SAINT GEORGE HOTEL
A French colonial hotel built in 1932, the Saint-George was taken over following political turmoil in Lebanon in 1958 by prominent Lebanese businessman Abdallah El Khoury, a founding partner of the famous CAT construction company, and has remained in his family’s possession ever since.
In French-mandated Lebanon, local society mingled with French officers and officials at the Saint-George in an aura of plush serenity unequalled in the Middle East. While under the management of Nadia El Khoury, wife of Abdallah who died in 1964, the Saint-George became one of the most glamorous hotels in the world; a stylish backdrop to comings and goings of film stars, royalty, millionaire businessmen, politicians, journalists and spies.
Its celebrated terrace overlooking St. Georges’ Bay was the leading social rendez-vous of pre-war Beirut. Its pool flaunted the best displays of bikinis and brown limbs in the Middle East, and its bar provided the best rumour mill for correspondents covering the political upheavals in the Arab world.
The hotel was severely damaged during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, when it became a battleground in the so-called ‘War of the Hotels’, during which rival militias seized downtown high-rises from which they blasted away at each other. Later the burnt-out shell of the Saint-George was occupied by Syrian troops attempting to pacify the warring Lebanese factions.
Architecture & Design
The Saint-George Hotel Architecture is one of Beirut’s outstanding works of early modernism – combining a revolutionary use of raw concrete with a feeling for traditional Arab forms, the balconies, for instance, serving as sunscreens. Inspired by the works of Auguste Perret, the French master builder who pioneered the use of re-enforced concrete, the Saint-George was built by three French architects, Jacques Poirrier, André Lotte, and Georges Bordes, and a Lebanese Antoine Tabet. In contrast to the modernistic structural influences of Perret, the hotel’s interior decor clearly displayed the traditional artisan techniques and use of rich fabrics employed by famous Parisian designer Jean Royere, who from his galleries in Beirut and Cairo decorated the palaces of Middle East royalty.
More than a hotel, the St. George’s became a myth and part of the Lebanese heritage. Standing on a unique site, surrounded by the sea, it was designed in the shape of a boat of which the circular front terrace was the deck and enjoyed the advantages of the sea front which carries its name.
In 1973, it was described by Fortune magazine as one of the most beautiful hotels in the world and until 1975 it was the cosmopolitan center of Beirut city and the privilege of the most successful local and international personalities. Many kings, ministers, and political leaders were the guests of the Hotel: King Hussein of Jordan and his family, the Shah of Iran and Princess Soraya, French Ministers Artoli and Malraux, Georges Bush before he became President of the USA, Cypriot leaders, the Aga Khan and the Begum, the King of Afghanistan, the Prince of Abu Dhabi Chakhbut Ben Sultan El-Nahian, and a Prime Minister of Great Britain to mention only a few.
Great stars have also been seen in the Hotel, among them Brigitte Bardot, Charles Aznavour, Johnny Hallyday, Catherine Deneuve, Alain Delon, Gilbert Becaud, Abdel Wahab, and Oum Koulthoum.
Many well-known journalists, businessmen, diplomats and other important personalities met regularly in its famous bar: the Marquis de Cuevas, David Rockfeller, John Paul Getty, the Comte de Paris and Isabelle of France, Abu Said, correspondent of Time magazine, Muhamed Hasanein Heykal, editor-in-chief of the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, and the famous British spy Kim Philby, who was seen in the Bar just before he disappeared.
Among Lebanese personalities figured Former President Camille Chamoun, who was the Honorary President of the Board of Directors of the Hotel, Mr. Raymond Eddeh, Mr. Kamal el Assad and Emir Majid Arslan.
Unfortunately, during the war, the Hotel was completely destroyed, looted and occupied. For Time magazine, this marked the end of Lebanon and it pictured the St. George’s in a black frame on its front page.
Beirut without the Saint George Hotel is like the Cedars without its trees and Baalbeck without its columns.