The St. Regis History – “A home away from home”
Colonel John Jacob Astor breaks ground for the building of The St. Regis Hotel at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Fifth Street, in the most exclusive residential section of the city at the time.
While the hotel was under new construction, Astor was unable to come up with a name for his new hotel. During Astor’s visit with his brother-in-law on a beautiful lake in the Adirondacks in upstate New York, Astor’s niece offered a solution: “Why, Uncle Jack, don’t you call it after this lake – Hotel St. Regis?” After doing some research on the name, he found that the lake was named after a 17th century French monk named Francois Regis who was given sainthood in the 18th century and was known for his hospitality to travelers. So, Astor thought, what better name for his new hotel. Thus, the St. Regis name.
On September 4th, Astor opened the doors of The St. Regis to the public. The architects were Trowbridge and Livingston. Arnold Constable did the interiors. The St. Regis was the tallest hotel in New York, standing at eighteen stories high. The price of a room was $5.00 per day. When the hotel opened, the press described the St. Regis as “the most richly furnished and opulent hotel in the world.”
The construction of the hotel cost over five and a half million dollars, an unheard of sum at the time. Astor spared no expense in the furnishings; marble floors and hallways from the quarries of Caen, France, Louis XV furniture from France, Waterford crystal chandeliers, antique tapestries and oriental rugs, a library full of 3,000 leather-bound, gold-tooled books. He had installed two beautiful burnished bronze entrance doors, rare wood paneling, great marble fireplaces, ornamental ceilings and a telephone in every room, which was unusual at the time.
The hotel had “modern” innovations engineered by Astor himself, including a central air-conditioning and heating system, a fire alarm system, a special design for the “disposition of dust and refuse” which allowed the maid to attach a hose to a fixture in the wall of the room to “vacuum” up the dust, and one of the first mail chutes on each floor. The aristocracy of the era quickly adopted Colonel Astor’s masterpiece as a home away from home.
Nicholas Biddle commissioned the “Old King Cole” mural from the artist Maxfield Parrish for $5,000 as a gift for his friend, Colonel Astor, to hang over the bar in his Knickerbocker Hotel at 42nd Street and Broadway.
After divorcing his wife, Ava Astor, whom he had two children with, Colonel Astor shocked New York Society by remarrying a 19-year-old woman, Madeline. He left New York for Europe. Unfortunately, his return trip was on the doomed Titanic in which he gave up his seat on a lifeboat for his young wife. He was last seen alive trying to free his dog from the ship’s kennels. At age 48, Colonel John Jacob Astor met his tragic death. His son Vincent inherits the hotel, and sells the property to Benjamin N. Duke.
Under Duke Management, an addition to the hotel was built, making it 20 stories high and bringing the room count to a total of 540. The famous St. Regis roof and the Salle Cathay, with its Chinese décor, was built that year as well, and opened to the public. Both spaces hosted some of the most celebrated and prestigious parties of the time.
The “Old King Cole” mural was brought to The St. Regis from the Racquet and Tennis Club and placed in The King Cole Bar.
One of the hotel bartenders named Fernand Petiot created a drink he called the “Red Snapper,” which is now known as the “Bloody Mary” cocktail.
Vincent Astor takes over the hotel through a mortgage default. Vincent undertook the responsibility to bring the hotel back from its deteriorated state. He modernized it and made it financially profitable within two years by placing his brother-in-law, Prince Serge Obolensky, on the executive board to add some “social excitement.” Vincent also hired Mrs. Anne Tiffany to redecorate the hotel and convinced Monsieur Castaybert to leave Henri Soule and become the St. Regis chef. The Seaglades turned into the Maisonette Russe; it became one of the most popular supper-nightclubs in New York. The Roof was turned into the Viennese Roof.
A complete dinner and theatre served from 6pm to 8pm was three dollars. Caviar Aux Blini was $3, Borscht was $.50, Shaslik Caucasian was $1.75 and Bitochki Kosak was $1.50.
