While many people visit Bandung to shop up a storm at its factory outlets, few realize the city is an architectural treasure trove.
In fact, Bandung is recognized as one of three cities in the world — the others being Napier in New Zealand and Miami in Florida — that still boast examples of tropical Art Deco architecture.
One of the best places to step back in time and explore this unique architectural style is at Bandung’s 185-room Savoy Homann Bidakara Hotel.
A striking blend of Western and Eastern influences, the hotel combines the sophisticated elegance of European Art Deco with the romanticism of early 20th-century Javanese architecture.
Built around 1871 by the Homann family to accommodate wealthy plantation owners visiting on weekends, the hotel initially resembled a regular residence of the time, complete with stilts, bamboo walls and a thatched roof.
While already prestigious, the Savoy Homann did not get its striking streamline Art Deco facade until 1939, after a revamp by Dutch architect Albert Aalbers. Today, the original building has been incorporated into the Garden Wing, one of the hotel’s four distinct sections.
Over the years the Savoy Homann has undergone several make-overs and name changes, but the hotel’s finance manager Edwan Ariawan says the property has retained many of its unique architectural elements.
“The hotel’s designers adopted European Art Deco to the practicalities of a tropical climate, and overall this has been preserved,” he said.
“The only original elements that have undergone a transformation are the central garden, as well as the lobby and the grand ballroom, which have been enlarged to bring the hotel in line with today’s standards,” Edwan said, adding that the hotel’s most recent section, the Millennium Wing, was added in 2000.
Since its opening, the Savoy Homann has been considered the most luxurious hotel in Bandung and has played host to its fair share of well-known personalities.
While Thailand’s King Chulalongkorn was likely the first famous name to grace the hotel’s books when he stayed there in 1901, the guest that left the greatest impression on the city was the legendary silent film comedian Charlie Chaplin, who visited in 1927.
“The story is that the cheering Bandung residents, who stationed themselves outside the Savoy, made it difficult for Chaplin or his entourage to venture outside the perimeters of the hotel,” Edwan explained.
“In fact, many guests still request to sleep in Chaplin’s room.”
As one of the largest and most luxurious hotels in Southeast Asia during the 1950s, the Savoy Homann was also used as a venue for several distinguished delegations, the biggest one being the first large-scale Asian-African Conference, held in 1955.
It attracted representatives of 29 Asian and African countries, most newly independent, and was the first major gathering aimed at promoting cooperation between the countries in the region, and ironically — given the setting — opposing colonialism and neocolonialism.
“The hotel’s Golden Book, which is still on show in the lobby, has been signed by such notables as Cambodia’s Prince [and sometimes King] Norodom Sihanouk, the president of Egypt Abdul Nasser and the Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru,” Ariawan added.
Those after a quick history lesson might wish to check out the countless photographs of old Bandung and the Savoy Homann’s past incarnations that grace the hallways.
While the Savoy Homann has lost its claim as one of the fanciest hotels in Southeast Asia, or even Bandung for that matter, its charm and historical value have withstood the succession of renovations.
“And we still get important guests here,” Ariawan said.
“President SBY [Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono] and the secretary [general] of the United Nations still stay in one of our three Homann Suites whenever they are in town.”
Savoy Homann Bidakara Hotel Jalan Asia Afrika No. 112, Bandung (Jakarta Globe)