Sunday, May 17, 2015

Carvajal's Unlikely Hilton Hotel in St. Louis

Rendering, Spanish Pavilion rebuilt in St. Louis. Background, Busch Memorial Stadium, 1966. From
Or the strange fate of the Spanish Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair.

One of the proudest architectural moments of the Franco regime was the critical acclaim received by the Spanish Pavilion, a design by Javier Carvajal (see my other blog entries on Caravajal here).

The AIA awarded the pavilion its prize as the best work of international architecture at the Fair. It was recognized by the Rockefeller Foundation, and cited by Life magazine as “The Jewel of the Fair,” according to the Fundación Loewe, which organized an exhibition on the project for its 50th anniversary last year.

From Fundación Loewe

With its success, the pavilion attracted the attention of St. Louis Mayor Alfonso J. Cervantes, who arranged, with the collaboration of the Spanish government, to have it reassembled
as part of the redevelopment around Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch.

Opened in 1969 as the Spanish International Pavilion, with many of its original exhibits intact and three restaurants, it was bankrupt and closed within a year.

Contemporary postcards from

A 1970 article in The New York Times described its opening ceremonies:
"The pavilion finally opened in May, 1969, with 10 days of festivities. The cast of "Man of La Mancha" sang "The Impossible Dream"; Spain's Minister of Information [none other than Manuel Fraga], the Mayor of Seville and Jose' Ferrer flew in for the occasion; several hundred St. Louisans paid $1,000 per couple to dance at the inaugural "Beile de la Rosas," and as each woman sat down at the banquet a servant placed a red cushion beneath her feet."
After languishing empty for several years, local developer Don Breckenridge took over the property in 1976 and transformed it into The Breckenridge Inn, building a 25-story tower for the guestrooms in its former central patio. The hotel was taken over by Marriott in 1979, who added a second tower over the theater wing. "Through both conversions, developers kept the flavor of the Pavilion's Spanish origins, retaining sculpture and artwork," writes Bill Young of

The Breckenridge Inn. From

In 2005, the hotel was sold again to Hilton Hotels and extensively renovated, leaving little of the original pavilion except for its facade panels.


The surprising thing about this story is that the pavilion wasn't simply demolished outright somewhere along this progressive slide from cultural ambassadorship to rude commerce.

Did selling the dictatorship in the US become unsustainable in the late years of the regime? I imagine Franco meant very little to anyone in the Midwest. It is more likely that the project was doomed simply by excess ambition and poor financial projections.

Bill Young of reports that the contents of the original New York pavilion were put on display in St. Louis, "sans the Picassos". But of course there were no Picassos on display in New York. Neither Franco nor Picasso would have permitted that!

Bill Young

J. Anthony Lukas 
New York World's Fair Hit Turns Into St. Louis Fiasco 
The New York Times
June 30, 1970 

Carvajal: The Jewel of the Fair
Loewe  Fundación
October 30, 2014

Original interior. Fundación Loewe
Fundación Loewe

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