Stories of Milanese Hotel Archeology
The luck of being able to witness, the new design trends, the new entrepreneurial visions, however, makes us aware of the fact that we are leaving something behind. Then let us recover a few elements of history, among some of the hotels that fill the memories of the Milanese
In the last 4 years, Milan has registered every 100 days the inauguration of a new hotel! Never like in China, where the industrial capacity to build a new hotel in just 365 days is certified, but still a great little record that has no equal in Italy.
The luck of being able to witness this growth and these changes, the new design trends, the new entrepreneurial visions, however, makes us aware of the fact that we are leaving something behind; that something that contributed to the history of the hospitality of the city, or that witnessed it in crucial passages. Testimonies of companies that, at the end of inevitable management cycles and recycles, lost their way, or died out, leaving few traces that today are interesting and useful to recover – as if we became romantic hotel archaeologists! Then let us recover a few elements of history, among some of the hotels that fill the memories of the Milanese, including Hotel Regina, Hotel Francia Europa, Hotel Marino Scala, Grand Hotel Duomo, Grand Hotel Plaza, Hotel Executive, and Hotel Casa Svizzera.
Hotel Regina, nicknamed ‘Hotel Gestapo’
In the 1930s Milanese hotel hospitality consisted essentially of two receptive poles; near the railway station, which in 1935 had seen the inauguration of the current Central Station, and which therefore as a proximal area it gathered the travellers who arrived overwhelmingly by train; and in the Historical Centre, which, for reasons of prestige and proximity to the main monumental sites and to the so-called Palazzi del Potere (Buildings of Power), welcomed the highest-ranking travellers. Hotel Regina, situated behin the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, despite having been a first-class hotel, never went down in history for its furniture or its restaurant, but rather for having acted as a stage and having witnessed the most tragic and dramatic events of the years 1943-1945.
Hotel Regina was chosen as the Nazi headquarters by the SS. Few meters separated it from the religious authority, the Archbishopric, from the Prefecture, but above all from the Palace of Via Rovello, today headquarters of Piccolo Teatro but then transformed into a place of detention, torture, and crimes by the Fascist Legion Ettore Muti. So even Hotel Regina was the scene of the heinous actions of the SS for 20 months, and as the plaque affixed to the building says: ‘Here were imprisoned, tortured, murdered, and sent to the concentration camps antifascists, resistant human beings of whom fascism and Nazism had decided the systematic annihilation.’
The Milanese began to call it Hotel Gestapo, and the mere mention of it, even after the war, generated chills of horror and mournful memories. Probably this ominous reputation contributed in no small part to its definitive closure. The Palace, which, as documented in a famous video of the time, had seen the perfectly framed SS leaving the city of Milan on 25 April 1945, surrendering it to the partisans of the National Liberation Committee, is today the headquarters of the Bank of China.
Hotel Marino alla Scala in Piazza Della Scala
If the ‘Grand Hotel et de Milan’, located in the nearby Via Manzoni, always enjoyed the well-deserved reputation of having been the favourite hotel of Giuseppe Verdi and, therefore, by extension, it was fixated on being the hotel of reference for those attending the Teatro alla Scala, the Hotel Marino alla Scala (called Marino Scala by the Milanese), located in the building adjacent to the famous Theatre, boasted that it was the Hotel chosen by the true enthusiasts, by melomaniacs, or in any case by that variegated and rich Lombard bourgeoisie that used the proximity of the Marino Scala to the Theatre to ‘not get their shoes dirty’.
The buildings were in fact so adjacent that one could pass from the Hall of the Hotel to the Foyer of the Theatre without jeopardizing lacquered shoes, tuxedos or tailcoats, or the elegant long dresses of the ladies. The name of the Hotel also referenced the sumptuous view of Piazza della Scala towards Palazzo Marino, built in 1558 and commissioned by a very rich Genoese banker Tommaso Marino, who, then, gave it as a wedding gift to his young wife.
Marino Scala has always enjoyed a prestigious status and a special recognition, to the point that, even today, some elderly taxi drivers love to remember that the most munificent customers were those headed to Marino Scala. The hotel ceased its activity in the 1980s but, thanks to the memory and prestige it still enjoyed thirty years later, I personally tried to buy the brand to use it as a name for a hotel that I would have opened and directed close to the Teatro alla Scala. I discovered that the trademark had been bought and registered by the Trussardi family, who had bought the palace years before, occupying the ground floor with the fashion house, and assigning the first floor to the famous starred restaurant.
It is speculated that the prestigious logo will be used for the future hotel that would occupy the remaining floors of the building. But to this day I have the impression that of Marino Scala only the memory of some elderly taxi driver will remain.
Grand Hotel Plaza
Built right in the midst of Italian rationalism, in 1938, on the ruins of a historical Milanese district, the Bottonuto, Hotel Plaza, which later became ‘Grand’, enjoyed an enviable position, given the proximity to the Milanese Cathedral – not by chance the claim then was that from its roof you could touch the statue of the Madonnina.
Here, between marbles and brocades, the mafia members of the mandate of Santa Maria del Gesù were meeting since the 1980s. Stefano Bontate, to be understood, represented in Milan by Vittorio Mangano, brought from Sicily to Arcore by Marcello Dell'Utri. It was his men, who, every Friday, at the Hotel Plaza, handled pure morphine, because of the complacency of the then owner, Antonio Virgilio, who did not register its presence. Due to this complicity, the Hotel was the safe and presentable lounge for mafia business. It was 1983 when the San Valentino operation revealed for the first time the contribution made by the so-called white-collar workers to the laundering of illicit proceeds; and the owner was arrested right on the roof of the Plaza while he was trying to escape during the 14 February 1983 blitz.
Hence the name of the operation. Two more decades of management followed with entrepreneurial ups and downs but always with the availability of the original family; up until a famous and unexpected A4 format sheet hung at the entrance of the Hotel with the words ‘Hotel Closed’. 70 years of history brought to an end by a black marker.