We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

American Colony Hotel

Jerusalem, Israel
Level Contributor
905 posts
4 reviews
Save Topic
American Colony Hotel

For anyone considering or planning to stay at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem, it might be nice to understand a bit of its very interesting history. It seems that the last (I think - someone prove me wrong, please) remaining relative of the Spafford Family (which purchased the property to make it their home in the 19th century) just passed away at age 96! Here's the NYT article about her in today's (Monday 16 June 2008) edition:

June 16, 2008

Valentine Vester, Jerusalem Hotelier, Is Dead at 96

By STEVEN ERLANGER (NYT - http://tinyurl.com/58c4h6)

PARIS — Valentine Vester, a Yorkshire homemaker who went to Jordanian Jerusalem in 1963 to take over a little hotel, the American Colony, and turned it into one of the city’s finest, died on Sunday morning at her home in the hotel. She was 96.

Her death was confirmed by Claire Kosinski, a friend and caretaker in Jerusalem.

Mrs. Vester and her husband, Horatio Vester, adapted smoothly to the Israeli victory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, which unified Jerusalem under Israeli rule. The Vesters were proud that the American Colony, which had been shot up during the fighting, remained one of the few places in the rivalrous city where Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians could gather. Their hotel was also a site of numerous secret talks among Palestinian and Israeli officials.

Mrs. Vester, born Valentine Richmond, married into a wealthy Chicago family, the Spaffords, who had gone to Jerusalem in 1881 to live like early Christians, doing good works among the poor and establishing a children’s hospital [the Spafford Children's Center, still operating just inside Damascus Gate]. In 1896 the family bought a former palace of a pasha, which had been empty, and turned it into a hostel for pilgrims.

Mrs. Vester and her husband, a Jerusalem-born Spafford heir and British lawyer who died in the early 1980s, took over the failing enterprise and made it a commercial success.

“He’d be called the C.E.O. and I’d be called the chief executive of the kitchen,” Mrs. Vester said in a 2005 interview with The New York Times. But she also took responsibility for what became the hotel’s exquisite gardens. “I never thought to create a luxury hotel,” she said. “Just a real one.”

Many famous people spent time at the hotel, which is also considered a haven for foreign correspondents covering the Middle East. Mrs. Vester remembered T. E. Lawrence, of Arabia fame, who often stayed there and played goalie in the soccer games that took place where the swimming pool is today.

Her own family had strong ties to the Middle East. Her mother’s half sister was Gertrude Bell, a renowned British archaeologist who helped create the modern state of Iraq after World War I. Her uncle Ernest Richmond, an architect, worked on Arab political affairs for the British who governed Palestine and was strongly anti-Zionist.

“He became a Catholic convert and was violently anti-Semitic,” Mrs. Vester said in the 2005 interview. “We were brought up very much pro-Palestinian. I was imbued with the notion that the Arabs were done down, but I try very hard to take a balanced view.”

She had tart comments about the political failings of both the Israelis and the Palestinians and no expectation for any quick peace. She had a special affection for her staff members, who were nearly all drawn from the occupied West Bank and mostly Arab East Jerusalem.

“We’ve tried hard to be neutral,” she said. “And we’ve tried not to let the hotel become some Disney Oriental.”

In recent years, as her health and her eyesight began to fail, Mrs. Vester stopped traveling and lived in her apartment in the hotel, which is owned by the family and managed by a Swiss company. But she often went to its restaurants for meals and gave advice to the staff, pushing to hire some women, too, despite the disapproval of Mahmoud, the headwaiter.

Mrs. Vester is survived by two sons, Nicholas of London and Paul of California, and numerous grandchildren. She will be buried next to her husband in a plot near the Mount of Olives.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And for more about the Spafford Family and it's role in the development of Modern Jerusalem (inside and outside the walls), read OUR JERUSALEM by Bertha Spafford Vester (Doubleday & Co., New York, 1950).

suzanne pomeranz, jerusalem, israel

Israel
Level Contributor
736 posts
60 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: American Colony Hotel

If you mentioned the American Colony hotel, and Bertha Spafford's book, it is woth mentioning another related book - JERUSALEM, by Nobel Prise Laureate Selma Legerlof. It's a novel about Swedish peasants who emigrated to the Holy Land and whom she had visited in 1900. They were living in what is nowadays known as the American Colony, and her description of the lives of the residents of this colony are beautiful.

Jerusalem, Israel
Level Contributor
905 posts
4 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: American Colony Hotel

guyava - thanks for mentioning that book - I'd heard of it before, so now, I'll add it to my "for sure to buy" list...

suzanne pomeranz, jerusalem, israel

california
Level Contributor
732 posts
3 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: American Colony Hotel

I read this in the NYTimes this morning and meant to post it, so I'm delighted Suzanne that you beat me to it! Fascinating isn't it?

Jerusalem, Israel
Level Contributor
330 posts
9 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: American Colony Hotel

Thank you Suzanne for bringing this to our attention. I actually just returned home after dropping off some clients at the American Colony and enjoying tea there. It's a true oasis in Jerusalem and there's no finer legacy that the Vesters could have left the city.

Fred Schlomka

NY
Level Contributor
62 posts
5 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: American Colony Hotel

in a 2006 post there was a concern raised about the safety of the area where this hotel is located. Have you heard anything about this? I did read some very good things about the hotel itself

Jerusalem, Israel
Level Contributor
330 posts
9 reviews
Save Reply
6. Re: American Colony Hotel

Foreign visitors are as safe on the streets around The American Colony as they are in West Jerusalem. I can't remember the last time I heard of any tourist having problems, even in 2006.

Fred Schlomka

Level Contributor
21,533 posts
44 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: American Colony Hotel

The area is nor unsafe as, say, Harlem used to be in the old days, but it is not pleasant to be there at night on foot, as it's very dark and not frequented. The hotel is also far from the new part of the city, where most restaurants are.

Jerusalem, Israel
Level Contributor
330 posts
9 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: American Colony Hotel

Not quite sure what Harlem has to do with Jerusalem? However US city streets are much more dangerous than any part of Jerusalem due to the high incidence of violent crime in the US. The crime rate on the streets is very low in Israel, including East Jerusalem.

Walking towards the Old City from the American Colony Hotel there are many good restaurants. Of course east Jerusalem restaurants tend towards Middle Eastern fare and ambiance, whereas in West Jerusalem there is the full variety of international restaurants from Pizza to fine French dining to sushi. It all depends what you are looking for.

Fred Schlomka

Oakland, California
Level Contributor
141 posts
69 reviews
Save Reply
9. Re: American Colony Hotel

There are many hotels now in the area of the American Colony Hotel. In the last 5 or 6 years a few other major hotels have gone up. I walked from the Damascus gate with my 6 and 8 year old kids in June at 7:00 in the evening to the American Colony Hotel. It was pleasant and not the slightest hint of uneasiness about the neighborhoods. Perhaps during the Intifada there was some concern about the area, but these days I don't believe it is a concern. The American Colony Hotel is indeed an Oasis of days gone bye.

Southwest Harbor...
Level Contributor
61 posts
55 reviews
Save Reply
10. Re: American Colony Hotel

We did not stay at the A.C.; we stayed at the King David. We did, however, drive by, and the area in front of the A.C. was pretty disappointing as there was strewn garbage, and the area looked run-down. I, personally, wouldn't have done all of the evening walking we did staying at the King David were we staying at the American Colony. I would not have felt safe.

I have also heard that the food is very special at the A.C. while the food is unmemorable at the King David.