The St. Regis New York’s Colorful History
Completed over a century ago, the iconic St. Regis New York’s 18-story Beaux Arts landmark building was originally designed by architects Trowbridge and Livingston, and was the tallest building in the area at the time. A source of wonderment to visitors for a century, The St. Regis New York was declared a New York City Landmark in 1988. The site of the hotel, at Fifth Avenue and 55th Street, was largely a residential neighborhood when Colonel John Jacob Astor IV broke ground for it in 1902 which added to its appeal for visitors from around the globe. Astor spared no expense in creating a hotel of world class luxury and taste: $5.5 million was spent to construct the hotel with marble floors and crystal chandeliers, furnished with antique tapestries, oriental rugs, antique Louis XV furniture and a library of 3000 leather-bound, gold-tooled classic and current books, many from Astor’s original collection.
Astor’s vision was to create a hotel, which rivaled the finest hotels in Europe, where his close friends and family could feel as comfortable as they would as guests in a private home. For their comfort, he introduced such “modern” conveniences as telephones in every room, a fire alarm system, central heating and an air-cooling system that efficiently predated modern air conditioning and allowed each guest to control the temperature of his room. Mail chutes were installed on each floor, a newsworthy innovation at that time. An equally innovative feature was a special design “for the disposition of dust and refuse” – one of the first central vacuum systems. All maids had to do was plug their vacuum cleaner’s hose into sockets situated throughout the hotel.
The St. Regis soon became the center of Manhattan social life, and the headquarters for the original “Astor 400” -- the elite social group designated by Colonel Astor’s mother.
Colonel Astor died when the Titanic sank in 1912, leaving The St. Regis to his son, Vincent Astor. Feeling he was too immersed in other real estate ventures to devote the necessary time, he quickly sold the hotel to Duke Management (the tobacco Duke family) who in 1927 expanded the hotel to 540 rooms
by extending it along East 55th Street. Also in 1927, two additional floors were added which included the famous St. Regis Roof.
The hotel’s most famous decoration, the King Cole mural, was installed in 1932. The puckish mural by Maxfield Parrish, which contains a secret The St. Regis bartenders have to be coaxed to reveal, had been given to Colonel Astor by the artist and earlier hung over the bar at Astor’s Knickerbocker Hotel in New York. In 1934, St. Regis bartender Fernand Petiot introduced a cocktail called the “Red Snapper”, which was soon renamed the Bloody Mary.
In 1935 ownership was returned to Vincent Astor. The Iridium Room, one of New York’s most glamorous dine-and-dance spots, opened in 1938 and featured a special ice skating platform that rolled out from under the orchestra floor. Dorothy Lewis was the featured skater, Emil Coleman’s band played. The Vernon Castles and Tony and Sally de Marco were among the celebrated dance teams associated with The St. Regis.
The Iridium Room was transformed to the King Cole Grille in 1948 and once again the Parrish mural was hung over the bar. A sign above the doorway, in Latin, proclaimed: “I’d like to die in a tavern and be given a sip of wine. Then I could sing happily with the angels, ‘May God be kind to the drinker!’
Throughout its rich history, The St. Regis New York has invariably attracted the most glamorous, creative and intriguing personalities of each era – Colonel Serge Obolensky, the Russian Prince who had been a page-boy at the Czar’s court before he escaped the revolution and grew up to marry Alice Astor. Michael Arlen, the novelist and author of “The Green Hat” lived and lunched at The St. Regis at the same table for years. Marlene Dietrich, William Paley and his wife Barbara (“Babe”) also resided at The St. Regis as did Salvador Dali and his wife Gala. Actress Gertrude Lawrence instructed her agent to arrange all her press appointments at The St. Regis.
Sheraton purchased an interest in the hotel in 1966. In 1988, the hotel was closed for the first time in 84 years for a complete restoration. Now, The St. Regis New York is the flagship property within St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, which consists of some of the most celebrated properties in the world including The Lanesborough in London, The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort and The St. Regis Grand, Rome.