Since 1906, Britain’s Old War Office building has stood in London’s historic Whitehall district among government buildings. For decades, it served as the administrative hub for the country’s military leaders—including Winston Churchill—and as an inspiration for Ian Fleming’s novels about the fictional secret agent James Bond.
Now, after eight years of renovations, the Edwardian Baroque building has reopened as a luxury hotel and residential complex called the OWO. The property includes 120 guest rooms and suites, 85 residences, a 600-person ballroom, a spa, 9 restaurants and 3 bars. Nightly rates for the hotel, called Raffles London, start at around $1,300 (£1,100) per night.
The site has a “remarkable” history, as Chris Leadbeater writes for the Telegraph. Starting in the 13th century, it was the London home of the Archbishops of York, called York Place. It was later seized by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, then by Henry VIII, who transformed it into Whitehall Palace.
After a fire destroyed the palace in 1698, aristocratic houses were built at the site, including Winchester House, which became Britain’s war office. When government leaders deemed it inadequate, they commissioned the construction of a new building, per the Telegraph.
Architect William Young designed the Old War Office building in 1898, though he died just two years later. His son, Clyde Young, finished the project in 1906. He used 26,000 tons of Portland stone to construct the trapezoidal structure, which housed 1,000 offices connected by 2.5 miles of hallways.
At times, as many as 2,500 people worked in the building, including Churchill. Per the Telegraph, he spent time in the Old War Office building during three phases of his career: first, as the political head of the Royal Navy between 1911 and 1915; second, as secretary of state for war between 1919 and 1921; and finally, during his first stint as prime minister between 1940 and 1945.
Guests who stay at the hotel will be a short walk from No. 10 Downing Street, where Churchill and other prime ministers have lived and worked since 1735. The new hotel is also near the Churchill War Rooms, the secret underground chambers where Churchill and other military leaders made critical decisions during World War II.
But Churchill was far from the only famous figure to work in the Old War Office building throughout its tenure. T.E. Lawrence, the British archaeologist and army officer who later became known as Lawrence of Arabia, worked there. Ian Fleming, the British naval intelligence officer who went on to develop the James Bond series, also visited the building. Several James Bond movies were filmed there, including the 2012 thriller Skyfall starring Daniel Craig, per BBC News’ Tim Stokes.
Though some onlookers oppose turning a historic government building into a lavish hotel, the project’s developers say that, without private investment, structures like the Old War Office would “be left to rot and die,” as Charlie Walsh, head of residential sales for the OWO, told the New York Times’ Mark Landler last year.
All told, the developers spent $1.76 billion (£1.4 billion) on the renovations, reports Bloomberg’s Sarah Rappaport.
During the restoration, specialists worked to transform the structure into a luxury building while retaining its rich history. For example, workers painstakingly removed, restored and replaced the original cobblestones that lined the inner courtyard. They also preserved the building’s grand marble staircase, mosaic floors and oak paneling.
“It’s giving a new life to a building that has existed since 1906,” says Philippe Leboeuf, the hotel’s managing director, to CNN Travel’s Tamara Hardingham-Gill. “It was sitting there empty, costing money. So it’s a nice conversion.”