ONCE UPON A TIME…
THE BEIRUT CARLTON HOTEL
“On the large avenue leading from the airport to the city along the seashore, the Carlton spreads its facade along the corniche which surrounds the new residential parts of Beirut. The Carlton was constructed in such a manner that all rooms face the sea giving equal opportunity to enjoy the splendid scenery….”
This is how one particular website—which does not appear to have been updated in years—describes Beirut’s old Carlton Hotel. When it opened in February 1960, this landmark establishment truly exemplified the Beirut scene. Unfortunately, the hotel met its demise (by assassination) during Beirut’s seemingly endless period of urban slaughter. Near the end of 2008, the Carlton was purchased by a real estate developer seeking to reinvent the facility as an extravagant, three-tower residential complex.
Among the very few articles that offered an obituary to this unique landmark, one described it as “the meeting [place] of politicians, [a home to] journalists, and a stronghold of intellectuals and revolutionaries” (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, December 5, 2008). Regardless of the generosity of that observation, however, it explains but a small part of the building’s story. We certainly cannot forget that the Carlton was one of the laboratories for social life and its advancement in Lebanon.
Thanks to a serendipitous coincidence that occurred while the building was being prepared for demolition, UMAM D&R was able to retrieve several tons of documents before they were lost forever. This treasure trove ranges from tedious bureaucratic data to amusing day-to-day information, which combines to offer an interesting glimpse into social life at different times in Lebanon’s history. While UMAM D&R has not yet finished sorting the materials involved and thus remains unaware of the surprises they may reveal, work has indeed begun. In fact, initial assessments of this enormous collection have already been conducted by several scholars seeking to advance their respective academic research pursuits. In October 2011, Estefanía Peñafiel Loaiza, an Ecuadorian artist in residence at The Hangar, used some of the contents of that collection to create an installation titled “No Vacancy, the Last Days of the Carlton,” a project that also debuted at The Hangar.
Anyone interested in assisting with this enormous undertaking—and helping to make the collection available to wider audiences—is welcome.