Room with a view

In the heart of Paris’s cultural, social and shopping district, a sovereign wealth fund exits a landmark hotel to one of private real estate’s newcomers.

The interior walls of the Westin Paris – Vendôme have seen it all – celebrity birthday parties, military occupation and even a political assassination – while its exterior has long looked onto some of the city’s most famous landmarks.  

The iconic Parisian hotel facing the Tuileries Garden opened its doors in 1878 as the Hotel Continental in the city’s first arrondissement. Designed by architect Henri Blondel and adorned with luxury in mind, from plush fabrics to rich red and purple colors, the hotel first served wealthy visitors for the third Paris World Fair. Both then and now, visitors enjoyed close proximity to attractions including the Louvre Museum and views of the Eiffel Tower.   

In 1880, the Hotel Continental hosted a delegation from the Franco-American Union, which discussed plans with a sculptor for a symbol of the countries’ friendship, now a landmark in its own right: New York’s Statue of Liberty. In the same time period, the hotel also counted Victor Hugo among its frequent guests. Indeed, the French writer threw two birthday parties in the Grand Salon in his 80s, with celebrity guests including poet Juliette Lamber and Eugène-René Poubelle, the Parisian politician who mandated the use of trash cans.  

In the twentieth century, the Hotel Continental became a key center for politics through decades of war, peace and rebuilding. During World War I, the French used the building as a military hospital, and in 1920, Albanian politician Essad Pasha Toptani, who planned to return to his country and become the new head of government, was assassinated by a political rival as he was leaving the hotel.  

At the beginning of World War II, the hotel again was requisitioned for political activities, with several offices occupied by the Information and Censorship Bureau, overseen by playwright Jean Giraudoux. At the end of the war, bedsheets hung from the hotel’s windows during the Liberation of Paris as a show of German surrender.  

Post-war, the hotel has welcomed celebrities, from European royalty to Hollywood stars to political power players, including Monaco’s Princess Grace, Woody Allen, Colin Powell and the Dalai Lama. In recent years, it has also hosted various fashion shows, including events for Yves Saint Laurent, Guy Laroche and Christian Lacroix. 

The property’s name evolved with the times, first when the InterContinental Group purchased the property in the 1960s, and again in 2005 when GIC bought the property for €315 million. The Singaporean sovereign wealth fund rebranded the then-InterContinental Hotel Paris to today’s Westin Paris – Vendôme and refurbished the guest rooms.  

In December, the property again changed hands when private equity real estate firm Henderson Park made its second Paris buy. The London-based firm, founded by Nick Weber in 2016, purchased the property for €550 million.  

In November 2016, Henderson Park bought Paris’s largest hotel, Le Méridien Etoile hotel, for about €365 million. The hotels are situated about four kilometers apart, though they cater to different clientele. Rooms at the 428-key Westin range from €300 per night for an economy room to €4,450 per night for the presidential suite, while the 1,025-key Le Méridien Etoile run from €189 per night for a basic room up to €609 for the senior suite. 

The firm, which declined to comment on fundraising, is raising its first vehicle, Henderson Park Real Estate Fund I, which corralled $950 million in a first close in October, according to market sources. Even though Henderson Park’s capital has been raised for value-add-to-opportunistic strategies, the assets the firm has picked up thus far have a distinctly prime feel to them – such as this hotel. 

But growth is expected to play an important part in the firm realizing its investment thesis. Henderson Park founder Nick Weber highlighted attributed forecasts of such growth from French President Emmanuel Macron’s pro-business administration, along with particular events such as the 2024 Olympic Games to boost the city’s status as a tourist destination. Weber is betting that when Paris sees this growth, so will the walls of the Westin Paris – Vendôme.