The Iridium Room replaces the Salle Cathay and becomes one of the hottest spots in New York, complete with a special 18 by 20 foot ice skating platform, which rolls out from under the orchestra floor. Dorothy Lewis was the featured skater and Emil Coleman’s band played for dancing. It was decorated by Mr. Juta. October 4th was the traditional opening night of the room each year, and there was a benefit for Helen Huntington Astor’s Musicians Fund.
The Iridium Room closes.
The old Iridium Room is replaced by the “King Cole Grille” with Maxfield Parrish’s mural over the bar. Over the doorway is a Latin quotation, which translates: “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.’”
Vincent Astor has control of the hotel until his death in 1959.
Cesar Balsa, a Spanish-born Mexican who owned many other hotel properties, took over ownership of the hotel.
Frequent and favored guest, Salvador Dali, caused a stir when a box of flies he was using for artistic purposes accidentally opened and created some chaos on the 15th and 16th floor.
On September 24th, the hotel’s 60th birthday was celebrated with a gala Hearts and Diamonds Ball that benefited the Heart and Lung Foundation.
The St. Regis is named a New York landmark by the New York Community Trust, and a Bronze Award Plaque mounted on the Fifth Avenue side of the building, which proclaims its historical importance.
Harry Platt, President of Tiffany & Company, began hosting a series of supper dances in the Versailles Room. These parties became the most sought-after invitations.
Around this time, the hotel housed guests like Alfred Hitchcock, King Michael of Romania, Bing Crosby, Capucine, Maria Schell and Darryl Zanuck.
The hotel underwent three other owners until the Sheraton Corporation of America purchases The St. Regis Hotel in February.
The hotel wins Holiday magazine’s award for having one of the best twenty-five restaurants in New York City, and goes on to win the award for the next two years.
In March, the creator of the “Old King Cole” painting, Maxfield Parrish, dies at the age of 95.
At this time, there were four great restaurants in the hotel to choose from; The King Cole Grille, The Oak Room, La Boite Russe, and The St. Regis Room. The King Cole Grille was popular for lunch and dinner among New York’s top executives. A leisurely breakfast, lunch or dinner could be enjoyed in the wood-paneled Oak Room. A special gourmet treat of fine Russian cuisine was available in La Boite Russe. For a late dinner and dancing, there was the exciting and interesting supper-nightclub, the Maisonette, which had a great menu and featured entertainers like Freda Payne and Kay Ballard. Some of the greatest dishes were the Guinea Shimp Cocktail, Vichyssoise, Supreme of Duckling Montmorency, a delicious Coupe aux Marrone and Café Mocha to finish it off. It was an intimate room, rich in feeling with perfect service. It was a favorite for celebrities, statesmen and world figures.
The Cocktail Lounge’s opening night on September 15th was a smash with beautiful waitresses. Among the guests were Lana Cantrell, Cartier’s Michael Thomas, Robert Loebs, Anita Tiburzi, and Princess Lucie Shirazi who danced every dance that night. There was also the special singing of Mable Mercer at night. Salvador Dali was known to hold court in the Cocktail Lounge every day in the winter. Legends also say that Mr. Dali stayed at the St. Regis with his wife, Gala, and his pet ocelot every winter for 14 consecutive years.
Some of the well-known guests of The St. Regis at this time were Judy Garland, Lorna Luft, Liza Minnelli, Ethel Merman, Dustin Hoffman, Tony and Leslie Curtis, Princess Maria Beatrice of Savole, Mr. Vidal Sassoon, Tony Bennett and many more; even the Apollo 14 astronauts visited the hotel.
Single guest rooms were selling for rates in the $35 to $55 range and doubles were selling for rates in the $40 to $60 range.
Starting on December 2nd and running for three weeks, the Jonah Jone’s Quartet, one of the finest jazz bands of the time, performed and brought forth the holiday spirit of Christmas.
Michael Legrand, who wrote the music from the film “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “The Summer of ’42,” performed for two nights of dinner and dancing on The St. Regis Roof during the weekend of July 29th.
