In 1926, the Basque-English architect Manuel María Smith Ibarra saw the completion of the Hotel Carlton in what was his first project in the hotel industry. This met the city’s long-standing, pressing need of a great luxury hotel to match other neighbouring capitals.
The Hotel Carlton was built between 1919 (year in which Smith Ibarra designed it) and 1926. It is a late example of the French Second Empire style, in keeping with the tradition of grandiose hotels of the time. The building is impressively beautiful, with a triangular shape and tapered corners.
From the outside, the main façade and the side of the building evince details clearly belonging to the ‘beaux arts’ style, characterised by symmetry, large entrances, staircases, multi-coloured with a profusion of balustrades, supporting cornices and bas-relief panels. Among these, the roofs and mansards are its most beautiful examples.
But in the interior on all its 6 floors where the work boasts that splendour which has made it so famous. It was the first hotel in Spain to have en suite bathrooms. In fact, one of its first advertising slogans was “Hotel Carlton 200 rooms, 200 bathrooms”. The Basque-English architect designed a large space, a central hall, covered by a beautiful leaded glass roof to let a welcoming light filter in. The glass roof has always been the symbol of the Hotel Carlton and now, after a respectful renovation, it continues to represent the hotel’s classic style.
All values mentioned above led the Basque Government to list it as an architectural, historical and cultural monument in 1995. This recognition served to reinforce the prominence of the Hotel Carlton in the City of Bilbao.
The Hotel Carlton has witnessed key social and cultural events in the contemporary history of the Basque Country.
The hotel was the seat of the Basque Government during the Spanish Civil War, and there are reminders of this in two locations in the hotel.
The first is one of the halls, the Salón Luis García Campos. It was the centre of debates and operations of the Basque Government in 1936, when José Antonio Aguirre was president. As a curiosity, the hall preserves the only stained glass window that was saved from the ravages of the war, as well as the presidential table and two chairs.
The other place are the stairs of the main entrance of the hotel from the Plaza Moyúa, where one can see the vents that still remain from what was where the Cabinet took refuge. This bunker was refurbished and turned into a private hall.
The Hotel Carlton’s oval hall, called Salón La Cristalera, is covered with the great leaded glass dome mentioned above, which was also designed by Manuel María Smith Ibarra. Over the years, it has witnessed many social and cultural events of the City of Bilbao. The dome was made with glass especially brought from Boston. It was built in 1925 and, in 2007, it was restored by the same company that originally made it. The dome of the Hotel Carlton is one of two largest domes in Spain.