Interview with General Manager Manuel Otero By Michelle Chaplow
Fifty years of hotel history is considered a sufficient pedigree to gain access to prestigious institutions such as The Most Famous Hotels in The World ® and Historic Hotels Worldwide ™ . The Hotel Inglaterra (Hotel England) in Seville boasts much more than 50 years – in fact, three times that: more than a century and a half.
We asked the third-generation General Manager, Manuel Otero III, to unravel the fascinating story of this hotel, which stands proud in the very heart of Seville – in the central square of Plaza Nueva.
What year did the hotel open?
The hotel was founded in 1857, when it was known as the Fonda Londres (London Inn). The word “fonda” was commonly used in the mid-19th century to mean “inn”; at that time, hotels as we know them today were in their infancy. Unfortunately we don´t know the exact month or date of the inn’s opening, but we do know that the London Hotel was opened by two French brothers, called Carrere.
What stood here before the hotel?
The Convento Casa Grande de San Francisco occupied the area which is now Plaza Nueva from the late 13th century until 1840, when it was demolished. The convent covered a large space, extending beyond Plaza Nueva itself, with huge grounds; the hotel is built on the site of the original vegetable garden. This area which Otero indicates, while looking out of the window into the majestic square of Plaza Nueva with tall palms and baroque buildings, was all part of the original convent grounds.
The newer facade of Seville town hall, directly opposite the hotel on the far side of the plaza, was built at around the same time.
At first the London Inn was situated on the corner of the street, but then the hotel added rooms until it occupied the whole “manzana” (block) opposite the town hall; nowadays it´s about half that size – the remaining part of the block is now occupied by private homes and commercial properties including the British Consulate up until the year 2005.
It´s well-documented in history that this hotel was a highly renowned place to stay. Can you tell me some of your most important guests who stayed here during the 19th and early 20th century?
Our records and some old photographs show that King Alfonso XIII (1915), Queen Elizabeth of Belgium (1921), the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII (1927), Hans Christian Andersen (1862), and the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi (1863) were just few of the famous clients of the Hotel Inglaterra.
How long has your family managed this hotel?
My grandfather, Manuel Otero I, worked for the Carrere family in the 1920s. If you look closely at the black and white photo of the Prince of Wales leaving the hotel, taken in 1927, you can see my grandfather.
My grandfather became the “hombre de confianza” (trusted man), and as the brothers had no heirs, upon their death, my grandfather inherited the hotel.
In 1965 my father, Manuel Otero II, joined the Hotel Inglaterra, and in 1993 I also came to work here; my son, who is 15 years old, is Manuel Otero IV. At the moment, none of my children have any interest in the hotel industry, but I´m not worried as I also have 17 nephews and nieces.
Do you have an archive of the hotel’s history?
Unfortunately the earliest documents we have only date from the early 1900s. We have a bill from 1906, which is proudly framed in our display case, some old quill pens and ink wells, a dinner service with solid gold knives and forks, and old keys from the 1960s.
Our guests, especially Americans, love to admire the display cabinet.
Tell me about the hotel’s façade
The original hotel façade stood until 1967, and in the 1970s a new modern façade was added. We also had to renovate a lot of the interior, as the property inside was more like individual residences than what we now know as a hotel. It was a shame that we didn´t preserve and restore the old façade, rather than replacing it as we did, but in those days we were not as conscious about historic preservation as we are today.
Do you archive and document events in the hotel that will be considered and valued as historic in the future?
For the last 20 years we have meticulously maintained and archived documentation, which I hope will be interesting to future generations.
Do you have any historic furniture here?
Yes, there´s a lot – tables, armchairs and many paintings.
In the hotel reception is an Ithaca Calendar Clock in a beautifully polished mahogany cabinet, a very sophisticated instrument that shows both the time and the date. The clock was patented on 19 April 1863 – it would have been one of the most fashionable avant-garde pieces in the hotel.
When did the name change from the Fonda Londres to the Hotel Inglaterra?
We have no exact date, but it happened in the early 1900s.
Do you have any plans to renovate the hotel?
At the moment we´re making changes to the roof terrace, which is currently half completed. We´re also going to install a roof top swimming pool, which should be finished by next summer, and we’ve planned another renovation for the area where we´re sitting now – the Trinity bar will be transformed into a gourmet restaurant.
What type of style will the restaurant be?
We are planning a contemporary but classic style: a mixture of new and old, incorporating old furniture into a modern design. For our hotel, or instance, they need to find that mix of appropriately of today, but still classic. It´s what grand hotels in America are doing at the moment. For example, they may have a room with a huge crystal antique lamp with modern art works alongside.
Your family has been involved in this hotel for almost 100 years. What would be your dream event?
I will be in my nineties by then, but I would really love to attend the 200th anniversary of the Hotel Inglaterra, in 2057.