The history of Hotel Continental sounds like an old-fashioned fairytale – a tale about poor people who, through hard work and sheer talent, created a lasting monument. Today, with the hotel owned and run by the fourth generation, Hotel Continental is Norway’s only five-star hotel and a paradigm of quality in the hospitality industry.
It all began back in 1860 with Caroline Boman, who was born in Sweden. Instead of emigrating to America, as so many of her contemporaries did, she crossed the border to Norway and came to Oslo (then called Christiania) in 1887. Four years later she married Christian Hansen from Oslo, who was also of humble origins. They both worked at Oslo's Grand Hotel, Christian as a waiter and Caroline as a cook.
The National Theatre opened in 1899, and in December 1900 the Hotel Continental with its Theatercaféen opened just across the street from the National Theatre in the heart of Oslo. It didn't take long before a saying was coined: “First came the theatre, then came the inn”. The hotel was owned by a brewery and was leased out to four different managers over the first nine years, with varying degrees of success. In 1909 Caroline and Christian Boman Hansen took over the lease, and after only three years’ operation opportunity arose and they bought the hotel from the brewery.
Christian Boman Hansen died in 1915, and thereafter Caroline ran the hotel on her own. Their son Arne had emigrated to America and studied hotel management, gaining a Bachelor of Science and a business management degree from Harvard Business School. Whilst across the ocean, Arne had married his American sweetheart, Grace, and in 1921 they had a daughter named Ellen.
When the waiters at Theatercaféen joined forces and organized an “insurrection”, Caroline asked her son to come back to Norway and help her. Arne returned to Norway in 1927 with his family and became his mother’s business partner. It was not an easy decision for Arne to return to Norway. He left a very good job and a country he had grown to love.
Arne soon realized that Hotel Continental’s only chance of survival was expansion, so he bought the two adjacent buildings, for the princely sum of NOK 1,450,000, meaning the company now owned the whole block. They demolished the existing buildings and built a new hotel wing one of the plots, which was completed in 1932. The new building gave the hotel 76 new rooms, all with their own bathroom. The new building also contained the lobby bar Dagligstuen, and a banquet department. At the same time, the main entrance to the hotel was moved from the corner by Theatercaféen to its current position. In the meantime, the stock markets had crashed, and poor liquidity cast a dark shadow over the plans for expansion. In the end it was only because of Mrs Boman Hansen’s solid reputation and the confidence the 70-year-old lady inspired that the banks agreed to lend them the money they need to complete the building.
When Arne died unexpectedly in April 1953, his daughter Ellen took over the family business. She had worked at the hotel since 1945 and had qualified in hotel management at Hotel Continental. Although she knew the hotel very well, it was with shock and sorrow that she stepped into her father’s shoes overnight. Her first project was to fulfil Arne’s dream. For many years he had wanted to build a large American-style cafeteria on the remaining part of the Continental block. On 17 May 1953, Paviliongen opened its doors to the public – a cafeteria with room for up to 250 guests – and was an unbridled success from day one. In 1955, Ellen married Caspar Brochmann, and they had a daughter Elisabeth in 1957.
Over the years Ellen Brochmann, the third-generation owner, left her personal mark on the Continental with a number of restoration and renovation projects. In 1960, Paviliongen was demolished to make way for a new eight-storey building with 88 new hotel rooms, two restaurants Pavillion and Tivoligrillen, and a banquet hall with space for 300 guests. In 1960, 60 years after its inception, the Hotel Continental as we now know it was completed. It had been built in three phases and now covered an entire city block. In 1988, Ellen Brochmann was made a Knight, first class, of the Order of St. Olav for her commitment to the hotel and restaurant industry. She is the only woman in the hospitality industry to have been honoured with this award.
In 1985, Ellen and Caspar Brochmann’s daughter Elisabeth Caroline Brochmann took over the reins as director of the hotel. She had graduated from business school in Switzerland with a degree in business administration and only decided to take over the family business from her mother once she had started studying. Elisabeth gained broad experience, working in hotels in London, Hamburg and Lyon. Elisabeth has demonstrated a wish and ability to maintain and modernize the building. Under her direction, Hotel Continental has opened a new bar LIPP (1991), built a conference centre (1995) and remodelled Annen Etage restaurant (1998). The family tradition lives on with the fourth-generation owner, Elisabeth Caroline Brochmann.