Paris- “Hôtel de Crillon is Paris,” the renowned French Caribbean musician Henri Salvador wrote in the namesake hotel’s guest book in 1984. “Paris is Champagne, Champagne is France and France is my heart so Hôtel de Crillon is my heart.”
What would Mr. Salvador, a frequent guest at the Crillon, think of his beloved hotel now? After a renovation that has kept its doors closed since March 2013, the Parisian property has reopened, more than 98 years after its original opening on March 12, 1909.
Occupying three buildings on a corner of Place de la Concorde, a square off the Champs-Élysées, the property itself, like any hotel worthy of more than a brief mention, has a notable history, this one dating to the 18th century.
In 1755, King Louis XV commissioned the architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel to build two palacelike facades, eventually the exterior of the Crillon, overlooking Place de la Concorde. These ornate structures, completed in 1758, were considered to be an emblem of fine 18th-century architecture, but they remained as facades until another architect, Louis-Francois Trouard, bought the land behind them at auction and built a sumptuous private mansion.
The Count of Crillon bought the home in 1788, and, for the most part, descendants of the Crillon family lived there until 1904. But before the Crillons came into the picture, Queen Marie Antoinette frequented the mansion for her piano lessons — until 1793, when she was guillotined right outside on Place de la Concorde.
From a grand mansion to a grand hotel: The building’s life as the Crillon began in 1906 when a luxury hotel group, the Société des Grands Magasins et des Hôtels du Louvre, bought the mansion and its two adjacent buildings with the intention of creating Paris’s most luxurious palace hotel catering to a growing demand from the international elite.
When the Crillon opened in 1909, said Brice Payen, the Paris historian who consulted on the property’s renovation, it had electricity, hot water, an elevator and a hair salon. And while the Majestic, the Astoria and the Ritz Paris were already part of the city’s luxury hotel scene, the Crillon may have been the most formal, he said. “The décor was in a typical 18th-century style, and the standard of service was very high,” he said.
Gen. John J. Pershing of the United States Army and Franklin D. Roosevelt, the assistant secretary of the United States Navy, were guests in 1918, and President Woodrow Wilson stayed there during the Paris peace conference in 1919. President Wilson, Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Britain and foreign delegations met numerous times at the hotel in early 1919 and drafted the covenant of the League of Nations in a salon.
The lengthy list of high-profile guests in subsequent years included Charlie Chaplin, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran, Queen Sofía of Spain, Orson Welles, Bette Davis, Sophia Loren and the composer Leonard Bernstein, who was a regular guest and wrote in the hotel’s guest book in 1989, “What a pleasure being once again on my terrace over Place de la Concorde.”
Fine hotels, however, can age over time, and the Crillon closed because a face-lift was in order, said Marc Raffray, the hotel’s managing director.
For one, the property had no central air-conditioning, he said; most guests cooled themselves by opening the windows or using fans. And the chief architect of the renovation, Richard Martinet, who lives in Paris and visited the Crillon over the years, said that the hotel felt old. “It was dark and somewhat outdated,” he said, in an interview in the hotel’s redesigned lobby.
The new Crillon, central air-conditioning now fully in place, is intended to be the opposite of stuffy, Mr. Raffray said. “We want to be humble, approachable and non-intimidating,” he said. “Instead of having an air of formality, our staff will greet everyone with warmth like friends.”
The New York Times