Published on October 22nd, 2012 | by Mark Chesnut
Peeking Inside the Abandoned El Ponce Hotel in Puerto Rico
Between the years of 1960 and 1975, it was a place where diplomats, musicians, movie stars and everyone who was anyone on Puerto Rico’s south coast would check in. But since closing in 1975, the El Ponce InterContinental hotel has become a symbol of what was and what might be, as it sits silently atop a hill, overlooking the city of Ponce, Puerto Rico.
The hotel was designed by New York City-based architect William B. Tabler Sr., who was known for his modern and functional designs for Hilton as well as for the InterContinental brands. He used generous amounts of curved concrete and cross ventilation to create a futuristic, welcoming structure that made good use of its scenic perch atop El Vigía Hill, overlooking the city of Ponce.
The smart set soon made the hip hotel into a place to see and be seen. There was nothing else like it in Puerto Rico (although La Concha, in San Juan’s Condado district, did provide a healthy dose of tropical modernist style on the north coast — and does again now since reopening a few years ago). El Ponce attracted performers including Celia Cruz, Harry Belafonte, Libertad Lamarque and Cantinflas. Iris Chacón posed in a skimpy bikini, surrounded by men dressed in gorilla costumes, to promote her live performance at El Ponce. A handful of movies found the hotel an ideal setting too. (And my partner’s aunt, who lives in nearby Lajas, to this day saves the dress that she once wore to an event at El Ponce.)
But for all its glamour and style, the El Ponce was not destined to stay long on the hospitality scene. In 1975, the doors closed for good. Attempts to revive the property since then have been fruitless, as Facebook fans and other admirers watch helplessly while the El Ponce sinks further into disrepair. The hotel has even made it onto LatinFlyer.com’s list of the 6 Best Hotels You’ll Never Stay In.
In this, my most recent collection of photos, I document caving ceilings, missing balcony railings and graffiti that is increasingly invading interior and exterior walls. With so much infrastructure damage, it appears less likely that anyone will take on the sizable investment of returning the property to any level of functionality.
Now, all we can do is admire El Ponce’s stunning modern architecture, gaze at its unkempt grounds and interiors, and imagine the memories.
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