by Michael Miller
What will become of Hotel don Carlos?
For decades, Hotel don Carlos has been one of the great cultural treasures of Downtown San José, Costa Rica. Located in historic Barrio Amon, this boutique hotel was overflowing with Costa Rican art; paintings, statues, stained glass, hand-painted tiles, fountains, decorative wrought iron, wheels of oxen carts and more.
Hotel Don Carlos was popular with visitors, as well as with Ticos who were proud to show off the finer side of San José. It had a nice cafe and a lovely gift shop. And since much of the art was in the common areas of the hotel, you could always view this astonishing collection for free.
The venerable Hotel Don Carlos closed in 2020. The property has been listed for sale.
One could say that it was a victim of the covid virus. It might be more accurate to say that it was a victim of the hysterical over-reaction of the Costa Rican government to that virus. Government officials shut down all flights into the country for more than half a year. Then when visitors were allowed to trickle in, the government bureaucrats required expensive “insurance” policies, and onerous health passes, on each tourist.
Whatever the cause, the national treasure that was once Hotel don Carlos, is no more. Last weekend (April 8 and 9, 2022) much of the art that had adorned the Hotel was put on sale in a large garage across Avenida 9 from the Hotel. Hundreds of paintings and other art objects were displayed and offered to the public, timed to coincide with the Amon Cultural Festival held over the weekend.
The sale was overseen by Doña Lupita Balser de Weiler, the matriarch of the family who owns the property. Doña Lupita is the daughter of the founder of the Hotel, and has been the managing director of the Hotel for many years.
A portion of the Hotel itself was also open last weekend. You could walk into the Cafe Amon and down the wide descending walkway. There were several Festival vendors set up inside the Hotel displaying clothing, gourmet foods, and arts and crafts.
I was allowed access to the rest of The Hotel. Juan Weiler, Doña Lupita's son, was my host and guide as we looked through the place. It was sad to see the bare walls and the empty rooms. The only artworks remaining are the items that are attached to the walls; things like the hand-painted tile works, some bas-reliefs, and most prominently the famous stained-glass windows.
Hotel don Carlos was created in the 1940's by connecting together three separate houses. One of those houses has already been torn down, since the owners felt that it had structural problems that could not profitably be repaired.
It is impossible to know what the future will bring for Hotel don Carlos. The family is asking $3 million U.S. dollars for the property. Since so much of the physical structure and the art collection is already gone, it will never be able to return to the way it was.
However, Juan hopes that the existing hotel will continue to have some value for the family, and for the community, until a new owner takes over. With the energy and enthusiasm of youth, Juan tells me that he hopes to rent some of the rooms to long-term guests. He envisions the scaled-down Hotel don Carlos as a place for yoga classes, for a massuese, for artists, and perhaps even a chocolate maker, while it is still owned by the family.
Hotel don Carlos sits on the corner of Avenida 9 and Calle 9. This is the center of Barrio Amon, once the most prestigious neighborhood in all of Costa Rica. Although no one knows what will become of the Hotel, or what this neighborhood will look like five years from now, we can only be certain that it will be very different.
I am reminded of a comment by playwright David Mamet. He said, if you visit Martha's Vineyard today, you can look all over that island and not find a single harpoon maker. He was refering to the fact that Martha's Vineyard was once a major whaling center, but eventually everything changes.
Michael Miller is the author of the renowned guide book of Downtown San José, Costa Rica titled The Real San José.
Mr. Miller is also the author of the exciting new novel Tribune Man. It's more than a novel. It's a portait of Oakland, California, a beautiful, fascinating, and often under-rated American city. Click here for more information: tinyurl.com/wefs2xe7