel, and concrete served as the essential building blocks for the exterior. Inside, most of the rooms were subdivided into split levels, giving a sense that the structure had undergone a significant change in elevation. Modernist buildings also featured wide, open spaces filled with natural light that represented practicality and comfort. Large widows often served as the primary way in which the architects achieved such a feature. The introduction of spacious windows even sought to better incorporate nature into the overall design, making the surrounding landscape seem as if it were part of the building itself.

  • Famous Historic Guests +

    Sammy Davis Jr., actor and singer best remembered as being among the most important figures of the Rat Pack.

    Frank Sinatra, singer and actor part of the famous Rat Pat known for selling 150 million records worldwide.

    Liza Minnelli, Academy Award winning singer and actress known for her songs “New York, New York,” “Cabaret,” and “Maybe This Time.”

    Nat “King” Cole, musician known for her outstanding jazz recordings, as well as for being the first African American to host a television show.

    Eddie Fisher, one of the most popular recording artists of the 1950s.

    Carol Channing, actress known for her roles in musicals like Gentleman Prefer Blondes and Hello, Dolly!, as well as films like Thoroughly Modern Millie.