Here’s what CNN saw at the scene of the blast as rescuers raced around people beneath the rubble

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Rescue workers and firefighters work at the scene after an explosion at the Hotel Saratoga in Havana on May 6. (Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters)

The Hotel Saratoga in Havana – destroyed this Friday after a large explosion – has a long history. The building, just a few steps from the Capitol, was built in the late 19th century and was one of the city’s most important hotels in the 1930s.

The building that houses the Hotel Saratoga was designed for warehouses, apartments, and guest houses, according to historian Carlos Venegas. According to the hotel, it was built by Spanish merchant Gregorio Palacios between 1879 and 1880.

“Gregorio Palacios, a native of Santander, was one of the richest city owners in Havana and one of the largest donors to the treasury,” explains the historian, according to the hotel. In 1879 he signed the contract to build the three-storey building.

The Hotel Saratoga, previously located on Calle Monte, was transferred to this building on Calle Prado around 1933.

Cars drive past Hotel Saratoga in Havana on January 26, 2017.
Cars drive past Hotel Saratoga in Havana on January 26, 2017. (Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images/File)

The hotel’s facade has retained some of the original features. Elements of the building such as beams, wooden lattices, marble stairs and columns show how it was originally, despite the major changes that have taken place inside its doors.

The origin of the hotel’s name isn’t verified, the hotel says, but it’s possible it’s connected to Saratoga, in upstate New York, where a thermal-water spa was a summer spot.

“Key battles in the US Revolutionary War took place very close to this location,” says the hotel, adding that “perhaps its owners’ relationship to the event may have influenced the choice of name.”

One of the curiosities that highlights the hotel, listed in guidebooks as one of the most prominent of the Cuban capital as early as 1935, is part of the history of the Anacaonas, which was the first orchestra composed entirely of women in the country.

The musical performances on the terrace attracted many people to the surroundings of the building in the first half of the 20th century, and it was precisely in this corner that the orchestra began.

Personalities such as the writer Rafael Alberti have visited the Hotel Saratoga, whose visit is commemorated in a plaque on the building, which reopened as a hotel in 2005.

Read more about the hotel in Spanish here.

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