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Local Matters / Architecture & Landmarks

The legendary Ritz Hotel on Paris’ Place Vendôme is undergoing a major renovation

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When César Ritz founded his palatial hotel in 1898, his vision was to offer “all the refinements that a prince could wish for his own home.” His wish came true. During its lifetime, many of the crowned heads of Europe have enjoyed the Ritz’s elegant luxury – hence the word “ritzy”.

Now, the hotel is closed for the first time while it undergoes a complete makeover.

Located on the Place Vendôme in the heart of Paris’ 1st arrondissement (district), the building is in the classic late 17th century style. The façade was designed by the royal architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart and the original plan was to site government offices there. But, owing to financial difficulties, only the façade was constructed and the land behind it was later sold to aristocrats who constructed private residences there.

Swiss hotelier Ritz acquired one of these in 1896 and the other in 1911. He transformed them into a 210 room upmarket hotel. The Ritz was the last word in both opulence and modern comfort at the time. Every room had a bathroom, a telephone, and electricity. Fine dining was assured by the legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier.

The hotel quickly became the haunt of royalty, film stars, writers, and politicians. Fashion designer Coco Chanel lived there for 30 years, while one of the bars is named after the American author Ernest Hemingway. Other celebrities included the writers Marcel Proust and F. Scott Fitzgerald, the opera singer Maria Callas, and British King Edward VII.

During World War II the German air force chose the Ritz as its HQ. Ernest Hemingway “liberated” the hotel on 25th August 1944 with a band of resistance fighters, clad in his war correspondent’s uniform and brandishing a machine gun. The Germans had already left.

The hotel’s grandest suite, the Imperial, with its high ceilings, chandeliers, plush upholstery, and 18th century paneling, has historic monument status in its own right.

The Ritz family sold the hotel to the current owner, Egyptian businessman, Mohammed al-Fayed in 1979.

Bouygues Bâtiment Île-de-France, a subsidiary of Bouygues Construction, won the contract to renovate the Ritz for nearly €140 million. The company is a specialist in this type of project. We spoke with Henry Simpson of Bouygues, who said, “The décor is being renewed entirely in keeping with the Ritz spirit. But the details remain a secret until it reopens, since Mr. al-Fayed wants it to be a surprise.”

Henry continued, “We have commissioned specialist Parisian craftsmen to carry out the work. These are tiny companies noted for their high quality, state of the art work. For example, all the woodwork is being restored by expert cabinetmakers.”

The Ritz is scheduled to reopen in 2015.

Crédit Photo – Vlastula

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