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Venice festgoers say bye bye to Des Bains

Iconic Lido hotel is being turned into apartments

Call it the end of the Lido Belle Epoque.

Some festgoers will undoubtedly be mourning the demise of the Grand Hotel des Bains as they scuttle past the scaffolding and debris chutes being used for the conversion of its 191 rooms into 70 “extra lusso” apartments.

Opened in 1902, the Des Bains had been an integral part of the Venice Film Festival ever since the world’s oldest fest got started in 1932 on the terrace of the nearby Hotel Excelsior.

Since then, industryites have held court there, amid the grandeur that had already made it a favorite of European aristocrats, as captured by Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice” and Luchino Visconti’s eponymous film starring Dirk Bogarde.

The Palladian building will be reopened as the Des Bains Residences in 2011. Its main floor with its landmark Visconti ballroom is due to remain intact. The rest will become luxury apartments for rent and for sale for as much as $19,000 per square yard, managed by the Four Seasons.

The plan includes construction of additional residential units inside the former hotel’s garden in what will likely amount to the Des Bains’ final kiss of death

It also seems dubious that, given its exorbitant cost, much of a link between the Des Bains and the fest will ever form.

The Des Bains conversion is part of a multi-million dollar redesign of the entire Lido prompted in part by construction of the fest’s new Palazzo del Cinema. The idea is to transform the Lido into a year-round conference destination, like Cannes, as well as a ritzy resort.

The Hotel Excelsior is skedded for a revamp next year.

While the Lido’s extreme makeover may be the only way to save it, and the fest, from plunging into an anachronistic void, that does not make the end of the Des Bains as we knew it any less painful, at least for some. And that’s despite its faulty air-conditioning and the fact that one of its two elevators was almost always out of service.

As helmer Stephen Frears lamented to the Guardian newspaper: “I’m only glad that Dirk Bogarde isn’t alive to have seen this.”

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