For American tourists, Hilton is a well-known concept. It guarantees them a piece of American luxury abroad. Upon hearing the term ‘Hilton service’, tourists know what to expect, no matter where they are in the world. The Hiltons in Amsterdam and Rotterdam will be ‘first-class’ hotels (no ‘luxury’). Each room will have its own bathroom.
De Volkskrant, 12 February 1959
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In late 1953 the newspapers reported that Hilton, the celebrated American hotel chain, wanted to build a hotel in Rotterdam. Plans for a hotel close to the new Central Station, an idea mooted by the Hotel Urgency Committee in 1943(!), thus became concrete. In 1958 Hilton officially announced that it would in fact build two hotels in the Netherlands, one in Rotterdam and another in Amsterdam. At the time, Hilton operated twenty-five hotels in the United States and seven elsewhere. In March of that year, the prospective architects, Maaskant and De Vlaming, embarked on a fact-finding mission to the United States. The hotels would cost about twenty million guilders (9 million euros). Funding was raised from international investors through a share issue, which meant it was underwritten by the government. The City of Rotterdam also participated.
The hotels in Amsterdam and Rotterdam are similar in arrangement: a base containing lobby, function rooms and restaurants, topped by floors of standard bedrooms. The sites, however, are different. The Amsterdam hotel is located in an outlying district, while the Rotterdam hotel is in the city centre, on the corner of Weena and Coolsingel, and its end wall forms the last piece of the double building line on Coolsingel. The low-rise development responds to pedestrians, the high-rise behind it to motorists.
Hilton, however, is no American intruder in a national culture. Here you won’t come across any jukeboxes or iced water machines, no oil barons with broad-rimmed cowboy hats. No excessive luxury for showy fat cats. Hilton builds international hotels abroad with a strong accent on the national character. Good taste characterizes the design of the rooms and public spaces: calm yet modern colour combinations, elegant curtain and upholstery fabric and furniture (often teak) that are closely related to Scandinavian living culture.
H. de Witte, De Volkskrant, 25 July 1959
Although the hotels clearly bore an American stamp, the interiors usually had a local flavour. For those interiors, Hilton worked with its own architects. The interior in Amsterdam, for example, was Old Dutch in character, to the dismay of critics and architects. The Amsterdam hotel was aimed at American tourists, while Rotterdam catered more to business travellers, mostly Germans.
Doubling of hotel capacity
The first pile of the Rotterdam hotel was driven into the ground on 1 July 1960. The Amsterdam hotel was completed by July 1962, and the wealthy Conrad N. Hilton (1887‒1979), after whom the chain is named, came to inspect the construction in Rotterdam. Hilton himself opened the Rotterdam Hilton on Thursday 30 May 1963. It was the world’s 51st Hilton Hotel. Around this time, a new Hilton opened almost every month. The five hundred beds in the hotel doubled hotel capacity in Rotterdam. The opening was given a maritime flavour, with a bottle of champagne smashed against the facade, and an anchor dropped from the roof. The anchor was then incorporated in the pavement on Weena.
A hotel must not only give guests the feeling that they are ‘out’, but also draw them out of their daily routine. A woman who walks in must be courted again — and a man must feel like a man of the world. But it must also meet a number of other requirements.
We men are insufficiently aware that hotels are usually chosen not by us, but by our wives. A hotel should therefore desire to please. It should offer a cosy, comfortable ambiance with abundant colour, soft floor coverings, lots of plants and flowers, warm light, plenty to look at such as display cases and display windows, and lots of movement as people come and go.
