Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Kinshasa 2015 – Hotel Stanley to reopen as a Hilton

Hilton Worldwide signed a franchise agreement in March with Africa Hospitality Investments to renovate and reopen the former French Embassy and Hotel Stanley as the “DoubleTree by Hilton Kinshasa – The Stanley”.  The property is expected to open in 2016 and will be Hilton’s 37th hotel in Africa.  Africa Hospitality Investments was incorporated in Mauritius in December 2014.
The former French Embassy, looking down Ave. Tchad towards Blvd. du 30e Juin
The Stanley was built in the late 1950s opposite the Memling Hotel (See Mar. 29, 2011) at the intersection of Avenues Moulaert (now Tchad) and Stanley (now Bas-Congo).  It was built by the Damseaux family, proprietors of the original Stanley on Ave. Hauzeur (Wagenia), which became the Musée de la Vie Indigène (See Mar. 27, 2011). 
The site of the Hotel Stanley in 1956 - Blvd Albert 1er (30e Juin) runs left-right across center of the image
In 1954, the Frigos Damseaux company requested bids on nylon carpet for a 40-unit apartment hotel it was constructing in the capital. By 1959, the hotel, described as 50% complete, was up for sale at an asking price of $560,000.  The nine-floor structure had a 20-car basement garage, ground floor and mezzanine and the top six floors offered 12-13 double apartment-style rooms featuring deluxe bathrooms, air conditioning, and telephones. The public areas included a restaurant, bar, a beauty salon, an office for a travel agency, a small store and a patio with a small pool. The builder would complete all construction, leaving decoration and furnishings to the buyer.
The Stanley in the late 1950s
At Congo’s Independence June 30, 1960, the Stanley Palace Hotel was billing itself as, “A New Hotel in Leopoldville --The most comfortable in town and one of the best in Western Africa”.  The United Nations delegation to the Independence ceremonies, led by Ralph Bunche, Jr., lodged there.  When the army mutiny July 5 precipitated Belgian military intervention and an exodus of expatriate civil servants and others running the government and essential services, UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold asked Bunche to stay on as his personal representative.  An African-American diplomat who received a Nobel Prize for negotiating a cease-fire between Israelis and Arabs during the war that followed the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, Bunche was experienced to conflict.  But Leopoldville in July 1960 was a scary, unpredictable place. On July 8, Bunche wrote a letter to his son on Hotel stationary in a guarded tone that suggested he realized it might be his last.  Heavily armed soldiers had burst into the hotel and ordered all residents into the lobby where some were manhandled roughly.  They could hear shots in the city, were restricted to the hotel and the airport was closed.
Bunche began to put in place a UN peacekeeping operation.  On July 15, the first Ghanaian and Tunisian troops arrived.  The head of Unicef, Maurice Pate, arrived on July 18 to organize the humanitarian relief effort and established his base of operations in the Stanley’s flower shop.  The UN Force Commander, General Carl von Horn arrived on July 21 and took over rooms at the hotel for his command headquarters.  Bunche brokered a deal July 23 for UN troops to replace the Belgians deployed around the country, and importantly take over patrolling the streets of Leopoldville.  That same day, Bunche and his entourage moved to the Le Royal apartment building on Blvd. Albert, which eventually became the headquarters of the UN operation in Congo (See Mar. 19, 2011).
Ralph Bunche (standing left) holds a press conference in lobby 
India and Israel initially opened embassies in the hotel, but when France decided to open an embassy in Leopoldville in 1963, it acquired the entire building.  A Centre Culturel Français opened in January 1965.  During the second “pillage” in January 1993, Ambassador Philippe Bernard was killed in his office by a shot from the street.  The official verdict, accepted by France, cited a stray bullet, but some suggest it resulted from a failed assassination plot targeting opposition leader Tshisekedi wa Mulumba.  In 2010, the Embassy moved to renovated premises of the former administrative offices of Utexafrica on Ave. Mondjiba (See July 3, 2011).
A view of the former French Embassy in 2012 with new construction at the rear of the building
Hilton Worldwide originally planned to launch its Kinshasa operations in the Congo Trade Center under construction on Ave. Wagenia (See July 3, 2011).   But these plans hit a snag in 2012 when the CTC developer would not agree to modify the design to meet Hilton’s requirements.  The renovated “DoubleTree by Hilton Kinshasa – The Stanley” will offer 96 rooms, three restaurants (including one on the roof), a business center, three conference rooms and a fitness center. DoubleTree by Hilton’s global head, John Greenleaf, reports the company looks forward to “welcoming guests with our warm service and signature chocolate chip cookie”.
Congo Trade Center nearing completion.  The Sheraton chain is reported to be negotiating with the owner.

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