Whether 1900 or 2000 every generation has its Belle Époque as past centuries end and new ones begin. For author Thomas Mann’s character Gustav Aschenbach in Death in Venice, an obsession with Beauty leads him to the luxuriousness of the Grand Hotel des Bain on Venice’s Lido. Closed for many years, last year COIMA, a Milan Porta Nuova developer who also owns the nearby Hotel Excelsior, announced the GH des Bains would reopen with London+Regional Properties operating the GH, the company that also runs the Excelsior.
Last week at Palm Beach, L&R Properties, whose development in Panama was co-financed by the Al-Thanis, the Qatar royal family, was announced as the potential buyer for 160 Royal Palm Way, a failed hotel-condo scheme closed for years and mangled by the misfortunes of former Connecticut impresario Robert Matthews who with his wife-actress Mia Matthews, and their lawyer Les Evans, are facing multiple federal charges. The once bespoke GH des Bains is heavily walled, gated and manned by security guards as the building crumbles after too many years of abject grandiosity perhaps, as Mann might think.
Unable to convince the guard to allow me permission to enter, an arriving group of COIMA staff also would not allow me to accompany them. They did mention Manfredi Catallo, COIMA CEO, projects to reopen the GH des Bains in 2024, maybe. Because of the hotel’s notoriety as a film setting, Catallo did open the hotel’s public rooms for a reception and exhibit during last year’s Venice Film Festival, known as the world’s first film festival. You may remember the GH des Bains’ previous developer reportedly spent $50 million before claiming bankruptcy, and then, proceeded to auction off online the hotel’s original interior furnishings and accessories.
“Che niente,” said one of the COIMA staff, saying every original detail in the hotel is gone. Yes, all roads cross Palm Beach.
Last month’s passing of Marella Agnelli in Turin, described as the “ultimo cigno” (the last swan) by the Italian press, marks the end of another Belle Époque, as Italy’s Repubblica reported she was “the protagonist of an era that no longer exists.”
As the wife of FIAT’s Giovanni Agnelli, she was a visible presence among the international Jet Set and regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful women. Her public farewell was at Villa Perosa near the Agnelli villa outside of Turin where the paparazzi said their arrivederci to the “la ultima style icon.” Turin’s Pinocateca Giovanni & Marella Agnelli is one of the family’s architectural and artistic legacies, designed by Renzo Piano as a part of the architect’s renovation and restoration of the former FIAT factory in Lingotto. Although the gallery only contains 25 works from the Agnelli’s collection, each is extraordinary.
Here are a few glimpses of what remains of the Grand Hotel des Bains, the extraordinary Agnelli Pinacoteca, as well as the rebirth of the Art Deco Liberty-styled Grande Albergo Ausonia & Hungaria Hotel on the Lido, and the Lido Cinema, home to the world’s first film festival.
Grand Hotel des Bains
Lungomare Marconi, 17 – Venezia-Lido
Grande Albergo Ausonia e Hungaria
Granviale San Elisabetta, 28 – Venezia Lido
Opened in 1907, A&H’s multi-colored mosaic facade reliefs were added in 1913 by Bassanese sculptor Luigi Fabris . The hotel has retained the original furnishings designed by Eugenio Quarti.
Palazzo del Cinema
Lungomare Marconi, Venezia-Lido
Casa Feniglio-Lafleur, 1902. Principi d’Acaja, 11. Turin.
Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli
Lingotto, Via Nizza – Turin
Photography by Augustus Mayhew.
Augustus Mayhew is the author of Palm Beach-A Greater Grandeur