Old Havana meets French Quarter

The interior courtyard of the American Trade Hotel in Panama City. Photo: Spencer Lowell. Michelle Clog by A Détacher. Available at Anaïse.







Not long ago, centuries-old Casco Viejo was a crumbling patch of Panama City. A stucco palace of luxury apartments, built in 1917, had been taken over by five drug gangs, each occupying a floor. After UNESCO deemed Casco Viejo a World Heritage Site in 1997, an intrepid development group led by the palace builder’s great-great-grandson, lawyer Ramon Arias, began preserving properties within the district – gentrification embodied by the palace’s new occupant, the American Trade Hotel, a collaboration with Atelier Ace (of the trendy Ace Hotel chain). Beyond its stately structure (arched windows, interior gardens, red-tile roofs), hip interiors (a blend of Bertoia chairs and Mexican midcentury-inspired pieces) and alluring amenities (coffee bar, jazz club, farm-to-table restaurant), the hotel lives out its community-development creed: developer Conservatorio dissolved local gangs by putting members to work on construction crews, and the hotel staff includes graduates of a rehabilitation program for abused women. “Buildings are more interesting with people,” said Conservatorio’s restoration architect Hildegard Vasquez in a W magazine article. “You can’t just fixture the architecture – you have to fix the people. And in the process, they change you, too.” A room with a view and values.