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Korea’s oldest hotel celebrates centenary

Today marks an important milestone in Korean hotel history as The Chosun Hotel (currently ‘The Westin Chosun Seoul’) celebrates the 100th anniversary of the opening of its doors on Oct. 10, 1914.

As the country’s oldest hotel, the establishment is one of the most iconic structures in the local hospitality industry and represents a long line of pioneering efforts to create fine luxury hotels in the country. 
The exterior of the Chosun Hotel after it opened its doors in 1914
The exterior of the Chosun Hotel after it opened its doors in 1914

The construction of the Gyeongbu railway line in 1905 led to an increase in freight and passenger transport, both domestically and internationally, and the demand for hotel accommodation in Seoul began to grow.

At the time the original four-story, 52-room Chosun Hotel was built in the early 1900s, it was considered to be the epitome of affluence for its modern, Western-style design. Nestled in Sogong-dong in the heart of Seoul, The Chosun Hotel was the first hotel in the city to have an elevator, French restaurant and buffet, and to offer its guests ice cream. It was also the first to host a dance party.

The hotel’s rich political history has also made the Chosun Hotel one of the most significant lodging establishments in the country. After the end of the Japanese occupation of Korea in 1945, the U.S. military occupied the hotel and Gen. John R. Hodge made the Chosun its official residence. Shortly afterward President Syngman Rhee, the country’s first president, changed the hotel’s official English name to The Chosun Hotel from The Chosen Hotel (the Japanese pronunciation).
The sunroom of the old Chosun Hotel
The sunroom of the old Chosun Hotel

The original Chosun featured the hotel’s popular royal suite Room 201, which was mainly reserved for royalty from Japan and Europe during the colonial period. Also referred to as the “Imperial Suite,” the room was most famously occupied by Dr. Jae-pil Seo (Philip Jisohn), who lived in it for nearly a year from July 1947. So was an influential figure in Korea’s independence movement and the founder of the first Korean newspaper in Hangeul.

When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the Chosun was briefly taken over by the North Korean army. However, despite the massive political turmoil and widespread destruction of infrastructure, the hotel was one of the least-damaged buildings in the city during the war.

Over its century-long history the Chosun has played host to an endless number of VIP guests and dignitaries, from presidents to politicians and celebrities. Former U.S. Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, General Douglas MacArthur and Marilyn Monroe were all Westin Chosun guests.
The historic Chosun Hotel was renovated into a modern facility in 1970.
The historic Chosun Hotel was renovated into a modern facility in 1970.

In the mid-’60s, the hotel co-owners Tourist Service Inc. and American Airlines decided remake the Chosun into a modern luxury hotel. Construction began in the summer of 1967, and the new and improved Chosun Hotel was reopened three years later in 1970. Through an investment of nearly $11 million, the hotel was converted into an 18-floor, 500-guestroom deluxe hotel.

In the ’80s, the area of Sogong-dong drew many businesses, banks and government offices and became one of the city’s main downtown areas. In order to keep up with rival hotels, it has been regularly investing in renovations and upgrades to its restaurants, banquet halls and guest rooms to keep up its image as a world-class business hotel.

In celebration of its 100th anniversary, The Chosun Hotel is holding a commemorative exhibition titled “Memory, History and Heritage” until Oct. 12 in its Presidential Suite.

The exhibition showcases the past and present of the Chosun Hotel with a display of more than 100 photographs and pieces of hotel memorabilia. Starting from its establishment in 1914, the hotel’s historical moments are presented in chronological order to allow guests to fully appreciate and understand the establishment’s long history and the role it played during the country’s turbulent times.

The temporary exhibition also gives guests the rare opportunity to view the exclusive Presidential Suite, the hotel’s most luxurious penthouse suite, which goes for between $15,000 for a single night.

“Memory, History and Heritage” is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.echosunhotel.com.

By Julie Jackson (juliejackson@heraldcorp.com)
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