The Crescent Hotel of Steamer Point, Aden: A Legacy of Luxury and Royal Visits

Nestled in the historical Steamer Point district of Aden, the Crescent Hotel stands as a testament to the city's vibrant past and colonial heritage. Built by the influential businessman Antonin Besse, this iconic hotel has been more than just a luxurious retreat; it has played host to royalty and has been a symbol of Aden's cosmopolitan allure.

The Genesis of the Crescent Hotel

The Crescent Hotel in Aden, a symbol of luxury and architectural elegance, has a story that is deeply intertwined with the city's history as a strategic port and cultural hub. The hotel's inception was the brainchild of Antonin Besse, a visionary entrepreneur who recognized Aden's potential as a pivotal stopover for steamships navigating between Europe and the East. Besse's foresight led to the establishment of the Crescent Hotel in the heart of Steamer Point, catering to the burgeoning demand for high-end accommodation.

Constructed in 1931 and opened to the public in 1932, the hotel was designed to blend local architectural influences with the grace of colonial style. Its spacious layout, complete with deep verandahs and high ceilings, was perfectly suited to Aden's hot, humid climate. The strategic positioning of the Crescent Hotel offered breathtaking views of the harbour, making it a preferred destination for affluent travellers and dignitaries.

The 1950s saw the Crescent Hotel under the management of Mr. Girolamo Volpi. During this time, the hotel was not only a place of stay but also a center of luxury lifestyle and housed a boutique selling high-end goods. A unique attraction at the hotel was a young gazelle, a familiar sight in the 1950s, known for its quirky habit of eating cigarettes offered by tourists.

The early 1960s marked a significant refurbishment of the Crescent Hotel. The hotel was modernized to include fans and air conditioning, a much-needed upgrade for the comfort of its guests in the region's climate. The bar lounge and residents' lounge were equipped with air conditioning, and the dining room, along with its terrace extension, was well-ventilated with fans. The hotel boasted 70 bedrooms, each fitted with an air conditioner and featuring a private bath or shower, ensuring a comfortable and luxurious stay for its guests.

Throughout its history, the Crescent Hotel has been more than just a building; it has been a cornerstone of Aden's social and cultural life. Its legacy as a beacon of luxury and hospitality continues to be a significant part of Aden's historical narrative.

The Hotel's Expansion: The Annex

With the Crescent Hotel's rising popularity and the demand for more rooms, Besse undertook an expansion in 1950. This led to the construction of a 27-room annex at the back, a project helmed by the A. Besse Company with Gino Almondo supervising. This annex wasn't just an increase in capacity; it enhanced the hotel's allure and status. The new section boasted extra rooms and facilities, notably phone extensions in each room, bolstering the Crescent Hotel's standing as a top-choice stay in Aden. Furthermore, the Annex, as an integral part of the hotel, included a hairdressing salon and an Aden Airways booking office, conveniently located just off the lobby. Concurrently, the original building saw upgrades too, with phone extensions installed in three of its rooms.

Crescent Hotel, Steamer Point
Crescent Hotel, Steamer Point

Foyer of the annex. Note Aden Airways office on the left.

A Royal Visit: Queen Elizabeth II at the Crescent Hotel

One of the most notable chapters in the hotel's history was the stay of Queen Elizabeth II. During her visit to Aden, the Crescent Hotel had the honour of hosting the Queen, an event that elevated the hotel's status to new heights. The Queen's choice of the Crescent Hotel as her residence during her stay was a testament to the hotel's unparalleled service and elegance.

This royal visit was not just a significant moment for the Crescent Hotel; it was also a reflection of Aden's importance as a key city in the British Empire. The Queen's stay at the hotel is still remembered as a historic event, adding a regal legacy to its storied walls.

Impact on Local Society and the Hospitality Industry

The Crescent Hotel was more than just a building; it was a social hub in Aden. It played a crucial role in the city's social life, hosting balls, gatherings, and events that were attended by the crème de la crème of society. It also set a benchmark in the hospitality industry of Aden, inspiring other establishments and contributing to the city's reputation as a welcoming destination for travelers from around the world.

The Legacy of the Crescent Hotel

After Antonin Besse suffered a stroke in 1948, and aware of his failing health, he set to the task of compiling a detailed report on his expansive business empire for his successors to follow. He wrote of the Crescent Hotel, "Until everything is in working order and runs smoothly this project will be a white elephant, but it has never been my habit to abandon a scheme once undertaken and I have no intention of doing so in this case until everything is perfect and runs to my satisfaction. The materials accumulated seem to be sufficient for opening up the hotel, serving meals, looking after the bar which should become popular if well organised".

Today, the Crescent Hotel stands as a symbol of Aden's rich history and cultural diversity. Although times have changed and the city has undergone numerous transformations, the legacy of the Crescent Hotel endures. It remains a cherished landmark, remembered for its luxurious accommodations, distinguished guests, and its role in the tapestry of Aden's history.

" I was stationed at the RAF Hospital Steamer Point and with APL in 1955/56. Two of us used to go on Sunday evenings, when we are not on duty, to the roof of the Crescent Hotel for the weekly Sunday evening concert. Our favourite drink was rum and coke as it was cheaper than beer !! " ~ Fred Caroe