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Grand Central: New hotel taking name of former Belfast stalwart which played host to The Beatles and Winston Churchill

By John Mulgrew

Published 25/06/2015

Grand Central Hotel Belfast
Grand Central Hotel Belfast

It once played host to the likes of the Beatles, Billy Graham and King Leopold of Belgium.

Now, the former Grand Central Hotel is being reborn – albeit in name and style.

It first opened its doors on Royal Avenue in the heart of Belfast in 1893, not far from where its namesake will soon tower over the city.

And the name was suggested by Hastings Hotels founder, Sir William Hastings, down to his own “tremendous memory” of the once thriving spot.

The original Grand Central soon became the city's social hub, gaining a reputation as one of the finest hotels in Ireland.

It was the brainchild of Downpatrick man John Robb, who had originally planned to develop a huge central railway system in the area, based on New York's very own Grand Central Station.

Unfortunately for the Robb family, following the outbreak of war, they believed their hotel was to be requisitioned for use by the Government. They then sold off the building's entire contents, before realising months later, there had been a mix-up with another hotel of the same name.

Then, left with the task of refurnishing, they sold the business to a consortium – led by Scottish whisky distiller John Grant.

It was reopened in 1927.

And it ran in all its majesty for decades, hosting Bob Hope, Winston Churchill and Al Jolson over the years.

But as with other businesses, and life in general, it was hit by the start of the Troubles in 1969 and finally closed its doors.

Now, shopping centre Castlecourt now occupies the site, which was also formerly occupied by an Army barracks.

Speaking about the choice of name for his new hotel, Sir William Hastings (86) said:

“We did have an open debate, and the name Franklin was a possible modern offering, and The Windsor, and perhaps I influenced the decision more because I had this tremendous memory of the Grand Central Hotel.

“The original Grand Central, which also boasted 200 bedrooms, was built in 1893 and was the thriving hub of Victorian Belfast as well as the finest hotel in Ireland. Winston Churchill, the King of Belgium, Al Jolson, Mario Lanza and the Beatles were all guests who enjoyed its luxurious hospitality.

“I am extremely proud to be able to pay tribute to this much loved property of the past by naming Belfast’s newest hotel after it.”

 

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