On February 3rd, The St. Regis hosted a black tie supper-dance for Mabel Mercer’s 75th Birthday. Some of the performers were Margaret Whiting, Greta Keller, Sylvia Syms, Julius Monk, Anne Fancine, Jimmy Daniels, and Bricktop. The guests included Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Bobby Short, Peggy Lee, Blossom Dearie, Eileen Farrell, Leontyne Price and many others.
On February 24th, the hotel hosted the Italian Festival, which took place in the Maisonette Room. The festival featured nightly fashion shows along with gourmet Italian foods and wines. Many chefs came to prepare and show off their meals and wines to guests.
The hotel completes a year-long restoration announced by the Sheraton Corporation of America. Over 250 suites and guest rooms were refurnished, the St. Regis roof was restored by the original artist, Andre Hudiakoff, and the Penthouse was redecorated by muralist, Robert Jackson. The Grill Room and its kitchen were modernized and redecorated and re-opened as the new “Old King Cole Restaurant and St. Regis Bar” in November.
The St. Regis was New York’s favorite meeting place for regulars like Enrico Caruso, John Barrymore, Jim Corbett and George M. Cohan.
The famous “Bloody Mary” cocktail, originally called the “Red Snapper,” invented by the St. Regis bartender Fernard Petiot turns 30 years old. The basic Bloody Mary (1 ½ ounces of vodka, 3 ounces tomato juice, dash of celery salt, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce and a dash of Tobasco, with a stalk of celery as the swizzle stick) is the USA’s most ubiquitous bar drink.
The hotel is closed for the first time in 84 years for a complete restoration. It is also declared a designated landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Foundation.
The St. Regis re-opens in September after a $100 million restoration. Astor’s granddaughter, Jacqueline Astor Drexel, shared the ribbon-cutting ceremony with Mayor Dinkins. In the restoration, state-of-the-art mechanical and electrical systems were installed, new meeting rooms were constructed on the 2nd and 20th floors, and the number of guest rooms was reduced from 557 to 365 in order to make the rooms more spacious for guests. Designer Suites were also added: the Tiffany Suite, the Christian Dior Suite and the Orient Suite.
Astor Court was newly created in the renovation, made to resemble the original Palm Court of the hotel in 1904, and crowned by trompe l’oeil ceiling clouds. Lespinasse, a new restaurant in the hotel, was also introduced featuring French cuisine. The lobby was restored and the floors were made to recall the flooring in the original 1904 lobby. In total, resources, materials and furnishings from over 15 countries were used in the restoration, including thirteen different types of marbles. A new spa, fitness club, salon and business center were also added.
A dinner-dance benefit for the New York Landmarks Preservation Fund marks the re-opening of the St. Regis. Attendees included numerous ambassadors, Barbara Walters, Geoffrey Beene and Bill Blass.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide acquires The St. Regis Hotel, becoming the company’s luxury flagship property and the inspiration for the St. Regis brand.
Artfully designed by Sills Huniford, the redesign of The St. Regis New York is unveiled. Sills Huniford, known for their work with such clients as Tina Turner and Vera Wang, seamlessly blended classic and contemporary design for the new interiors of The St. Regis New York. The result is a fresh, bright, residential aesthetic, incorporating antique furnishings that reconnect the landmark to its past. Following the restoration of the hotel, The Bottega Veneta Designer Suite debuts featuring unique touches of Thomas Maier designed intrecciato leather pillows, hand-carved Venetian glassware and cashmere throws.
Institutional Investor Magazine honors The St. Regis New York with the award for the Best Hotel in the World.
Maxfield Parrish’s iconic “Old King Cole” mural returns to the hotel following an extensive twelve week and $100,000 restoration, the first of its kind since the mural was hung over the bar in 1948.
The St. Regis New York is voted #1 Hotel in New York City by Travel & Leisure.
In the Heart of New York, A Tradition of Excellence Continues…