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Uncovering History About Las Clementinas Hotel

Front of Las Clementinas located inside UNESCO World Heritage site "Casco Viejo, Panama"

Las Clementinas Hotel opened in 2010 was one of the first restored and opened hotels in Casco Viejo Panama. Located on Avenida B and Calle 11, the building is best known for its stunning architecture with 6 full apartments, 3 studios suites, an enchanted sunken courtyard, lush secret garden, and rooftop patio with incredible city and ocean views.

The structure of Las Clementinas Hotel was built in the 1930’s on a segment of the 1673 Colonial city wall, by a woman named Clementina Hererra. Clementina was unusual for her times: A free spirit who quickly gained notoriety for being one of the first Panamanian women to wear pants. She single-handedly worked her way to wealth and independence.

It was the turn of the 19th century, the economic boom that was the construction of the Panama Railroad, the Gold Rush, and the prospect of a canal filled the city with arrivals seeking their fortune in the Isthmus. The influx of wealth opened a profitable market for financial services and in those days pawn shops were the equivalent of modern banks.

The city was bustling and Clementina Herrera saw her chance so she set out and opened her very own pawn shop, acquiring the property strategically located in one of Panama’s busiest streets. A good business draws competition and soon enough, the building next to hers was bought by Mr. Jaén, who also established a high-end pawn shop.

Clementina and her neighbor Mr. Jaen got along so well that they had a child together, named Clementina Jaén Herrera. Little Clementina spent time in both homes and in coming of age was sent to France to receive a formal education.

Señora Clementina Casco Viejo Panama
History and Architecture in Casco Viejo in Panama

Clementina returned to Panama as World War II loomed over Europe, inherited her parents properties and made herself at home. She had a peculiar taste for all things imported, surrounding herself with treasures she ordered from around the world: hand-painted floor tiles, art pieces, furniture, intricate light fixtures. Clementina did not marry nor had children. Instead, she opened her home to artists, intellectuals, and women who sought a safe place in which to enjoy some freedom. She became the town’s bad aunt and even still to this day, there are women who remember having their first drink or cigarette in the privacy of Clementina’s home.

Although there is a photograph of Clementina in her older age, there is no better evidence of her wit and character than her final wishes: On her passing she left all of her earthly possessions to the catholic church. Cadillac included.

Las Clementinas the building had been abandoned for many years and there was only a vague idea of how wonderful a property it was. They knew a bit of the history, but it wasn’t until they had cleaned away decades of debris that we truly understood that the building Doña Clementina Jaen built in the 1930s (designed by architect Leonardo Villanueva Meyer) was one of Casco’s masterpieces. Most of the historical finishings were recuperated during the renovation. The wood used in floors, doors and furniture was recuperated from the bottom of Lake Gatun which was flooded during the construction of the Panama Canal. Besides its architectural beauty, it also reflected a lifestyle, a way of living within a very diverse community, and building a new culture along the way. We believe that Casco today has the spirit that Mama Clemen had built in her small empire.

Las Clementinas, while located close to all the restaurants and attractions, also gives a sense of what it is like to live in this most eclectic of neighborhoods.

Founded in 1673, the old quarter, or Casco Antiguo, as it is officially known, witnessed a great deal of the most important historical moments in Panama’s history. And although our city has changed greatly, specially in last 50 years, the original 30 hectares of the Casco Antiguo still retain the original street plan intact. This is why in 1997 our Casco was included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.