“Dozens of Puerto Ricans stood along the rails, fishing in the shallow lagoon, and off to my right was a huge white shape beneath a neon sign that said Caribé Hilton. This, I knew, was the cornerstone of The Boom. Conrad had come in like Jesus and all the fish had followed. Before Hilton there was nothing; now the sky was the limit.” Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary (PDF)
In 1946 Teodoro Moscoso, the architect of Operation Bootstrap – an ambitious development program designed to improve the standards of living and to increase industrialization in Puerto Rico – launched efforts for the creation of luxury hotels along San Juan’s expansive beachfront. Moscoso surveyed the city for suitable building sites and he quickly pinned his hopes on the Condado area, located toward the eastern end of the city, along a northern beach-lined coast. Plans immediately went into effect and he sent out letters to seven US hotel companies proposing a joint venture with the Puerto Rican government that would place management in company hands. His goal was to have available 2,000 first-class hotel rooms by 1952 and to have 2,000 more onboard by 1960. The island had only 600 guest rooms in 1940 (Wagenheim, 1975).
Only the Hilton Corporation seemed to be interested in investing in Puerto Rico and Mr. Conrad Nicholson Hilton himself thoughtfully responded with a letter in Spanish. When the competition was held for the design of the Hilton, five invited firms participated; two were from Florida and three from Puerto Rico. Hilton International opened its first overseas hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1949. The sumptuous Caribe Hilton Hotel (designed by the firm of Osvaldo Toro and Miguel Ferrer) was situated on the western edge of Condado, the centerpiece of Puerto Rico’s emerging tourist district. It was soon considered the crown jewel of Puerto Rico’s tourism industry.
Cf. Merrill, Dennis. Negotiating Paradise: U.S. Tourism and Empire in Twentieth-Century Latin America. University of North Carolina Press, 2009.