The Story of the Panama Canal

Tiziana Serreta and Oswaldo Kantule show in the Waldorf Towers admiring the artwork that Oswaldo created for a surprise project. Oswaldo is the great grandson of Chief Nele Kantule

The Story of the Panama Canal

The Waldorf Astoria played a central role as the backdrop to the development of a country and a canal integral to the development of commerce for much of the Americas. Today’s vignette highlights our role as “Host to the World”, an appellation most deserved for the Waldorf Astoria.

Since 1893, we’ve hosted many of the world’s most significant events and influential figures. Panama, its Canal and its independence trace their roots to developments occurring in the original Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Naval operations during the Spanish-American War (1898-1901) served to convince President Theodore Roosevelt that the United States needed to control a canal somewhere in the Western Hemisphere. The Isthmus of Panama proved to be the ideal location and as a result, the Hay-Herrán Treaty of January 22, 1903; under which Colombia gave consent to such a project in the form of a 100-year lease on an area 10 kilometers wide; was created. This treaty, however, was not ratified in Columbia, and the United States, determined to construct a canal across the isthmus, intensively encouraged the Panamanian separatist movement.

Photo of Philippe Bunau-Varilla given as a gift to the Waldorf's Oscar Tschirky. The message reads: "To Oscar, the great manager of the greatest and best hotel in the world, the Waldorf Astoria, where in room 1162 were laid the foundations of the Republic of Panama in October 1903 and which therefore became the cradle of the Panama Canal the gigantic undertaking which united the Atlantic with the Pacific. With gratitude for 32 years of constant and friendly affections, P. Bunau-Varilla, Paris 10th of May 1933"

Photo of Philippe Bunau-Varilla given as a gift to the Waldorf’s Oscar Tschirky. The message reads: “To Oscar, the great manager of the greatest and best hotel in the world, the Waldorf Astoria, where in room 1162 were laid the foundations of the Republic of Panama in October 1903 and which therefore became the cradle of the Panama Canal the gigantic undertaking which united the Atlantic with the Pacific. With gratitude for 32 years of constant and friendly affections, P. Bunau-Varilla, Paris 10th of May 1933″

Such plans for a revolution came to fruition on September 30, 1903 in Suite 1162 of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, which was inhabited by French engineer and soldier, Philippe Bunau-Varilla. Dialogue between Bunau-Varilla and Manual Amador Guerreo (who would become first official President of Panama) determined that funding and support from the United States Congress was critical. Over the course of five months and a series of trips between Washington and Panama, the Panama Canal Treaty eventually was approved by Congress (with some apprehension) in February of 1904.

Blue prints of the 11th Floor from the Original Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Suite 1162 is indicated by the red arrows.

Blue prints of the 11th Floor from the Original Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Suite 1162 is indicated by the red arrows.

However, Bunau-Varilla is not only credited with the drafting of the Panama Canal Treaty, he is also the author of Panama’s Declaration of Independence as well as the designer of the Panamanian flag; both of which were created in Suite 1162.

Tiziana Serreta and Oswaldo Kantule show in the Waldorf Towers admiring the artwork that Oswaldo created for a surprise project. Oswaldo is the great grandson of Chief Nele Kantule

Tiziana Serreta and Oswaldo Kantule show in the Waldorf Towers admiring the artwork that Oswaldo created for a surprise project. Oswaldo is the great grandson of Chief Nele Kantule

The Waldorf Astoria Hotel holds a special place as a setting within the story of Panama’s independence. To this day we continue take pride in hosting some of Panama’s most influential figures. Recently, Oswaldo Kantule, great grandson of Panamanian-San Blas revolutionary Chief Nele Kantule (1868-1944), was a guest in our hotel visiting friend Tiziana Serreta to show her some of his artwork. The photograph above shows the beautiful artwork created by Oswaldo. The story behind the visit remains a mystery but the art work is truly outstanding! Featured in Peacock Alley is a cocktail called the “Bishop” created in celebration of the anniversary of the Panama Canal. If you’re in town stop by for a cocktail!

Description of the "Bishop" Cocktail now featured in the Waldorf Astoria Hotels of New York and Panama

Description of the “Bishop” Cocktail now featured in the Waldorf Astoria Hotels of New York and Panama

 

Thank you to Oswaldo Kantule, Dr. James Howe of MIT, and Tiziana Serreta for providing the Waldorf Astoria Archive with valuable information on the Kantule family and their heritage within Panama’s storied culture. For more information, please visit the archive website at www.waldorfarchive.org! Happy Summer! :)

Erin Allsop, Archivist of  The Waldorf Astoria New York

EA

@WaldorfNYC    http://www.waldorfarchive.org

Erin is a graduate student in the Masters program of Library and Information Science at CUNY – Queens College, where she is focusing her studies on Archival Management and Preservation. You may contact her by email at erin.allsop@waldorfastoria.com with any inquiries or questions you may have.