H.A. Maaskant, press information
Almost all Hilton hotels were designed by the firm’s regular architects, but Dutch architects were appointed for the two Dutch projects. They worked with American interior architects Emmanuel Gran and Inge Bech on the two buildings. Mindful of the modern image of Rotterdam, the result here is less old-fashioned than in Amsterdam. That was also because Maaskant gave a number of spaces a distinctly architectonic character, ensuring that the furnishings, fabrics and furniture drew less attention. “(…) the choice (of material) usually seems prompted purely by sensory pleasure; the sense not only of sight but also taste is called upon through a staged contrast between the hard, smooth marble floor, the thick fluffy rug laid on it, the teak ceiling and the golden doors of the lifts. Maaskant wanted materials that were hotel-like, festive and shiny,” according to Maaskant biographer Michelle Provoost. Various works of art were installed, with as eye-catchers three glass reliefs by Joop van den Broek. The hotel reflected unmatched luxury and grandeur in the lean post-war years.
There are two main entrances: a formal entrance from the forecourt on Weena and an informal one for passengers of taxis and other vehicles on Kruiskade. The eight-floor upper structure consists of identical double rooms on both sides of a central corridor, and four larger corner rooms. At the top, overlooking Weena, is the presidential suite. The bedroom volume is a slick, rectangular slab faced in travertine. The front facade has a pronounced horizontal character owing to the elongated strips of fenestration, interrupted only by an asymmetrically positioned vertical row of so-called television windows. Likewise, the rear facade is interrupted asymmetrically by the lift. The larger rooms at the extremity of the building on Coolsingel also feature an asymmetrical row of television windows.
Wrapped entirely in glass and black stone, the base is wider than the bedroom volume and follows the diagonal line of the street on the Kruiskade side. That creates room for larger and taller spaces such as a ballroom and winter garden.
Maaskant designed not only the hotel but also the Cityflat on Kruiskade and the Weenagebouw, which contains offices, shops and a car park. He was thus responsible for almost a full city block. He wanted to connect the buildings to one another underground, all the way to De Doelen, but this plan never materialized. It wasn’t until 1988 that the Hilton acquired a car park of its own behind Thalia cinema, designed by Pi de Bruijn.
Many prominent guests have stayed at the Hilton, among them American vice president Lyndon B. Johnson, Josephine Baker, Tina Turner, David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Kurt Cobain and many others. And artists visiting Rotterdam for concerts also stay there. They have included Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto and Thelonious Monk for the Newport Jazz Festival in the 1960s, and later the artists for North Sea Jazz, who returned to the hotel afterwards to jam at the famous after-parties. More recent guests include stars attending the MTV European Music Awards, as well as guests at the city’s annual film festival, tennis players taking part in the ABN-AMRO Tournament, runners participating in the city marathon, and football teams playing in the Kuip football stadium. The Rolling Stones stayed here from 18 to 23 August 1973 to rehearse in secret at De Doelen for their upcoming European tour. In Rotterdam they could remain relatively anonymous and undisturbed. The Stones hired the entire tenth floor, including the presidential suite, and the restaurant had to remain open 24 hours a day exclusively for them. The Stones stayed at the Hilton again from 22 January to 6 February 1975, when they recorded a new LP at night in the Kleine Zaal (the small hall) at De Doelen.
In 2005 a number of facade panels came loose owing to faulty anchors and had to be secured again. In 2013, 36 million euros were spent on renovating the building to mark its fiftieth anniversary. Little of the original interior survives. All rooms and suites, the lounge bar, the executive lounge and the conference rooms were stripped and refitted. The biggest change to the exterior was the repositioning of the main entrance from Kruiskade to Weena. The renovation was not welcomed by everybody. The website of De Architect commented as follows: “In recent days a number of architects have expressed anger at the sweeping renovation work carried out at the Hilton Hotel in Rotterdam. The design by Hugh Maaskant from 1963 is one of the last remaining luxury interiors from the 1960s.” The same article quoted architecture historian Michelle Provoost: “While the exterior of marble, steel and glass will gleam once again, the interior will disappear behind a layer of generic hotel fittings and furniture.” De Architect, 7 March 2012. The Hilton received the status of national heritage site on Open Heritage Day 2016.
Address: Weena 10
Architect: H.A. Maaskant, F.W. de Vlaming
National Heritage Site