Featured image source: Memory Macau Blog
Built in July 22, 1928, Hotel Central was once the tallest building in Macau and the “tallest hotel in the Portuguese Empire”. It remains one of the most emblematic structures in the city, a great memory kept physically intact. When at Ferreira do Amaral roundabout, it overlooks Almeida Ribeiro Avenue and you’ll see a medium height, teal-colored building with bold Chinese characters: 新中央.
Fortunately, some of this city’s gems have been kept, for the sake of history. Here, we take a stroll down memory lane and head back to the 20s, when this hotel was erected.
The Start of Something Luxurious
In 1932, the owners renamed it Hotel President but soon returned to its original name. The initial project–from the start of the 20th century–featured six floors, but in the 40s, when a taller hotel was built close by (International Hotel, at the Inner Harbour surroundings), the owners of Hotel Central saw this as competition and got ready to upgrade their own structure in an unconventional way: they wanted to add five more stories so their hotel would be the tallest. The local government rejected the augmentation project’s draft, a decision that forced the owners to appeal to the Portuguese Supreme Court of Justice. The project was finally approved. With lighter materials and a different engineering approach, the upper levels weren’t considered a safety hazard.
This is how, in 1942, Hotel Central became the tallest in the city, the year those stories were added. It was also the most luxurious and highly frequented by rich men from Hong Kong and Mainland China during the Second Sino-Japanese War between Japan and China (1937-45). Featuring dance halls and cabaret shows, casinoes, lavish rooms and beautiful elevators, it was one of Macau’s most luxurious ventures at the time. Rich residents and also visitors would flock in to have fun and have some moments of self-indulgence. In the 50s, it also had a restaurant called Golden City in the sixth floor, with a casino occupying two other floors, a dancing hall and a bar, a Chinese opera tea house, other restaurants and more.
Lots of Firsts
This hotel could hold the title for lots of “firsts”. Besides being the tallest building in the city in 1942, it also held the moniker for several other debuts. It was the first-ever to reach the 12th floor, the first to have a lift at its disposal, and the first to have a two-story casino. The history of Hotel Central is intricately related to gambling, which has been famous in Asia for centuries, but it wasn’t until 1934 that the government granted the exclusive right to the Tai Hing Company–owned by Fu Tak Iong and Kou Ho Neng–for casino-style gambling. Their biggest casino was set in Hotel Central, where foreigners and gaming lovers would flock for some fun.
In the 60s, a major player got in the game: Tai Hing Company’s contract expired and in 1962, Stanley Ho’s STDM got the gambling monopoly, forcing Tai Hing to close down Hotel Central’s casinos. Still, the latter will always be known for having introduced, in Macau, one of the most popular casino games to this day: baccarat.
The hotel still remains in the same place and opened to the public, but it seems like it has been neglected for decades and has less than encouraging reviews on online accommodation sites. However, it’s still one of the cheapest and most central places to stay at when traveling to Macau. We recommend people to visit it, even if it got a bit lost in time. The elevators are still there, as well as the hotel’s original architecture.